WW2 Treasure Hunters – Season 2 – Weedon Ordnance Depot

A truly astonishing volume of finds were recovered during filming of this episode of WW2 Treasure Hunters. So much that we had to spread them out over a large concrete loading bay!

This blog contains a large number of photographs of the items recovered, the majority of which were given to the current owner of the Depot, so that a museum could be created to remind visitors of the history of this vitally important site.

Some of the items recovered were covered under the current firearms regulations and, even though ground dug and rusted to heck and back, were handed over to a section 5 licence holder for correct disposal. Thanks Giles!

First off, a potted history of the depot itself.

The Grand Junction Canal reached Weedon in 1796, the year in which Napoleon defeated Austria. After several years of war, in 1802 the Treaty of Amiens brought a short period of peace.  However, war again broke out in 1803 and there was great fear that England would be invaded before the other nations of Europe could come to her aid.  Napoleon’s plans for an invasion were no secret.

The English government made considerable additions to the Army and Militia, and large bodies of volunteers were raised. It was realised that the storage of military supplies near to the coast was no longer prudent, and plans were made to set up a depot for the storage of arms and ammunition near to the centre of the country.  The site at Weedon Bec was chosen due to the proximity of the canal and turnpike, and in 1803, following an Act of Parliament, 53 acres of land were requisitioned. The government later extended their estate to about 150 acres. The depot, which was eventually to become the central small arms centre for the British Army, was originally served by the canal, by its own branch which entered through a portcullis. Designed by Colonel Pilkington of the Royal Engineers, the depot was largely built between 1805 & 1806.

After the London and Birmingham railway line was built through the village, a moveable bridge was provided over the canal to swing out of the way should any boats need to gain access to the depot. Later a connecting link was built from the railway into the depot, superseding the canal. The railway then took over as the main means of transporting goods into and out of the depot.

The main area of the depot consisted of eight enormous storehouses, built either side of the central canal and surrounded by a high stone wall. Various defensive positions were included in the design of the wall, later to be used for anti-aircraft guns during WW2. The upper floors were used for storage of small arms, as well as the repair and servicing of everything from cavalry swords and muskets when it first opened, to pistols, rifles, bayonets and Vickers machine guns during WW2.  The ground floors were for larger items such as field artillery. As the site developed over the years, some of the storehouses were used to house other types of kit such as uniforms, webbing, boots and weapon slings and spares, with new buildings added as and when needed.

There were canal gatehouses at each end of the main precinct of these storehouses. Beyond, at a safe distance, the canal entered a further walled area, likewise gated at either end, which contained a row of four gunpowder magazines, each separated from the next by a ‘blast house’, (a large building filled with earth as a precaution against explosions). Later, another magazine was added, as well as a large ‘clothing store’, between the two precincts in 1902. All these buildings survive to this day, along with numerous other huts added during WW2, and the whole site is listed Grade II*.

There was also a barracks in the village, holding a standing battalion, plus a troop of cavalry and a troop of horse artillery. The barracks were demolished in the 1950s to make way for a large housing estate, but the developers left a large number of the horse tether posts in situ, as a reminder of times past, (along with the street names, all of which have a military ‘theme’). Three large pavilions were built between the depot and barracks to house the senior civilian officers of the depot. These were demolished in the 1960s. Next door to the barracks was the Army School of Equitation, also demolished in the 1960s. The depot became redundant in 1965 and was sold by the Ministry of Defence in 1984. It is now used for storage and light industry.

The Depot played a vital role in all the major conflicts of the time including the Crimean War, the Boer War and particularly the two World Wars.

The Depot played an important part in the First World War when much of Kitchener’s Volunteer Army was clothed from the Clothing Store warehouse at Weedon. This period also saw further new buildings, some temporary, being built. One was devoted just to Army Boots! After the Great War, other sections of the army moved to the Depot including the Machine Gun Section in 1925, the Army Bicycle Section in 1930 and, from 1922, the Barracks became the home of the Army Equitation School.

During the Second World War, the Depot again played a major role with the powder magazines becoming home to types of ordnance inconceivable when they were first built. Because of the amount of supplies being housed at Weedon, outlying sub-depots were established in three local brickyards, a factory and the old (St John’s) Midland Railway Station in Northampton, as well as the stands at Northampton Rugby Club’s ground at Franklins Gardens! Indeed, local residents remember the fields surrounding the depot being stacked high with crates holding all types of weapons and kit.

Between October 1942 and November 1943 over 3,500,000 weapons alone were issued from its storerooms! It also supplied other kit essential to the armed forces and played a major role in equipping troops with everything from boots and uniforms, to weapons and ordnance throughout the war.

