Most of the former factory has now gone and the site has been redeveloped for housing, but a few of the
original buildings and structures remain.
The original main entrance bridge and Police Station/House, behind the Lock Keepers cottage at Enfield
Lock on the Lee Navigation, remain but that entrance is now for pedestrians only. Just outside the old
main gate is the only place where one can now stand holding a 100 year old photograph and see that the
bridge and all the buildings in the photo, except one (unfortunately a big one!) are still there!
The main access is now via a new bridge in the style of a Victorian canal bridge, from Ordnance Road,
over the Lee Navigation, Government Row and the River Lea, to a roundabout centred on the original
water-tower which has been retained as a landmark. The new bridge is adjacent to The Greyhound, the sole
survivor of the four public houses that once served the factory's workers.
The former workers cottages in Government Row, now all in private ownership, remain looking very much as
they always have done and have been tastefully augmented by two new terraces either side of the new
bridge, which in external appearance at least are almost identical to their 19thcentury
The original Management offices alongside the River Lea, the building just inside the old main gate which
was variously the New Grindery / Polishing Shop / Laboratory and finally Admin offices, the former
Pattern Room and adjacent MOD stationery store are all now listed and have been sympathetically renovated
and converted into apartments.
The listed 1856 machine shop, generally known as Machine Shop 1 or 'the Big room', has been completely
renovated and redeveloped as the commercial centre of the Island Village, including a community hall and
health centre. Though much changed internally to adapt it to its modern uses, the internal dividing walls
have been built so as to leave the historic original structure, with its north-light roof, octagonal
columns and heavy internal guttering, exposed to view. The columns and guttering are of cast iron and all
bear the Governments broad arrow and the Board of Ordnances BO motifs, which are still clearly visible in
many places. The columns originally carried the bearings for the line shafting, which transmitted power
to the machines via belts until it was all superseded in the 1950s, and the attachment points are also
The north east corner of the machine shop, which was not part of the original 1856 structure, has been
demolished and redeveloped as a new HQ for the Christian Action Housing Association with key workers
apartments above. During excavations for that block, the foundations of the original boilers, chimney and
beam engines that once powered the machine shop were found buried beneath the later (1920s?) machine shop
floor. The font from the original RSAF church is now displayed in a glass pyramid in a small courtyard
created in the centre of the former machine shop.
Externally, the distinctive Italianate clock-tower frontage has been refurbished. Parts of the canal
through the middle of the factory and the original millpond in front of the machine shop have been
reopened. Unfortunately it was not practicable to reinstate the canal connection to the Lee Navigation,
so direct access by boat from the canal is not possible.
The Thwaites Turret Clock in the clock-tower dates from 1783 but shows
evidence of a rebuild in 1808. In 2001 it was fully restored by its original makers, including renovation
of the chiming mechanism, which had not worked since the 1960s. On seeing it for the first time in many
years, Thwaites and Reed declared it to be a national treasure as it is apparently one of very few of its
type still wound by hand and in largely original condition. It pre-dates the Great Clock at Westminster
(Big Ben) by nearly a century and for its age keeps remarkably good time.
The clock has been at RSAF since 1856 but its whereabouts for its first 73 years remains a mystery
despite a search of Thwaites and Reeds archives! There is speculation that it is one of those, originally
supplied to military buildings in the Woolwich and Lewisham area, which have gone missing so far as the
records are concerned. Anecdotal RSAF folklore has it that the clock was transferred from a prison. It is
probable that the clock was the earliest piece of original machinery installed at RSAF but what is
certain is that it is now the only piece of original equipment both still on site and still working!
Read a copy of Thwaites & Reed script about the clock and
'Open Day' Visitors
A mini museum, the RSA Interpretation Centre, has been created below the clock-tower. It includes wall
panels illustrating the history of RSAF and three cabinets displaying:
- A BREN, No.1 & No. 4 Lee-Enfields (all sectioned) and bayonet, model weapons, barrel drilling and
rifling tools etc.
- The personal tools of two former RSAF skilled craftsmen both also apprenticed at RSAF, one starting
in 1851 and the other a century later in 1948.
- Some of the apprentice training projects including two of the very fine ¼ scale, fully working
model machine tools made in 1947-52 and one of the fully working replica flintlock mechanisms made in
1983 during the refurbishment of HMS Victory, for firing her 32pdr. cannon.
Though the Interpretation Centre is alarmed and monitored by CCTV, all the weapons on display are, for
security reasons, sectioned and deactivated so they cannot be returned to a fireable condition. The
sectioning also makes them more interesting for most visitors as their internal parts can be seen.
The clock and Interpretation Centre are both looked after by former RSAF apprentice and Association
Heritage Officer, Ray Tuthill.
The Island Centre (the former machine shop), including the Interpretation Centre, is managed by Royal Small
Arms Island Village Ltd and the RSA Trust, which directs surplus income to support charitable causes in the
The Interpretation Centre is not normally manned but access is possible on request
between 10am to 2pm Monday to Friday by asking at the adjacent RSAIV management office, or by special
arrangement. The Centre is opened and manned on one day (usually the Saturday) during the annual Open House weekend in September.