Island History

In 1804 a government-owned factory for making musket barrels was set up at Lewisham. In 1812 land was acquired at Enfield Lock for an enlarged factory. (The new site had the advantages of water power available to drive machinery and the Lee Navigation for the transportation of raw materials and the finished weapons). However, the new factory was completed too late to affect the outcome of the Napoleonic War.

In 1816 the barrel branch moved from Lewisham to Enfield. By 1818 the reduction in demand for small arms meant that there were just thirty men employed at the Enfield factory. Later in 1818 the lock and finishing branches were transferred to Enfield, enabling the Lewisham site to be dispensed with. A sword making branch was set up in 1823. The factory narrowly fought off a threat of closure in 1831. The Crimean War of 1854/5 resulted in a big increase in demand for both small arms and ammunition. In 1857 the factory was completely reorganised on mass production lines. The factory continued in operation, with periods of great activity during the Boer War and the two World Wars. In 1987 the Royal Ordnance Factories (including Enfield Lock) were sold to British Aerospace. The Enfield Lock plant was closed almost immediately and small arms manufacture was moved to Nottingham.

If you walk around the island now the original machine rooms, bayonet department etc are marked with plaques placed by the RSA.  The old Police Station is next to the Rifles bridge on the way to the Lock.   There is a book ‘the Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield  and its works’ by D.O.Pam on sale in Ottakers Bookshop  in Enfield Town – or on for about £12.  It has some great photographs of the factory and workers in Victorian times.

What weapons were made here?

The RSA Factory was originally established for manufacturing and assembling the “Brown Bess” muskets which were the main firearm of the British Empire for many years.

By the 1890’s, more than 60,000 rifles were being produced annually at Enfield. They were able to turn out 2,000 magazine rifles a week to arm the British soldiers, This figure included the bayonets, scabbards, and accessories for the rifles. They produced 188,930 MLM MKI and MkI* rifles. The Rifle, Short MLE MkI was produced between the years of 1903 and 1907. There were roughly 133,000 of the MkI rifle and about 60,000 of the MkI* produced there during this time.

In 1907, modifications to the No 1 rifle were adopted , including the addition of a charger bridge on the receiver. The MkIII production at Enfield started in 1907 and ended with the introduction of the MkIII* model in 1916. In 1916 production of the MkIII* rifle was underway to feed the growing number of arms needed for WWI. Production figures, according to Stratton, for 1916 was around 418,283 and by the end of 1918, more than 1.6 million MkIII* rifles were produced. Production of the No1 Mk V rifle went from 1922 to 1924 and totalled about 20,000 rifles.

During the inter war years, development of the No 4 rifle was underway at Enfield. The No4 was never to be mass produced at Enfield Lock. The manufacture of the No4 rifle happened in the BSA Shirley Plant, Royal Ordinance Fazakerly, Maltby and in two plants in North America including Savage and Longbranch.

During WWII, RSAF Enfield was involved in the production of machine guns, pistols and receivers, barrels and furniture for the No1 MkIII* rifle. Many older firearms were refitted and rearsenalled there through these years.

East Enfield (from Hertford Road to the Lock)

East Enfield started out as a series of small hamlets strung out along the Hertford Road. In 1572 Enfield Highway was known as Cocksmiths End. Close by, but still separate, was the small settlement of Green Street. To the north lay Enfield Wash then known as Horsepoolstones. The early settlement here lay on the west side of the Hertford Road.

On the east side ran Turkey Brook, which followed the road as far south as Bell Lane. (The course was straightened in the early 19th century). The small settlement at Turkey Street was already well established. The 1867 O.S. maps show the area relatively little changed. Thin ribbon development along the Hertford Road had blurred the boundaries of the old settlements and there was a fairly consistent block of development stretching from Green Street to the junction with Welches Lane (Ordnance Road).

Enfield Wash

Enfield Wash briefly hit the headlines in 1753. A young girl called Elizabeth Canning claimed to have been kidnapped and held against her will at a house situated close to the junction of Welches Lane (Ordnance Road) and the Hertford Road. She claimed to have escaped from the house. On her evidence people were arrested, tried and convicted. Then doubts began to be expressed. The prisoners were released and Elizabeth Canning was charged with perjury, convicted and sentenced to transportation.


In 1839 there were coaches twice daily from the White Lion, Old Road to London. These were supplemented by other coaches from as far away as Hertford and Cambridge which stopped on their way to London. In 1840 the first section of the railway from London to Cambridge was opened as far as Broxbourne, but initially there were no stations between Ponders End and Waltham Cross. In 1855 Enfield Lock station (originally called Ordnance Factory) was opened. This was followed in 1884 by Brimsdown station. The Southbury Loop line (1891) gave the area another station, sited in Turkey Street. (This was originally known, somewhat misleadingly, as Forty Hill). However, this station lost its passenger service in 1909 as a direct result of tramway competition.

The early years of this century saw an electric tramway constructed along the Hertford Road. It reached the county boundary at Freezywater in 1907 and was completed to Waltham Cross in the following year. In 1938 the tramway was converted to trolley buses.

