Gretna’s war time origins revealed in new Historic Scotland publication
19 October 2012
Gretna Green may be best known for romance and weddings, but the nearby town of Gretna would not exist if it hadn’t been for the First World War, a new publication from Historic Scotland reveals.
“Gretna – A Munitions Town” shows how a war time decision to build a factory to meet a shortage of artillery shells led to a frantic building programme to house workers in 1915. The results were remarkable – a complete town for 20,000 people, constructed in two years with a harmonious architectural style unique in Scotland.
A tangible reminder of how people aspired to live in the early part of the 20th century, Gretna today is home to a thriving community. Masterminded by one of Britain’s most influential town planners, Raymond Unwin, the town’s streets and buildings form a lasting legacy, characterised by terraced and semi-detached houses, all in red brick. Some of the most significant buildings have been awarded listed status.
Explained Historic Scotland’s Head of Listing and Designed Landscapes, Elizabeth McCrone: “Gretna was planned as a complete entity, with houses, shops, school, hospital, police station, churches, cinema and other recreational facilities.
“Many of the buildings have interesting architectural details. Some houses have large chimney stacks, a variety of window shapes and prominent gables. The public buildings too are striking, especially the churches. The Church of Scotland has a tall, Italianate square tower, while the former Roman Catholic Church has an unusual Byzantine design in red brick.
“Historic Scotland has recognised the importance of these buildings, by listing several at categories B and C.”
The munitions factory which gave rise to this huge construction project was itself a major undertaking, running for nine miles along the edge of the Solway Firth and consisting of a complex series of buildings and communications systems. Built to produce explosive cordite for bullets and shells, it drew people from all over Britain and beyond - predominantly women, who became known as the Gretna Girls.
The nearby town of Gretna which housed the workers is the surviving legacy of this munitions project. Almost nothing remains of the factory, but in Gretna many of the original buildings remain.
Elizabeth added: “Offering a new approach to urban planning, with self-contained communities, good housing and attractive open spaces, the pattern set at Gretna was to continue in the building of new towns elsewhere in Scotland.”
Visitors to Gretna today can enjoy its predominance of red brick housing, which is unusual in Scottish towns and reflects an English influence. Each street has its own unique decorative features, showing the care that went into the planning of the town. Gretna also hosts one of Scotland’s earliest purpose-built cinemas.
“Gretna – A Munitions Town”, which will be launched on October 23rd, is available free from Historic Scotland as a print booklet, and to download, at www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/gretna
. The agency has also produced a video showcasing Gretna’s built heritage, which can be viewed at the same web address.
Anvil Hall, the former St Ninian’s Roman Catholic Church, captures elements of Byzantine architecture in its brick-built structure.
Notes for editors
1.Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with ensuring that our historic environment provides a strong foundation for a successful future for Scotland. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament.
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