A 300 year old site in the middle of a controversial takeover has a great deal of historical importance according to historians and political figures.

The Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey opened in the 1600s to tackle the threat of the Dutch navy and evolved through time becoming a state-of-the-art research and development centre producing rockets and space technology.

A potential deal with PGL, is expected to hand the children’s holiday group a 50-year lease on the whole of the site, including its ex-manufacturing buildings and historical exhibitions.

The first record of gunpowder manufacture on the Lee Valley site was in 1665.

It was a perfect location to harness the natural power of water to grind and process the explosive ingredients using 13 huge water-propelled millstones.

The River Lea also made for excellent transport links for its product, gunpowder, which became the benchmark quality for other factories in the country.

In October 1787 the Crown purchased the mills from owner John Walton for £10,000 just in time for the wars against Napoleon, representing the start of a 204-year ownership.

The mills expanded their output during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars from 1789, and had a significant role in the victory at Waterloo in 1815.

The facility also produced explosives for the British effort during the American Revolution, colonial conflicts in India and the Crimean War.

Workers grew ten-fold during the First World War, with a total of 6,000 workers half women who had previously been housewives or had domestic jobs but were mobilised by the war effort.

Gender divides still existed, men did the ingredient mixing and worked the acid plants but women were also expected to do the heavy work like operating the railways and boiler house stoking.

During the Second World War the mills worked on RDX the vital component of the ‘bouncing bomb’ of the Dam Buster raids, a morale boosting turning point in the war.

Waltham Abbey based Scientists tested RDX’s effectiveness in water in a pond located in the nearby woods.

In 1945 the mills were used as a research centre by the Ministry of Defence to develop rocket motors, ejector seat technology and propellants to direct spacecraft in orbit.

Peter Huggins, an archaeologist and historian has worked on many of the excavations at the site, uncovering the ditches of the original 1600s water mills.

He said: “It is a truly terrific historical site, and it would be a tragedy if it is lostl.”

Seven years ago, he discovered a part of a German V2 rocket from the Second World War in the woods next to the mills and donated it as an exhibit.

“I wasn’t scared at all to approach the rocket because I used to work with them as a child and I knew it was only a motor.

“The engine detaches on the German V2 and the warhead breaks off to do the real damage elsewhere.”

In 1991, in the aftermath of the Cold War the military operations on the site were closed for the last time.

The mills had become expensive to maintain for the Ministry of Defence and missile development had largely moved to America.

The site that had a role in many of the technological advancements in war throughout British history, became a tourist attraction that has recently admitted the need to secure outside investment to continue.

Today Cllr Rod Butler, of Honey Lane ward, has praised the dedication of the ‘fine’ volunteers in keeping the mills running as a ‘valuable and unique’ part of Waltham Abbey’s history.

He said: “There is an overwhelming amount of support from the public to keep the Royal Gunpowder Mills operating as it presently does.

“It is time to make some realistic and sensible suggestions to support the mills that the public and the staff are so very proud of."