One of Epping Forest's top visitor attractions has received recognition to mark the outstanding achievements of a historic owner who transformed it into one of the leading businesses of its type.

Philippa Walton overcame personal tragedy and general prejudice to drive the Royal Gunpowder Mills to the height of its explosives output when she was owner and manager from 1711 to 1749.

Widely recognised for turning the business into “one of the pre-eminent gunpowder mills of its time,” she was the only woman to oversee the production of gunpowder at the Waltham Abbey site and her efforts have now been recognised with a Blue Plaque.

The proposal for the Blue Plaque was put forward by the Essex Women’s Commemoration Project.

An initiative started by Jennifer Tolhurst, the Lord Lieutenant of Essex, the project was created to celebrate and posthumously honour inspirational Essex women.

The scheme identifies women in the county who are an example and source of inspiration for the young women of today, and strives to gain public recognition for their outstanding achievements.

Attending the ceremony and celebrations, the Lord Lieutenant was delighted to unveil the new plaque which is situated on the wall outside the main exhibition area, adjacent to Walton House.

Geoffrey Hooper, Vice Chair of the Royal Gunpowder Mills Charity, said: “Under Philippa's ownership and direction, the Royal Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey became one of the most important gunpowder mills in England.

"With her astute business management, this unique site grew to become a major supplier to the government at a time when wars between European powers were virtually uninterrupted.

"There were only three Royal Gunpowder Mills in the United Kingdom and the Waltham Abbey location is the only one to have survived virtually intact.

"As we work to preserve this hugely important site for the future, we hope that Philippa’s Blue Plaque will raise more awareness of the site’s intriguing history and the important role it has played throughout the years.”

Philippa Walton was 35 when her husband died suddenly in 1711. She took control of his estate and with it one of the largest gunpowder operations in the country. The thriving business saw a reduced demand for gunpowder as hostilities with the Spanish ceased, but undeterred, Philippa entered into private partnerships with other producers to explore new markets both at home and abroad. This included hunting, mining and blasting, exporting to Africa and the Indies, and selling to merchant seamen who wished to protect their vessels at sea.

Thanks to her business acumen, she was able to expand the premises in Waltham Abbey in January 1719 and bought three further powder mills on the site, as well as the rights to the Mill Stream which provided the essential water power.

The success of her stewardship is evident in the surviving Mills' accounts, and is further demonstrated by her international trading operation that saw Brimstone being imported from Sicily along with Saltpeter from the East India Company.