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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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Embanked Process House :-

Key Points :-

  • Isolated embanked enclosure southwest of the Short Single Chamber buildings (SSC) in Unit 2.
  • Structure demolished in the 1980s, but from 1:2500 map evidence, an embanked rectangular building with an entrance at the north corner.
  • 1940s air photographs show a twin pitched roof process building inside the banks and indications of a second entry on the northwest side of the House.
  • Associated with the Three-Chamber Magazine to the southwest.
  • David Nicholson stated that a Black Powder works was northeast of the station area, possibly in converted Blending and Packing houses.
  • Ena Bolton suggested that Dalbeattie 'finished' work done at Drungans and Powfoot.
  • Similar to Carsegowan Finishing and Packing embanked process buildings.
  • Further investigation needed.

Embanked Process House (EPH) :

This structure is sited just to the east of the Unit 2 Paste Rolling House (DSB) and was initially thought to be a Burette ('Wet Mix') House or possibly a Picrite Nitration House, a role as a Guncotton Expense Magazine having been ruled out as being too big. In terms of size, it is as large as a Burette/Wet Mix House or Wash Water Settlement House in the NG Hill (Nitroglycerine section), but was not near enough to the NG HIll of Unit 2.

Two former staff volunteered relevant information :-

  • David Ferguson stated that a Black Powder works was put in 'as an afterthought' to the northeast of the Edingham station area. He thought this had been in unused packing and blending houses.
  • Ena Bolton remarked that Dalbeattie 'finished off' work done at other plants like Drungans and Powfoot.
This information was only gathered in the end of August 2006, but the limited evidence for this House was re-examined and compared with structures of known purpose in the Ministry of Supply Factory Carsegowan (Carsegowan Black Powder Works).

Archaeology and Description of the Embanked Process House (EPH) :

This is limited as the site has been completely levelled and any references are in maps and witness statemenbts.

  • The embanked process House was seen in the 1:2500 map to be an oval embankment around a rectangular enclosure 20 metres long by 12 metres wide, with one entry in its north corner.
  • From the 1940s air photographs, the building was in two bays spanned by a double pitched roof like a factory building. This roof layout is matched only by the double pitched roof of the Cordite Loading Station.
  • Air photographs from the 1940s revealed that there was the one Narrow Gauge bogie railway entry into the house, the spur linked to a section running into the heart of the Short Single Chamber buildings (SSC) group. A second entry absent on the 1:2500 map was found on the face of the northwest side of the embankment around the House.
  • The bogie railway avoids the adjacent Paste Rolling House, which is served by its own spur. However, the railway runs under the verandah of the nearest SSC, before reaching a section that runs from a part-sunk SSC all the way past four other SCC and under the viaduct, to terminate in the Magazine area near the Cordite Rolling Station.
  • The nearby three-Chamber Magazine is linked to the same section of Narrow Gauge bogie track as the BPEH, so is associated with no other process building except the SSC group.
The conclusion had to be that the EPH and its associated Three-Chamber Magazine were part of a process group with most or all of the SSC buildings, although it was difficult to assess their functions.

The Black Powder Works at Carsegowan and a Finishing Works at Dalbeattie :

David Ferguson is currently the only source for the Black Powder works existing at Dalbeattie, but as he mentioned it without prompting, it has to be part of his own understanding. He had mentioned it in passing whilst looking at a 1940s air photo of the site and identifying the area 'northeast of the station' in Unit 2 as the 'Black Powder works'. He then further suggested that at a late stage in the construction of the site, the Blending and Packing Houses might have been converted into the Black Powder works. He focussed on the extreme danger of fire and the powder, which made it clear that he was aware of the hazards in an industrial context. The Dalbeattie Museum newssheet from the Carsegowan and Dalbeattie works has always been something of a puzzle - Drungans and Dalbeattie would appear to have been more connected - but, if a Black Powder section existed at Dalbeattie, this would explain David Ferguson's comment. More importantly, it set the writer to making a careful comparison of the relevant portions of the Carsegowan works.

The Carsegowan Moss Black Powder works (M/S Carsegowan) had a series of processes to produce a range of finished powders for different purposes. The main processes were as follows, according to Dennis Sawden's 'Carsegowan Moss Explosives Factory' :-

  • Incorporation Runner Mills Z : Massively built structures within which nitrate, sulphur and charcoal were mixed by rotating rollers set in a metal bowl. Two structures of seven bays each.
  • Pressing Houses P : Vertical presses used to compact the mixture from the Runner Mills, producing a 'Mill Cake'. Four structures.
  • Cake Breaking Houses B1 : Mill Cake broken (pulverised) into granules. Two structures.
  • Corning/Sieving Houses B2 : Pulverise mixed with potassium nitrate solution to form granules and milled in rotating drums, before being sieved to separate granules into different sizes. Six structures.
  • Glazing Houses C1 and C2 : Where the granules were polished in another rotating drum. Four structures.
  • Dusting/Sizing (Finishing) Houses C3 : Corned granules sieved to remove loose dust and sort into a range of grades. Two structures.
  • Expense Magazines : Storage of powders during processing. Eight structures.
  • Packing Houses G : Sampling for testing, batch numbering and packing in cases for despatch. Two structures.

Possible Processes and Functions :

Finishing and Packing Houses had two distinctive features found in the now-demolished Embanked Process House (EPH) east of the Unit 2 Rolling House. :-

  • Circular or oval embankment around a square or rectangular structure.
  • Narrow Gauge bogie tunnel through the embankment to one corner of the rectangular structure.
This would point towards finishing or packing processes being carried out in the EPH and naturally raise a further question about the processes in the adjacent SSC buildings.

Process buildings Z and P are special structures and absent from Dalbeattie, as is a Charcoal Plant. Carsegowan's layout is a possible clue to the need for additional finishing following the Corning/Sieving stage, which required six structures. Glazing, Finishing and Packing are not in proportion. There was also a Sulphurless Powder Ball Mill and mention of pelleting being done but no identified structures for it.

For the above reasons, the writer would expect to find the following equivalents to Carsegowan on site at Dalbeattie in a Black Powder Finishing Works :-

  • Glazing Houses : Location : SSC. Minimum of two structures.
  • Finishing Houses : Sieving and grading houses. Location : SSC. Minimum of two structures.
  • Pelleting facility for producing pellets and prisms of powders. Location : SSC. Two or more structures.
  • Expense Magazines : Minimum of two structures, probably three. Location : Three-Chamber Magazine and two SSC.
  • Packing House for finished loose and pelleted powder. Location : Embanked Process House. One structure.
The above would provide additional capacity for the Carsegowan post-Corning processes and incidentally allow duplication at Dalbeattie of every finishing process except Black Powder Packing. That could have been done at one or more isolated SSC, maybe in the Magazine area.

Conclusions :

The Embanked Process House is now believed to have been constructed as an additional facility at Dalbeattie, as the Packing House for one or more kinds of Black Powder, after that corned powder had been finished in the Short Single Chamber structures to the east and north of the EPH. Further study would require excavation of the demolished EPH and examination of the surviving structures at the Carsegowan Black Powder Works.

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© 2006 Richard Edkins, Dalbeattie Internet.