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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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Engine Shed & Weighbridge Office :-

Key Facts :-

  • Located in Unit 1 Goods Yard opposite site of Acid Plant.
  • Uncertain whether there was a matching shed and weighbridge in Unit 2.
  • Buildings strongly built to resist damage.
  • Shed has chequerwork brickwork upper sides and roof vent to give good ventilation.
  • Inspection pit between lines in shed floor.
  • Located well away from delivery points for guncotton and acetone.
  • Indications of a standard coal-fired steam locomotive rather than a fireless locomotive. Type of locomotive unknown.
  • Horse shunting may have been used in areas where a risk of explosion existed.
  • Building adjacent to southeast probably a weighbridge and freight office.

Unit 1 Shunting Engine Shed
Unit 1 Shunting Engine Shed - Note cowled smoke vent on roof

Shunting Engine Shed and Weighbridge Office :

The shunting-engine shed is presently an isolated building beyond the filled-in Unit 1 Goods Yard of the Factory, with a small brick-built building to its southeast, identified by Mr. Christopher Edkins as a goods yard weighbridge. The engine shed is deliberately sited as far as possible from such danger areas as the Guncotton Unloading Rooms and the Acetone Plant, where a spark in the wrong place could have caused a fire or an explosion. In fact, the nearest process buildings was the Producer Gas Unit of the Acid Plant - another coal-using service.

The Weighbridge Office is another feature common to most goods yards, in this case used to check the delivered and despatched weights of tanker or goods wagons supplying the works. Bearing in mind that three wagonloads of coal were used in each boilerhouse every day, as well as tonnages of material needed by the production of cordite, it is reasonable to assume that a weighbridge would have been in use throughout the day. The surprise is the size of the building, maybe explained by the work that needed to be done.

There is no sign of a similar pair of structures in the Unit 2 Goods Yard area, which tends to confirm that it was a subsection of the main yard in Unit 1.

What Kind of Locomotive ? :

Visitors to the 'Devil's Porridge' Exhibition may recall that fireless locomotives were used at HM Factory Gretna, of a kind used in some munitions works to move wagons along works internal sidings and lines. Superheated water under pressure would have been run into the insulated 'boiler' from fixed Boiler Houses in the Eastriggs munitions works. The gradual evaporation of steam would have provided enough pressure to run the fireless locomotive for some hours. Once the water had cooled below usable temperature and the pressure fell, the locomotive would have gone back for another load of superheated water. The advantages of this system are that it produces no sparks, but the disadvantage is that the fireless locomotive is less powerful and heavier than a standard coal-fired locomotive of the same size.

The shunting engine at M/S Factory Dalbeattie may have been originally intended to be a modified steam locomotive, as the provision of a roof vent in the shed initially indicated that a steam shunting locomotive was to be used. From Dennis Sawden's booklet 'Carsegowan Black Powder Factory', it is evident that standard shunting and main line engines could be used as long as their funnels were fitted with a metal gauze spark catcher.

However, information from the Scottish Railway Preservation Society (SRPS) indicates that a diesel locomotive built by Andrew Barclay, Sons & Co., was used. ICI Dalbeattie No. 1, an 0-6-0 (jack shaft drive) Diesel-mechanical Locomotive, was built in 1941 and in use at Dalbeattie at least until 1943, possibly into the days of the Royal Naval Armaments Depot Dalbeattie from 1946. It is now in the SRPS museum, possibly the only remaining machine dating from the operational period of the works. Site visitors can see a picture of it on the SRPS website. The strangest feature to modern eyes is that this engine was fitted with a chimney similar to that on a small steam engine. Mr. John Burnie of the SRPS is thanked for this information.

Horse shunting was definitely used both on the Goods Yard near the Cordite Loading Station and in parts of the Narrow Gauge site railway. The rest of the Narrow Gauge bogie railway used human 'shovers' or 'runners' to move the bogies.

Unit 1 Engine Shed exterior
Unit 1 Engine Shed
Chequer brickwork under roof level
Unit 1 Engine Shed Interior
Unit 1 Engine Shed
Inspection Pit and Buffer Frame
Unit 1 Weighbridge Interior
Unit 1 Weighbridge Interior
Detail of weighbridge pit.

Archaeological Features of the Engine Shed :

The Engine Shed is a solidly-built brick structure with a reinforced concrete roof and floor, with the remains of a standard gauge internal track and an inspection pit. The upper sections of the walls on three sides are a chequerwork of brickwork to assist in the escape of fumes and steam. On the inside back wall there is a fuse and switch box for the light and power supply, with an external isolator switchbox.

Archaeological Features of the Weighbridge :

A smaller structure than the Engine Shed, the Weighbridge is nevertheless a substantial brick built building with a strong roof of reinforced concrete and two substantial windows. The concrete floor has a distinctive trench-like slot in the floor beside the northwest wall of the building, with a deeper section for accommodating other parts of the now-vanished mechanism. Regrettably, the site of the weighbridge and its goods siding has heen buried under a mass of rubble and crushed steel drums, presumably dating from the use of the yard as a dump by the Stelrad radiator factory.

Conclusions :

The identification of both buildings was eased by the fact that they were standard railway goods yard features. Both are in a surprisingly good state of preservation.


© 2006 Richard Edkins, Dalbeattie Internet.