The Shropshire cowshed that took the war to Hitler

As the Second World War raged, a cowshed and a piggery were pressed into action to play their part supporting the efforts of Bomber Command.

A rare view of the factory in its heyday.
A rare view of the factory in its heyday.

Today records about the Peaton Shadow Factory near Craven Arms are scant or have been lost, and those with first-hand memories must have all, or almost all, have passed on.

But now an author and historian is seeking to tell the story of how those innocent-looking agricultural buildings became a centre for making fuel tanks for mighty Short Stirling bombers, the first of the RAF's four-engined "heavies."

Bernard O'Connor is a retired teacher and lives in Bouldon in the shadow of the Clee Hills in Shropshire, and has been researching aspects of the history of the local area, as part of which he has produced a new booklet called 'The Peaton Shadow Factory, Diddlebury, Shropshire, 1941-1945'.

In peacetime Hurry Heaters, of Bordesley Green in Birmingham, made oil stoves and heaters, but during the war was awarded a contract to make fuel tanks for Stirling bombers.

According to Bernard's book – which draws on the work of previous researchers – the firm's plant was destroyed during the Blitz and so in 1941 the firm relocated to the safety of the Shropshire countryside, taking with it about 30 skilled workers and their families, who were put up in the local area.

"The cowsheds and piggery on the opposite side of the road to Peaton Hall were converted into factory units," says Bernard.

"The buildings were said to have been reinforced with steel girders, the external walls built with bricks, and the roofs camouflaged. From above, Luftwaffe pilots flying over Corvedale would only have seen farm buildings and would have known nothing about what was going on inside them."

Bernard thinks local haulage contractor Lloyds of Ludlow had the contract to take the finished fuel tanks, encased in wooden crates, to the bomber plant at Longbridge.

By one estimate there were about 70 workers at the factory at Peaton Hall Farm, comprising 30 or so from Birmingham and the others being recruited locally.

The plant in the south Shropshire countryside made fuel tanks for Short Stirling bombers
Peaton Hall was the wartime company HQ
"View looking north east over the present day sheds towards the Brown Clee. Note the guard house on the left."

Unlike the rest of the Corvedale the plant was supplied with electricity – residents had to wait until well after the war to be connected.

Other products are also said to have been made at the plant, which was officially 'Ministry of Supply Store No. 873', such as tail fins, tail boxes for Lancaster bombers, and drop tanks for fighters. The company headquarters, says Bernard, was at Peaton Hall.

Production continued until the end of the war and by early 1946 the factory had gone and the cowshed returned to its intended use for dairy cows. Hurry Heaters moved back to Birmingham and Droitwich and continued to make industrial and domestic water heaters.

It seems half-finished fuel tanks were left up a country lane near the factory, but in time these too disappeared.

Inquiries by Bernard with Birmingham Museum and Worcester Archives have failed to find any of the company records which might shed more light on its wartime factory at Peaton.

As for the huge Stirling bomber, the advent of the superior Halifax and Lancaster saw it withdrawn from the front line bomber campaign, but the type would have been a familiar sight in Shropshire's wartime skies in its role as a glider tug, with Stirlings being based at Tilstock airfield near Whitchurch.

Peaton's wartime experience was by no means unique, as across Shropshire towns and villages innocent-looking buildings played their part in the war effort, with just one example being the Midland Red garage in Ditherington, Shrewsbury, making wings for Spitfires.

Bernard is hoping to produce an updated edition of his book, so anyone with any further information about the Peaton factory can contact him at fquirk202@aol.com by email.

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