St James Church

By 1831 the area had grown sufficiently to justify its own parish church (St James). Much of the early housing development was directly linked with the housing needs of the Royal Small Arms Factory. In the angle between Ordnance Road and Hertford Road, Grove Road and Alma Road (both now demolished) were developed from the mid eighteen-fifties. Medcalf Road and Warwick Road were built in the early eighteen-sixties. The Putney Lodge Estate (Mandeville Road, Totteridge Road etc.) was developed from 1867. By 1914 the Ordnance Road area had been fairly solidly built up. The Hertford Road was more or less continuously built up from St James Church to just south of Bullsmoor Lane.

Rural Matters

The best grazing land in Enfield was on the Lea Marshes. Many of the former access roads to the marshes survive today: Bell Lane, Pigots Lane (Carterhatch Road), Millmarsh Lane and Stockingswater Lane. The area later became a major center of market gardening. Even as late as the mid nineteen-thirties there were glasshouses in large numbers.


Brickmaking was once a major industry in the area. The last brickworks (in Hoe Lane) closed as recently as the late nineteen-seventies. The Royal Small Arms Factory was built at Enfield Lock from 1814, coming into production in 1816. The factory was originally powered by waterwheels driven by the River Lea and both raw materials and finished weapons were transported by barge. The workers at the R.S.A.F. formed something of a working class elite in East Enfield, the factory had a trade union branch as early as 1855 and the workers were responsible for setting up the Enfield Highway Co-operative Society in 1872.

The Brimsdown Power Station opened in 1903. The cheap and plentiful electricity supplies were to attract many other industries to the area.


Housing development resumed after World War I. By 1939 the area was substantially built up, but there was still a fair amount of open land left in the Hoe Lane and Turkey Street areas. The gap between Ponders End and Enfield Highway was finally closed. Two major council estates were developed: the Albany Estate (from 1926) and the Suffolk’s Estate (from 1930). Further council estates were built after World War II, in particular a major development on former market garden land between Turkey Street and Bullsmoor Lane.

Great Cambridge Road

Communications were greatly improved by the building of the Cambridge Arterial Road which had opened by 1924. Originally consisting of a single carriageway, a second was added in the mid nineteen-sixties. The road has become even more important since 1981 with the opening of a junction with the M25 motorway immediately north of Bullsmoor Lane.

More Recently

The trolleybus routes along the Hertford Road gave way to conventional buses in 1961. Turkey Street station re-opened in 1960 with the completion of electrification from Liverpool Street to Bishops Stortford and Hertford East. The Lea Valley Line between Clapton and Cheshunt was electrified in May 1969.

East Enfield today presents a very uneven picture. In the Hertford Road, Turkey Street and Green Street a few buildings survive from the 18th century and earlier. The dominant impression, however, is of a slightly uneasy mixture of styles from mid Victorian through to the nineteen-seventies.

Enfield as a Whole

Enfield is actually a collection of small communities that were once scattered across the royal hunting grounds of Enfield Chase. The name “Enfield” means an area of open land belonging to Eana. At the time of the Doomsday book it was spelt Enefelde, and by Henry VIII’s reign had become a favourite hunting forest for royalty. This tradition continued with James I who spend much of his time at nearby Theobalds Place.

Today there are still separate areas within the London Borough of Enfield, but they have now merged into one large conurbation on the northern edge of London. Enfield Lock, Enfield Wash and Enfield Highway are all alongside the Lee Navigation, south of  Waltham cross,  together with the districts of Brimsdown and Ponders End.

Further to the west is Enfield Town, which has many characteristics of a village, including a market square, parish church and the attraction of the New River  running through it. The watercourse is actually an abandoned loop, now replaced by underground pipes, but a small amount of water is still fed into it for mainly cosmetic reasons. Unfortunately it has become less attractive in recent years, but has now been awarded a £1.8million lottery grant for cleaning and restoration work, together with improvements such as new footbridges and railings

Iain Campbell 2015


Further Reading

Hodson, George and Ford, Edward – A history of Enfield. 1873

Pam, David – Elizabethan Enfield 1572. Edmonton Hundred Historical Society. 1975

Robinson, William – The history and antiquities of Enfield. London. 1823.

·Tuff, John – Historical, topographical and statistical notices of Enfield. Enfield. 1858.

Reynolds, E.G.B. – The Lee-Enfield Rifle. London. 1960.

Robinson, A.E. and Burnby, J.G.L. – Guns and gunpowder in Enfield – Edmonton Hundred Historical Society. 1987

Smith, H. Charles – Co-operation in Enfield and its environs. Enfield. 1932.

Phillips, Pauline L. – Upon My Word, I am no scholar. Edmonton Hundred Historical Society. 1982. An investigation of the Elizabeth Canning Case.

Pam, David – A history of Enfield: Vol.1: before 1837. Enfield. 1990

With thanks to Lee valley-online and the L B Enfield website