Saturday, 28th July 2018 – The Depot, Weedon Bec
I got wind of this place when people I know started mentioning, in passing, book events that were taking place there. I drive past Weedon Bec on a regular basis, and even used to go to the dentist there, so how I’d missed the Depot is beyond me. For one thing, it’s not exactly small! Though in my defence it is set back from the road behind a wall…
So what is it? Well what it now is, is workshops, offices and storage spaces to let, some of which have been taken over by antiques shops, a book shop (The Booksmith) and an art gallery among others. What it was was the The Royal Ordnance Depot, which dates back to 1802, just before the Napoleonic Wars. Which is why it’s in Weedon, which is about as close to the middle of England as you can reasonably get. It is thus a long way from anyone invading from the coast, which makes sense given that it was used to – among other things – store and repair small arms and cannon!
It sits on its own branch of the Grand Union Canal, close to the railway (though there is no longer a stop here) and is also close to the A5 trunk road (Watling Street, which is a whole other piece of history). The canal is still there, though it’s now very peaceful indeed, inhabited mainly by ducks.
Apparently the site used to include one or more Royal Pavilions (one of which seems to have been turned into a visitor centre), an equestrian centre, and barracks to house 500 men, and was “an important and largely secretive arms distribution point for the next 150 years”. It seems to still be quite secretive, although that may be down to the fact that the side that would publicise it as an historical site to visit is volunteer run, and presumably not exactly overwhelmed with people who have the time to make sure everyone knows about the place. Right now the book shop is doing a better job of that.
It was in use all the way through WWII, and was finally taken out of use in 1965. It was fully decommissioned in 1984 and the buildings are now Grade 2 listed, so they remain, at least from the outside, much the same as they were back in the 1960s. I understand that there are some newer buildings, but they date from 1902-03, when a large workshop was added along with a purpose-built army clothing store. This was because the Clothing Depot, which was in Pimlico in London, had struggled to cope during the South African War (1899-1902). With clothing stockpiled at Weedon, by the time WWI broke out in 1914, it served a large area of England and all of Wales with army clothing, and presumably also kept them shod as an additional shed was devoted entirely to army boots. Needless to say because of what the place was used for it used to have a very high wall surrounding it, with look out points at each corner, and the walls of the very large, very solid buildings are very thick, because storing ammunition can be tricky, as can the proper care of 1,000 tons of gunpowder. It’s also dry, because when you have that much of it you really, really do want to keep your powder dry!
I didn’t have much time, but I stuck my head inside the book store and was impressed by the scale of it. The cafe looked nice too so I really am going to have to go back at some point. The “antique” shop contained all sorts of things, none of which I particularly wanted, but that I might have been amused to have. Sadly, I was in a rush, so I took a handful of photos and then legged it back home. I’d like to find out when the Visitor Centre is open and go back to take a good, hard look at the historical artefacts and records, but that will have to wait for another day.
It’s a fascinating piece of military history in a very unexpected place.