West Lodge is part of the Chilworth Gunpower Mills Scheduled Monument. (Click here for more information). It stands at the entrance to an enchanting tree lined walk owned and run by Guildford Borough Council. The delightful walk goes past a fish pond with weeping willows, along a trickling stream and joins in with the North Downs way. Not surprisingly it is popular with dog owners and ramblers. Over the years Guildford Borough Council has done some excellent work clearing trees, maintaining paths, cleaning up the stream and restoring monuments such as a medieval packhorse bridge. This area is one of the delights that make this borough such a wonderful place to live in.
It is an important historical site. West Lodge may not look much but it is a grade II listed building which is part of the Chilworth Gunpowder Works, a Scheduled Monument. Today it is hard to believe that this tranquil spot was once a major gunpowder factory that provided explosives to the military during the First World War. About 300 people worked here. Some lived in Chilworth and others cycled over from Guildford. West Lodge was at the heart of the site. Here workers would be checked and hand over anything likely to cause an explosion. In return they were given brass tokens which could be used to count how many people were on site in the event of a disaster. Accidents were not uncommon and the worst in 1901 claimed the lives of 6 people.
Several houses nearby were once part of the factory or were lived in by factory workers. West Lodge, however, is the only complete building still owned by the Council. As you walk through the gate and along the path you are given tantalising glimpses of a dangerous industry. Giant millstones used to grind charcoal to a fine powder line the path. Small towers of bricks and a circular chimney base are all that remain of a steam engine. A few pieces of iron across the stream recall a tramway link. On a spring day with dappled light filtering down through the trees it is hard to imagine the sinister and dangerous scenes that once occurred here. In the winter of 1901 a workman was unloading explosives from the tram. His hobnail boots created a spark which had devastating results. Further along the mighty walls of one of the few standing factory buildings has an almost Orwellian feeling.
A walk through the remains of a disused gunpowder factory does not sound like an ideal Sunday afternoon excursion. However, I defy anyone to not enjoy this place. The ruins make this a unique and intriguing woodland walk. They are Guildford’s equivalent of the Cornish tin mines that adorn the picturesque Cornish coast line. They intrigue and delight the curious walker and make this a unique place. In the 1990s English Heritage recognised the importance of this site and gave the ruins Scheduled Monument status.