Royal Ordnance Factory Leeds, first opened as a munitions factory in December 1915 and opened as an ROF in January 1936, was one of a number of Royal Ordnance Factories created at the start of the Second World War.
ROF Engineering Factory opened as National Filling Factory No. 1 (Barnbow) in December 1915. Barnbow was Britain's top shell factory between 1914 and 1918, and by the end of the war on 11 November 1918, a total of 566,000 tons of ammunition had been shipped overseas.
In the late 1930s, war was seen as a possibility, if not likely, and a sizeable rearmament programme began, probably also activated by the concern that a large proportion of the arsenal was becoming obsolete.
In November 1945 full production began on the uparmoured Centurion Mark II with an order of 800 with production lines at Leyland, the Royal Ordnance Factories at Leeds and Woolwich, and Vickers at Elswick. The tank entered service in December 1946 with the 5th Royal Tank Regiment.
The Chieftain Tank was built for many years at ROF Leeds. The site also built lighter vehicles with aluminium armour, such as the Fox armoured reconnaissance vehicle and the FV180 Combat Engineer Tractor. The Challenger was built by the Royal Ordnance Factories (ROF). In 1986, ROF Leeds (and the Challenger production line) was acquired by Vickers Defence Systems (later Alvis Vickers).
On 2 January 1985, vesting day, the twelve ROFs that still remained open, plus the Waltham Abbey South site, RSAF Enfield and three agency factories, became a UK government-owned company: Royal Ordnance plc. Its headquarters was moved to ROF Chorley, Lancashire; with its registered office located in central London. The intention of the government at this stage was to privatise Royal Ordnance as soon as possible through a stock market flotation.
In mid-1985 a target date of July 1986 was set; however, by June 1986 the government announced that flotation would not be possible and that it intended to sell the company privately. The following problems were identified as barriers to a flotation:
The problems associated with ROF Leeds were solved when Royal Ordnance agreed the sale of the factory and intellectual property rights of the Challenger tanks to Vickers plc on 4 October 1986, the final agreement was signed on 31 March 1987 valuing ROF Leeds at £15.2 million. Vickers became Alvis Vickers and, in 2004, became part of BAE Systems, and the Leeds factory was closed. The relationship with the MOD was resolved by certain guarantees given to the company by the MOD regarding future procurement strategies. The financial position of the company was resolved by a Treasury cash injection and the proceeds of the ROF Leeds sale. The liabilities were with regard to a sub-contract for a missile systems between British Aerospace (BAe) and an MOD research establishment transferred to Royal Ordnance on Incorporation; BAe and the MOD reached agreement in February 1987.
Bids for Royal Ordnance plc were invited in October 1986, resulting in six offers. These were eventually reduced to two; one from British Aerospace and one from Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds (GKN). The £188.5 million GBP BAe offer was accepted, and the sale was completed on 22 April 1987.
ROF Leeds was closed in 2004 and the land was sold for housing.
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