Crayford in the years leading up to the Great War was a town in decline. Armaments production at the town’s largest employer, Vickers Ltd, was virtually at a standstill with a workforce of only 300. As a result the Crayford factory was virtually closed from 1909 to 1912. This, combined with the decline of the local textile printing industry due to under investment in new processes and machinery, resulted in high unemployment in Crayford and great hardship for the sacked workers and their families. Rates were high and an ageing housing stock forced many people to leave the village. This is shown in the 5% drop in the population between the census returns for 1901 and 1911.
By 1912 the worsening political situation in Europe had forced the British Government to take stock of its armaments industry and the result was not encouraging. Vickers, Armstrongs, and Woolwich Arsenal were the main suppliers, and none were equipped for the mass production of modern armaments. Most of the buildings then in use at Crayford were built by Swaisland in the 1850’s and were out-dated and in need of repair. The factory occupied about 2½ acres and was unchanged since Maxim took it over in 1888 to manufacture his machine gun. The man Vickers put in charge of the re-generation of the Crayford factory was Thomas North. His directive in 1913 was to organise the factory for the mass production of machine guns and light artillery.