The Cunard Shell Works in Bootle in Merseyside (historically in Lancashire) was established in June 1915, in a former furniture factory that had been acquired by the Cunard Steamship Company.
Trench warfare demanded huge supplies of artillery shells and so commercial engineering facilities were approached to turn their hand to producing munitions.
The Shell Works fulfilled part of a complex process that made 4 1/2 inch, 6 inch and 8 inch shells, with most of the production done by the factory’s overwhelmingly female workforce.
Blank steel forgings were received from the National Shell Factory at Edge Lane in Liverpool.
Shells would be finished at the Cunard Shell Works before being taken to a filling factory at nearby Aintree, where they were filled with a high explosive charge.
Photographing the Cunard Shell Works
Bedford Lemere & Co was one of the leading architectural photography firms during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Their series of 140 photographs of the Cunard Shell Works was probably the largest single commission that the firm ever received. Here are some of the highlights from the Historic England Archive.
Here, men and youths transport shells and materials using wheelbarrows and trolleys in the yard of the Cunard Shell Works.
The untidy pile of forgings and part-finished shells are probably rejects.
This timber framed and clad building was built in the yard of the works to house a hydraulic accumulator and shell presses.
Lemere took several group portraits of workers at the Cunard Shell Works.
Here, 53 workers are shown dressed in their work caps and numbered overalls.
The Ministry of Munitions insisted that employers provide suitable clothing for factory work.
Some of the women wear triangular badges that bear the inscription ‘On War Service’.
The Front Shop
This interior view of the galleried Front Shop shows female workers in protective overalls and hats working on heavy shell casings using electrically powered, belt driven lathes.
In the background is a stern looking foreman.
Working a belt driven lathe
In this photograph, young female workers operate belt driven lathes in one of the workshops.
Fitting a shell casing
A male worker uses a sledgehammer to fit a shell casing with what appears to be part of the launching, loading or detonation mechanisms.
Fixing bands onto the shells
Here, a boy worker operates a hydraulic press to fix copper driving bands onto the shells.
Behind him, a female worker fits a band to a shell before it goes into the press.
Cleaning screw threads
Male and female workers appear to be cleaning and checking screw threads to shells prior to the fitting of fuses.
Varnishing the shells
The final stage of the finishing process was varnishing the shells to prevent rusting.
Here, two women spray varnish shells before they are despatched to the explosives filling factory.
Drying the shells
Two female workers use spray guns to apply varnish to the surface of finished artillery shells.
To aid their drying, the room is heated with overhead steam heating pipes.
The medical room
The medical room at the Cunard Shell Works, showing a staged scene of a doctor and nurse attending a worker with an injured arm.
Waitresses stand by in the Cunard Shell Works canteen.
The sign above a display of shells reads: ‘First 6 & 8 shells manufactured in Great Britain by lady operators at Cunard SS Co Shell Works’.
The Cunard Shell Works had its own theatre.
The stage has a painted backdrop depicting a pair of gun turrets on a warship, possibly representing the type of weapon that may have fired some of the shells manufactured at the site.
The High Explosives
This photograph shows the factory’s all female concert party, ‘The High Explosives’, in Pierrot costume.