Hunslet factory is star of new TV drama

Have your say

TV viewers have been captivated by the BBC’s epic World War Two drama World On Fire, which aired on Sunday night.

The series tells the story of several different characters who are spread out across Europe as war is declared.

The cast includes Sean Bean as a Manchester pacifist and veteran of the trenches. One of the locations which features in the drama is Braime Pressings, an Edwardian factory in Hunslet.

Location scouts have been gushing over its Grade-II listed canteen, which was built to feed World War One munitions workers, for decades. The likes of A Touch of Frost, The Great Train Robbery and Peaky Blinders were filmed here before the World On Fire shoot last winter.

It’s still used today as a works canteen, although it hasn’t served hot meals since the 1990s. The sheet metal workshop is still run by the Braime family – current chairman Nicholas Braime is the grandson and great-nephew of the two brothers who founded the company in 1888. The Hunslet factory was built in 1910. The firm now has big plans to make the canteen – which is replete with period features, including a marble bar and parquet flooring – more accessible to the public. Three years ago they entered into a partnership with local event planners Dine, which also manage The Mansion in Roundhay Park and Rise Hall in East Yorkshire. Dine markets the canteen as a vintage wedding and party venue.

“We’ve had quite a lot of TV series come here for filming – we’ve lost count,” said Nicholas, who is a third-generation Braime.

“It’s mainly grown through word of mouth, and it’s nice to get the workforce involved as extras. We worked round the World On Fire filming, as we felt it was beneficial. Quite a large outdoor area was cordoned off for the changing rooms and toilets, and there were a lot of people on the site.

“I think the canteen is so well-preserved because it’s never fallen out of use. We had the Leeds Gilbert and Sullivan Society give two performances recently on the upper floor, and we’re trying to bring it back into use for social events. We’re very proud of it.” The building of the canteen in 1916 turned out to a decision that cemented the factory’s place in social history, as it is believed to be the first works dining hall in the country provided specifically for female staff.

Women formed between a third and a half of Braimes’ workforce during World War One, when the site converted to armaments manufacturing. Many of the men whose jobs they took were killed at the Somme, and there is a memorial to them in the canteen.

“There were three shifts and they worked through the night, so they needed hot meals and somewhere to get changed. It was an early form of emancipation for women as the war opened up job opportunities for them. The canteen was considered the height of luxury at the time, which is why it was built in such a grand style.”

The room had many uses after the war, including a spell as a snooker hall. From the 1950s, weekly tea dances were held there and it became a social centre for the Hunslet community.

“They didn’t serve alcohol at the time. It became well-known outside the factory for the dances, and a lot of marriages resulted from couples meeting there.”

As well as weddings, Braime also hope to allow local theatre groups and societies to use the facility for shows.

And the exposure on World On Fire is both accurate and poignant, as Braime was a munitions factory and a target for Nazi bombers during the 1940s.

“It’s a lovely building and we want more people to enjoy it.

“I’m not aware of any other productions that are coming here to be filmed - but then I’m often the last to know!”