The modern Devil’s Porridge Museum caught my attention because, with a name like that, I didn’t know what on earth it was about, but I thought I might like it. Turns out, this Eastriggs museum, works surprisingly well for kids, because it’s all about explosions!
Devil’s Porridge was the ‘affectionate’ nickname for cordite, as vast vats of porridgy mixture were produced by young women during WW1. The museum commemorates HM Factory Gretna, the largest munitions factory in the world during the First World War. It also covers military drama in WW2 and child evacuations. For such sensitive subjects, it worked well for tots, and this is why…
When the British soldiers on the front in France experienced a terrifying shortage of ammo or ‘Shell Crisis’, HM Factory Gretna, the largest munitions factory in the world, was built in Dumfries and Galloway. The first section of the museum is like the wall of the trench, with lots of little holes for kids to put their hands in to discover an aspect of trench life. The anticipation, fear and delight as they took several attempts to reach inside the trench was like something out of ‘I’m a Celebrity’.
Next, a short film summed up the history. We’re talking a 9 mile site, built by over 10,000 navvies, employing around 12,000 females when it was up and running. Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle coined the phrase ‘the Devil’s Porridge’ after visiting as a War Correspondent and witnessed the ‘Gretna Girls’ creating this explosive mixture.
Make Your Own Cordite at The Devil’s Porridge Museum!
A touchscreen explained the process of making cordite, and our tots happily mixed, tipped and smoothed out their paste onscreen. It really engaged them, but doesn’t make light of the material. You learn that the girls often lost their teeth, permanently, due to the acid in the air destroying their gums. The girls working with TNT found their skin could turn a peculiar shade of yellow, earning them another nickname ‘the Canary Girls’. I have no idea how these materials affected their lungs and gut, but the long terms effects, I assume, were hard to endure.
Accidents did happen, and individual stories of accidental explosions and bravery are highlighted.
The black and white archive images of these women at work are inspiring, amusing and emotive in equal measure. This was dangerous and often monotonous work, but it was good pay, and many believed in the cause and were proud to support the men in the firing line.
80% of the vast young female workforce were single – this brought its own drama, and matrons/monitors were employed to stop any impropriety.
WW2 info at The Devil’s Porridge Museum
In the World War Two section, our kids got to grips with the notion of rationing by playing with a weekly food allowance. It was easy to point out the absence of sweets, juice, crisps and ice cream – I think we got the point across.
Another highlight was the story of child evacuees. As a modern parent I can’t imagine boarding my kid on a train with no exact notion of where they’d go or who’d look after them at the other end. It’s beyond comprehension. As I wrestled with the emotions of what these parents may have went though, my tots were doing some interactive onscreen packing. It was a beautifully done exercise. The kids would attempt to pack a mobile, only to be told mobile phones hadn’t been invented, so most evacuees wrote to their parents and barely spoke to them during the war.
Next they’d try to pack a few old-fashioned toys, only to be informed that kids were permitted one toy each. This was met by sheer disbelief by my tots. Those little evacuees did have it so tough, it must have been such an emotional wrench for them.
Finally, some fancy dress. 1940s clobber for little ones to get in character.
There was a lot of local history and heroes (such as Dennis ‘Hurricane’ David) for adults to share with youngsters, but the rationing, evacuee packing and fancy dress were the areas that fully engaged my tots.
Outside, children can duck into a bomb shelter, or poke their wee faces through a variety of cutouts. My favourite was the portrayal of The Lady Bobby, employed to ensure that the young factory women were in bed by curfew and never fraternised with members of the opposite sex. I believe these bobbies were supposed to be married women in their 40s who were plain of face. Now that’s a job description!
The museum has a casual café selling coffee and cake, and soup and a sandwich offering. There’s also a small shop.
To sum up, the Devil’s Porridge Museum covers a unique and unusual slice of history. It’s not soft play, so it’s not the kind the of place where the kids run off to entertain themselves, but with a little bit of support and encouragement they’ll have fun learning more than you’d expect! They walked away with a Factory Pass with their name on it, and a little golden badge as a mementoes. Job done.
Opening Hours, Tickets & Getting There
For entry prices and opening hours please click here.
The Devil’s Porridge Museum is located on the B721 between Annan and Gretna. Private transport is the easiest way to reach it.
Public Transport – The museum is on the 79 Carlisle to Annan bus route. The bus stops almost immediately outside the museum. The nearest train station is Gretna Green which is 3.6 miles away from the Devil’s Porridge Museum.
We drove from Aberdeen, which took roughly 3.5 hours. We spent three nights in the area, discovering a range of child-friendly activities in Dumfries and Galloway. Other recommendations include Moat Brae (the inspiration for JM Barrie’s Peter Pan) and now Scotland’s Centre for Storytelling and Children’s Literature, the Cocoa Bean Company for some chocolate fun, and the National Trust for Scotland’s Threave Garden for some chill out time.