Boiler House and Steam Distribution Services :
Munitions factories such as M/S Factory Dalbeattie used large quantities of steam for process heating, other sites even
having their own power stations. Dalbeattie was fortunate in being built near the hydro-electric scheme on the Loch Ken - Dee
valley, so its boilers were purely used to provide steam for process heat. Literally miles of insulated pipework, mounted on
the pipe supports still dotting the site, carried steam to heat processes and buildings, enabling continuous production in
all weathers. According to David Ferguson, three wagonloads of coal a day were needed to provide the necessary steam.
Process Heating :
Steam heat was used at all stages of the process :-
- Nitroglycerine manufacture has to occur in the narrow band between 13 and 20 degrees Centigrade, whilst blending with
nitrocellulose to make blasting jelly (cordite) is in the 30 to 50 degree Centigrade band. Hot water needed to control
this was produced by steam injection in boilers at the Charge Houses and
Burette/Wet Mix Houses.
- There is physical evidence for steam being used to heat water or oil to heat radiators in the Stoving Houses
for evaporating acetone from finished cordite and in the Drying/Blending Houses to remove any remaining
- The Acetone Recovery Houses may have used steam to power the low-pressure distillation system
most likely to have been used to purify the acetone for re-use. A similar distillation was probably used in the
Acetone Tower to maintain the purity of this expensive and essential solvent.
- It is certain that steam was used in the reprocessing of acid from the nitration of nitroglycerine in the
Acid Plant to strip Nitric Oxides from the Refuse Acid for eventual recycling as Nitric Acid in
the production process.
- It is possible (although unlikely) that the shunting engine whose Engine Shed was in Unit
1 Goods Yard may have been a fireless locomotive. This design was used at some munitions works to move wagons along works
internal sidings and lines. The Boiler House would have provided a source of superheated water and steam to fill the thermos
-like locomotive boiler. Unfortunately, the provision of a roof vent in the shed seems to indicate that steam shunting used
an ordinary locomotive. Horse shunting was definitely used both on the Goods Yard and in parts of the Narrow Gauge site
railway, the rest of the Narrow Gauge bogie railway using human 'shovers' or 'runners' to move the bogies.
Building Heating :
Steam was used to heat most of the inhabited buildings, as being safer than coal fires or electric heaters. Even in
comparatively small buildings, there are signs of radiators. The Canteen in Unit 1 (Southwick) has the wall lugs for pipes
and radiators present.
Archaeological Features of the Boiler Houses :
The presumed Boiler House structures consist of a pair of split-level structures at the end of the Platform group of
buildings. In Unit 2, the structure is at the northeast end of the platform, in Unit 1 it is at the southeast end of the
platform. This curious 'mirror' arrangement makes sense because the Acid Plants of each Unit have exactly the reverse
positioning, so the run from each Acid Plant to its Nitroglycerine (NG) Hills was the shortest possible. Equally, it means
that the coal yards for the two Boiler Houses face each other - a convenience for shunting.
- The Unit 2 Boiler House outer walls and roof survive within the former Stelrad factory, converted to a storage area.
Two roof lights may mark the position of chimneys. The back wall has signs of pipe supports, an identical arrangement
being seen in Unit 1. Internally, only the support steelwork of the buildings survives; Milk Link use the structure for
occasional storage purposes.
- Unit 1 : There is part of the presumed structure still standing beside the railway goods yard sidings, at the southeast
end of the Platform Group, convenient for coal deliveries. Most of the structure was demolished years ago, so it will be
difficult without further knowledge to determine what kind of boilers were present. The structure is a two to three storey
structure with a central wall, and to its southeast a smaller annexe with four low rectangular concrete plinths. It is not
clear what function these had.
Directly across the former Goods Yard from the Unit 2 Boiler House there is a brick-built
substation. A similar guitted building stands opposite the Unit 1 Boiler House. It is
suspected that original designs may have included some kind of generation station, but that the presence of a nearby
hydro-electric scheme made this unnecessary.
Pipe Runs and Supports :
Hundreds of heavy concrete supports and bases stand like lamp-standards in the marshlands and elsewhere. At intervals,
there are small groupings which may be for valve units or units to separate any water condensed from the steam. Mapping the
pipe runs will be a task for the future, possibly best done together with air photography.
Although not the most dramatic part of the works, the Boiler Houses were nevertheless the source of heat without which
the whole scheme would never have worked. Resolving the pipe runs and the other linkages will throw light on the state of
art of industrial steam power during the early 1940s. Britain's survival in the Second World War depended on its coal
mining industry to an extent that would appear unimaginable to most people alive today.