This year is the centenary of the closure of the Chilworth Gunpowder Mills in various stages across 1920. I decided to speak to the Council on 6th February to ensure they were all aware of the significance of this site.
Much of the site is in ruins and hard to understand. So I want to explain why it is important and how can it benefit Guildfordians. In June 2020 the “Black Lives Matters” campaign and the issue of decolonisation highlighted the need to view our history from all perspectives. As an engine of the British Empire the Chilworth Gunpowder Mills are a feature of a darker side of our history. Some kind of art installation recognising this could add to the spot.
When the Spanish Armada-sailed up the Chanel the crown realised it needed a proper Gunpowder industry. Chilworth set up in 1626 was one of the earliest Mills in an industry that was based in the South East to be close to the Tower of London.
The most important factory in the country was eventually the Royal Mills at Waltham Abbey (now a museum) but Chilworth was perhaps the most important private factory. Byb1891 it was also the most up to date factory and boasted that after Waltham Abbey it was the chief source of powder supply for British and Colonial Governments.
It is also unique because much of the Chilworth site remains and it been extensively researched. Glenys and Alan Crocker from Guildford pioneered research and helped set up the Royal Waltham Abbey gunpowder Mills Museum. For these many reasons the site was scheduled as a national monument in 1985.
If none of that rocks your boat, don’t worry. What is also interesting is how other places are using similar sites
The North Yorkshire Moors also has a collection of industrial ruins that visitors struggle to appreciate. It acquired grants to work with community groups to scan ruins with the latest computer technology. They created 3D computer models which are then turned into relief models set up put back on the site. There’s a company called Blockworks which takes the popular computer game minecraft and works with young people to create 3D worlds of historic sites. Through these initiatives heritage assets are used to help people engage with modern technology. And modern technology is used to help people engage with the past. These imaginative ideas could be used in Guildford if we step back and take a broader view of our heritage assets.