Building the Debden Printing Works

A photographic record of the building of the Bank of England’s Banknote Printing Works at Debden, Essex.
In 1954, the Bank of England began construction of its new banknote Printing Works in Debden, Essex. The building project was photographed over the next two years. Many features of the building that are visible in these photos can be seen in Feliks Topolski’s drawings of staff at the Printing Works.

The new Debden Printing Works

The Bank found a site for its new factory in Debden, Essex.

The location was convenient: the Central Line had recently been extended through Debden, running past the Works itself. It was a direct line between the new factory and the Bank of England’s main building in central London.

Debden aerial view. Reference no 15A13-6-2-1-4/160

Debden aerial view. Reference no 15A13-6-2-1-4/160

Early construction

During the 1950s, the town of Debden was expanding rapidly.

The homes seen in the background of this photo were built for people whose east London homes had been destroyed during the Second World War. The local authority was keen to attract new employers to the area.

Early construction. Reference no 15A13-6-2-1-2/013

Early construction. Reference no 15A13-6-2-1-2/013

Constructing the main production hall

The new building was designed by the architect Howard Robertson and the structural engineer Ove Arup.

They used reinforced concrete to create a high, arched ceiling for the main hall. The roof didn’t need supporting pillars so there was more space for the production line. 

Constructing the main production hall. Reference no 15A13-6-2-1-2/027

Constructing the main production hall. Reference no 15A13-6-2-1-2/027

Casting the arches

The reinforced concrete roof arches of the main production hall were cast in pieces on site, and then lifted into place.

Casting the arches. Reference no 15A13-6-2-1-2/010

Casting the arches. Reference no 15A13-6-2-1-2/010

Main production hall

One side of the arched roof was set with windows, to maximise the natural light within the hall.
Windows of the main production hall. Reference no 15A13-6-2-1-3/070

Windows of the main production hall. Reference no 15A13-6-2-1-3/070

Near completion

The two arched halls give the Debden Printing Works a distinctive profile.

The large arch on the left is the main production hall that runs the length of the building. The smaller arch on the right is a much smaller hall. There was also a large administration area, and a separate canteen block. 

Near completion. Reference no 15A13-6-2-1-3/114

Near completion. Reference no 15A13-6-2-1-3/114

Inside the main production hall

Working conditions in the new building were much better than in the old, cramped premises at Old Street.

Natural light came from large windows running the length of the hall. The wooden parquet floor – still in place today – reduced dust and noise on the production line.

Inside main production hall. Reference no 15A13-6-2-1-4/132

Inside main production hall. Reference no 15A13-6-2-1-4/132

The strong rooms

Secure strong rooms provided space for sheets of banknotes to dry off between stages of the printing process.

They were built next to the main production hall, close to the production line. This reduced the distance the part-printed banknote sheets needed to be moved at each stage, improving both efficiency and security.

Strong rooms. Reference no 15A13-6-2-1-6/256

Strong rooms. Reference no 15A13-6-2-1-6/256

The recreation hall

There was a large recreation hall for staff to use during their breaks.

There were tables and chairs, and games like table tennis and darts. It also had a well-equipped stage. The Printing Works had active staff musical and dramatic societies who staged regular performances and revues.

Recreation hall. Reference no 15A13-6-2-1-6/284

Recreation hall. Reference no 15A13-6-2-1-6/284

Works entrance

By the beginning of 1956, the building was virtually complete. The painstaking process of moving staff and machinery from the old site could begin.

Banknote production at Debden began in March 1956. To this day, every Bank of England banknote in circulation has been manufactured at the Debden Printing Works.

Works entrance. Reference no 15A13-6-2-1-5/239

Works entrance. Reference no 15A13-6-2-1-5/239

This page was last updated 14 December 2020

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