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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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Gatehouses and Search Rooms

Key Facts :-

  • Security guardrooms on main entries at Edingham and Southwick Halt.
  • Main concern to prevent 'contraband' being brought in by staff.
  • Search Rooms to check staff once 'Dematch' procedure complete.
  • Contraband included lighters, matches, hairgrips and 'anything that could strike a spark'.
  • Staff could be fined two weeks' wages at Sheriff's Court for a matchstick.
  • Dematch Procedure still exists at explosives and chemical works.
  • Police unit assigned to this duty.
  • Southwick Ticket Office, Gatehouse and Search Rooms roofless but still standing.
  • Edingham Gatehouse now 'Castle Cottage' with Search Rooms as outhouses.

Unit 1, Southwick Halt, Search Rooms from SW
Unit 1, Southwick Halt, Search Rooms from SW


M/S Factory Dalbeattie Gatehouses and Search Rooms :

Ministry of Supply Factory Dalbeattie was a critical part of Britain's ammunition supply industry, as such a presumed target for air attack, fifth-column sabotage and possible commando raids. However, as the factory was in South West Scotland and remote from ground attack, the real concentration appears to have been on supervising the entry of staff. The presence of large quantities of sensitive inflammable chemicals and explosives made it essential to prevent staff from entering with 'contraband' such as matchsticks or tobacco. This is why nobody was allowed to take any of this material inside the works. It had to be surrendered at the Search Rooms and stored until the owner came off the site, or - if found during a search - the contraband would be destroyed and the guilty individual fined in the Dumfries Sheriff Court.

Staff entering the Factory were in many cases billeted as far away as Dumfries and Gatehouse of Fleet, so many would have come in by rail to Southwick Halt station and Gatehouse. Others billeted in Dalbeattie, or arriving at Dalbeattie Station, would have entered at the presumed main gate near 'Castle Cottage' at Edingham. The Gatehouse and Search Rooms survive at 'Castle Cottage', but the most unchanged example is the roofless complex at Southwick Halt, now deserted and overgrown since 1968.

The two Gatehouses were the only official entrances for staff, although the perimeter fence did have special gates for authorised Security and technical staff to enter and leave. There may also have been a special gate near 'The Trees' for the Edingham Farm horses used for yard shunting, but this is not clear.

Archaeological Evidence of Gatehouses and Search Rooms :

Southwick Station Gatehouse and Search Rooms :

This fascinating but roofless structure is to the west of the old Southwick Halt eastbound platform and is currently overgrown by young trees. The entrance area is blocked by what appear to be the Station buildings, with a small Type 24 pillbox partially masked by a brick lean-to. A passage with a ticket office to one side leads to a waiting area, with on the north side a long, narrow building, which appears to be a Police post. To the south are the remains of the boundary fence, with what appear to be the eastern end of the goods sidings approach to the Unit 1 (Southwick) Goods Yard. To the west is the Search Room block, with to the north of it the site of the old road entry, now blocked by a farm gate.

Edingham Gatehouse and Search Rooms :

Castle Cottage was formerly the Police post and guardroom beside the main road gate to the site. David Lochhead, the current owner, confirmed that the Cottage was originally a flat-roofed building that has been given a pitched roof and rendered. The old Search Block across the garden to the south of the Cottage is used as outhouses and a stable, the room nearest the road now having a sliding door and presumably being used as a loose box. However, many parts of the internal structure (e.g. old electrical lighting conduits and switch panels) survive to compare with Southwick. Mr. Lochhead has discovered a lot of ash in the garden, which he understands to be from contraband incinerated on a bonfire at the southwest corner of the Search Room block. The writer would like to thank David Lochhead for his kindness in permitting pictures to be taken of the Cottage and the old Search Rooms.

The presence of just two buildings at Edingham, rather than three, is presumably because the Ticket Office needed at Southwick Halt was not needed at Edingham.

Unit 2, Edingham Contraband Search Rooms.
Unit 2, Edingham Contraband Search Rooms.
Unit 2, Edingham Gatehouse (Castle Cottage)
Unit 2, Edingham Gatehouse (Castle Cottage).
Unit 1 Southwick Halt - Rear of
 Ticket Office, Gatehouse to left
Unit 1 Southwick Halt - Rear of Ticket Office, Gatehouse to left

What was Contraband - And Why it was a Danger :

A wide range of materials were classed as contraband, notably matches, lighters, tobacco, cigarettes and objects that might strike a spark. Hair pins, Kerbigrips, metal suspenders, metal combs, brooches, rings and ear-rings, were all prohibited contraband. The severe rules were the result of industrial accidents that had caused death and injury at Ardeer and elsewhere in the early days of Nitroglycerine and Nitrocellulose manufacture. Lest these precautions seem excessive, the reader must consider that acetone can catch fire from a small spark, whilst nitroglycerine was dangerous even in small quantities. Sanford, the 1907 author of 'Nitro Explosives', recalled an occasion when a bucket that had held nitroglycerine washings was left out in the sun. The bucket exploded once it had dried out and the tiny film of nitroglycerine had heated beyond safety temperatures.

Guncotton was brought in as blocks or bales in bags lined with a rubberised waterproof layer, as loose guncotton powder was a serious fire and explosion hazard. Cordite was similarly hazardous, which is why special soft slippers or gumboots were worn by staff handling or processing the two explosives. All buildings considered hazardous had floors of acid-resistant gritless asphalt that would not strike a spark underfoot, most being swept clean or washed regularly. The safety precautions worked, which was what mattered.

The same Dematch rules that were present in the 1940s and earlier, are still followed at Dupont Teijin Dumfries, which uses part of the old ICI Drungans factory site started in 1939. The sign instructs visitors to Dematch at the Gatehouse, the security staff there having much the same responsibility for contrabrand as the Factory Police did in World War II.

Prosecution and Punishment :

Punishments for infringing the Regulations were severe. According to one lady at an 'Open Day', she had a burnt-out matchstick she used for scraping the last vestiges of lipstick from its container. On one day she left that matchstick in her overalls and it was found in the Search Rooms. Despite her innocent mistake, she was reported and sent in front of the Sheriff Court. She was fined 5, then equal to two weeks' wages.

Conclusions :

The simple search rooms at the Factory did fulfil their purpose in dissuading casual entry and preventing the import of dangerous contraband. Although the pillboxes and fences were impressive, the most important threat was to staff safety due to selfishness or thoughtlessness. The survival of the Gatehouses and Search Rooms is an important survival of the precautions - and their somewhat draconian effects on staff.

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© 2006 Richard Edkins, Dalbeattie Internet.