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Women who worked at the munitions factory became known as the ‘Barnbow Lasses’

A man who saved the lives of 12 women in an explosion at a World War One munitions factory has had a road and bridge in Leeds named after him.

William Parkin was a mechanic at the Barnbow Munitions factory in Crossgates, Leeds, when a shell exploded in Room 42 on 5 December 1916.

The accident killed 35 of the so-called “Barnbow Lasses”, but Mr Parkin returned to pull 12 more to safety.

A plaque will be unveiled at the site at the Thorpe Park retail park later.

Members of his family will be there and stories will be told about the events of the night.

There were about 150 women and girls in the room when the explosion happened, at 22:27 as the night shift got under way.

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With 35 dead and many more injured, men and women rushed into the room to try to bring the injured to safety.

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There were between 100 and 150 women and girls working in the room at the time of the explosion

Mr Parkin went in several times and brought 12 women out, only stopping when emergency services arrived.

His bravery was not officially recognised at the time, but he was presented with a silver watch by some of the survivors.

In 2016, the site of the factory was given heritage protection by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to recognise the role of women in the conflict.

William Parkin Way will pass partially over the site of the shell-filling factory where information boards about the site will be placed.


The history of Barnbow

  • The explosion at Barnbow led to the single largest loss of life in the history of Leeds
  • When World War One broke out, there was unprecedented demand for ammunition and three businessmen found the site for the factory
  • It was built within three months and employed 17,000 workers, most of them women
  • Three separate explosions happened at the factory, but the most serious was the one on 5 December 1916
  • A further two women were killed on 21 March 1917 and three men lost their lives in a blast on 31 March 1918

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