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Ministry of Supply Factory, Dalbeattie -
 View of Nitration Hills, Unit 2 (Edingham)

Ministry of Supply Factory, Dalbeattie
World War II Cordite Works

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Cordite Rolling Houses
(also called Double Sided Buildings)

Key Points :-

  • Large high-roofed buildings in cordite rolling and pressing area.
  • Central spinal wall higher than roof level.
  • Four large process rooms.
  • Shaft drive power supply from four corner rooms to process rooms.
  • Two ventilation rooms and heavy-duty ventilators.
  • Two smaller Expense Magazines or staff rooms.
  • Enclosed veranda with platforms each side for site narrow-gauge railway.
  • Graffiti on walls on process rooms in Unit 1 example.
  • Features discovered to be very similar to the RNCF Holton Heath Rolling Houses.

Unit 2 Cordite Rolling House from SW. 
Unit 1 Cordite Milling Houses and Unit 1 NG Hill in distance.
Unit 2 Cordite Rolling House from SW.
Unit 1 Cordite Milling Houses and Unit 1 NG Hill beyond

Cordite Rolling Houses (Double Sided Buildings) :

The most frustrating of all the structures surviving and part of the process for rolling and pressing the manufactured ballistite gelatine into cordite. Both are currently in use as barns, with the one in Unit 1 thankfully least used. There are only two of these buildings onsite, both surviving in reasonably good condition because of their value as cattle barns.

Malcolm Bowditch, co-author 'Royal Navy Cordite Factory Holton Heath : A Pictorial History' has suggested that the DSB may be a parallel production facility, making a separate product to those in the Wide Milling Houses (vertical Press Houses). There is local precedent in the use of M/S Factory Powfoot making both nitrocellulose monobase cordite and trinitrotoluene (TNT) and the manufacture of grey and black powders at M/S Powder Factory Carsegowan.

Archaeological Evidence in the Double Sided Building :

The buildings are brick built with concrete roof 40 metres long and 6 metres wide, with 3 metre lower roofs on each side above narrow-gauge stations with platforms, open at each end of the veranda. The main block is flat roofed and almost 6 metres high. The building is divided by a spinal wall along its length. At each end there are three small rooms opening outwards. The centre room appears to have held a ventilation unit, the rooms at each corner being motor-rooms driving shaft-drives that run into adjacent process rooms. The process rooms are ranged two each side along the sides of the building, each with a pair of access doors onto the veranda. There is a room between each of the process rooms, midway along each side, opening onto the platform; as with the process rooms, each room is fitted with heavy-duty ventilators, which argues for its use as an Expense Magazine for either raw materials or finished product.

The ventilation system in each process room is up near the ceiling, that from two process rooms being extracted through the ventilation rooms in between the motor rooms at the ends of the building. No sign of a fume condenser or similar acetone recovery unit was identified. It seems that the fumes may have been discharged through some kind of simple pipe stack.

In Unit 2 there was an isolated bunded structure similar in scale to a Nitration Wash Hill near the DSB and now unfortunately levelled. Directly south of it was the Three Chamber Magazine structure, by its position involved with weither the hill or the DSB or both. However, in Unit 1 there is no such isolated Hill, nor is there an identified Three Chamber Magazine or the space where it might have stood.

Processes and Interpretation :

There is so little evidence that the writer is forced to guess that the ventilation and scale is correct for a paste based cordite sheet production unit. Going by Australian evidence from ICI Deer Park, built near Melbourne in 1940, the Cordite Paste from the incorporators may have been blended with additional acetone and water, then emptied into tanks at the Paste Rolling House. The process was as follows :-

  • Paste pumped to a distribution unit on a continuous rubber or fabric belt, allowing it to dry slightly.
  • Paste fed through two rollers at a preset depth and cut to length as slabs.
  • Slabs of consolidated paste transferred to canvas 'stretchers' and placed in a drying truck (trolley).
  • The drying truck might have been taken to the nearest Stoving House and the 'stretchers' transferred to racks to lose some acetone and water, but this is unclear.
  • Dried paste sheets crumbled by hand in a stainless steel 'Baby Bath' and the crumbs sieved to produce a granular powder.
At this point it is unclear whether the granular cordite was a product of its own, for bagging and despatch to Ardeer, or whether it was actually taken to the Press Houses and used to produce stranded cordite.

The DSB in Unit 1 is beside the westernmost of the three Unit 1 Press Houses, whilst the Unit 2 DSB is near the northernmost and middle Press Houses. This might mean that 'Cordite Paste' from the nearby Incorporation Houses could be taken to the DSB for processing before being sent to the Press Houses. Unfortunately, there are references to 'Cordite Paste' being used in the presses, although the Australian War Memorial picture of cordite being rammed into a press shows a fairly granular material.









© 2006 Richard Edkins, Dalbeattie Internet.