After the war the depot lost some of its functions but became a centre for returned stores, with over 7.5 million weapons passing through its doors between 1945 and 1950.

And now on to the finds…….

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Finds from dig site one. Note all the 50cal (50 round) ammo boxes at the rear. We found a whole stack of them!
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Finds from both dig sites combined on a concrete loading bay!

A closer look at individual groups of finds.

Bear in mind that all this was handed over to the historian at the Depot after filming was complete, so there was no time to clean anything. Consequently I’m afraid you will have to make do will pics of still-covered-in-mud-and-rust relics!

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Sten SMG spring caps, spring cap locks, trigger guard covers and a flintlock action
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Sten SMG barrels, magazine housings, barrel sleeves, bolts and magazines (most of this was handed over to the section 5 licence holder)
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Various tools, Sten mags, Lee-Enfield oil bottles, Sten spring cap locks, different types of Sten cocking handles and one from a Bren
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Cocking handles from Browning 50cal
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One or two sten mags
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Winding arms from Bren 100 round magazine along with other parts from same and an adaptor bracket for mounting on the Bren. Couple of 303 inspection rounds as well
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Bren gas regulators (handed in) along with Bren butt plate, Browning pistol grip, cocking handle Bakelite grip and Bren de-fouling tools
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Bren bolts (handed in), Besa parts and a Bren  carry handle sleeve
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Last 2 inches of Sten barrel, chopped off at the depot as a means of deactivating the weapons
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Last 2 inches of Sten barrel, chopped off at the depot as a means of deactivating the weapons
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Flash hiders from Mk 1 Sten (and a bit of stray barrel)
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Bren combination tool
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Vickers MG rear sight, two 303 followers from a 100 round mag
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Spider sight, bolts (handed in) and piece from a Vickers tripod
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Inertia grenade launcher (handed in) and a couple of Vickers MG barrel cups
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4 inch smoke discharger actions (handed in), Bren Mk 1 gas cylinders (handed in)
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Part of 4 inch smoke discharger
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Browning M1919 breech cover, parts from within and trigger
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Sten Mk 4 magazine loading tool
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Vickers MG rear sight
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Boys magazines and Boys magazine crate
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Lee-Enfield and Browning MG barrels (handed in), leg from a tripod
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Lee-Enfield No 1 nose caps, Bren oil bottles
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Vickers MG spare parts tins, Browning M1917 oil bottles, Lee-Enfield oil bottles, Bren barrel gauze
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Remains of Bren 100 round magazine
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Bren flash hider
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Vickers MG rear sights
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Vickers and/or Browning M1917 water jacket plugs and remains of water jacket corks
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303 inspection rounds, Lee-Enfield rear sight protectors
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Bren butt plates, sling hooks and parts from 100 round magazine
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Signs from inside the wooden crate of a No 76 grenade leaning against an old wagon wheel, thought to be from a small artillery piece
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A couple of Sten spring caps
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Besa parts, Bren parts, Sten stocks, Sten flash hiders, Browning M1919 pistol grips……and more!
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A pile of Sten mags, Bren gas regulators (handed in), Sten barrel (handed in), Bren 100 round magazine winding arms, Lee-Enfield brass butt plates, Browning 50cal cocking handles
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Large group of items, mostly covered elsewhere in this blog. Bren mags can be seen here (all Sten barrels and bolts were handed in)
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Various different bayonets and scabbard parts, MG vehicle mount, parts from a Besa case catcher bag, parts from bayonet scabbards
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Far right – Thompson 20rnd magazines and above them 2 handles from Browning 50cal along with lots of other stuff!
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Most of this is covered elsewhere …..
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Vickers muzzle booster (missing the end cup), Vickers tripod parts and belt stretching tool.
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PIAT rear sights
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Inertia grenade launcher (handed in)
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Spider sight
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Thompson 20 rnd mags
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Browning 50cal handles and above them, parts to Besa case catcher bag
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We made almost a complete Sten! (barrel and magazine housing section + bolt handed in)
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End 2 inches of Sten SMG barrel
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Lee-Enfield and Long-Lee butt plates
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2 bipods for the Boys anti-tank rifle. Amazing!!!

 

It really was a truly amazing dig and a real pleasure to dig this incredible site! We also created a whole museum for the Depot in one dig!

Not a bad haul. Not bad at all………

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4 comments

  1. Would you be able to offer any advice for my son who would like to become a historian. He is at present in his third year at Derby University it is a general question with regards his future and his studies at the moment thank you for any help or advice.

    Like

  2. Brilliant episode,amazing finds,couldn’t believe the old buildings are still standing and being used to this day,what I would do to get finds like that lol

    What did you do with all those finds?????

    Looking forward to next week’s episode now

    Like

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