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Friday, 31 October 2014

Story behind the roar of the Eskmeals guns

TODAY we are taking a look at the activities through the decades at the Eskmeals gun range, north of Millom.

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WORKS PORTRAIT: Eskmeals instrumentation staff, or range assistants, shown around 1960

It was prompted by the loan of picture from Tony Cummings, of Newton Street, Millom, showing Eskmeals instrumentation staff from around 1960. They were known as range assistants.

Shown on the back row (from left) are Don, Tony Priestley, Ernie Burgess, Bill Elliot, John Applegate, Alec Gill, Taff Jones and Tony Warburton.

On the front row (from left) are Cyril Finch, Malcolm Parminter, Tony Cummings, Bill Brain, Bob Caisley, Ron Bettinson, Alec Ross and Leslie Webster.

Firing rights at Eskmeals were secured in July 1897 by Barrow’s Vickers, Sons and Maxim from the Lowther Estates.

The site was termed Main Battery and firing was carried out over the foreshore with the medium to large naval guns produced at Barrow and taken to Eskmeals by rail.

It was an improvement on test firing into a sand-filled butt.

By August 1897 the Barrow company had bought extra land at Monk Moors from Lowther Estates.

Early in 1898 the Furness Railway Company agreed to provide sidings to Eskmeals from the Bootle line.

By 1900 the range had its own wooden railway halt for the use of workers and official visitors from all over the world.

Many rail travellers will recall the signal box which controlled traffic at what was called the Vickers Gun Range Sidings. It was removed for preservation in 1992.

Main Battery, South Battery and associated workshops were kept busy as Vickers produced more and bigger naval guns both for the Royal Navy and the foreign countries, such as Japan.

The first master gunner at the range in 1897 was Harry Williams who had served with the Royal Marine Artillery.

From 1910 the first full-time superintendent at the range was Alan Craig, a technical expert in trials and experimentation for Vickers.

Just before the First World War Vickers also started sending a range of field guns to Eskmeals for testing.

During those war years 15,000 trials and proofs were carried out on guns at the range.

During the Second World War the range was still operated by Vickers but under the control of the Ministry of Supply.

A wide range of guns were tested, including secret work on the first multiple launched rocket system.

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