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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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Nitroglycerine Sections - NG Hills :-

Key Points :-

  • Processes known from Gordon Nicholson's article of Nitroglycerine Manufacture.
  • The Nitroglycerine Sections are both on hill slopes, so 'NG Hill'.
  • Four types of Nitroglycerine House :-
    • AB : Nitration : Nitration of glycerine with mixed acids to produce Nitroglycerine. Separation and pre-washing of Nitroglycerine.
    • C : Final Wash : Final washing of Nitroglycerine and blending with Acetone.
    • D : Wash Water Settlement : Removal of traces of Nitroglycerine by settlement, and possibly by absorbtion in clay-based mud.
    • X : Unidentified House : One per Unit. Purpose not yet established.
  • Other Structures : Acids Tank bases, Charge Houses and Control Blockhouses.

Ministry of Supply Factory, Dalbeattie - Interior of Nitration House AB1, Unit 2 (Edingham)
Interior of Nitration House AB1 Unit 2 (Edingham) -
Schmid Nitrator Mounting with Wash Column plinth hidden by Elder tree. Fume tower base on edge of house embankment.

Nitroglycerine Hills at Ministry of Supply Factory Dalbeattie :

The most identifiable, dramatic and dangerous structures in the cordite factory, these Nitroglycerine Hills were the reason for the factory's construction. Liquid Nitroglycerine was far too dangerous to transport, so it was made in the Nitration Hills and blended elsewhere in the factory to make cordite.

The writer was given fairly complete details of the process for manufacturing Nitroglycerine by Gordon Nicholson, manager from 1941 to 1943 of the Acid Plant that supplied the concentrated acids used in the Nitration Houses to manufacture Nitroglycerine from glycerine. His 1943 document 'Manufacture of 'A' Nitroglycerine - Continuous Process' remains the most detailed source available for understanding the process at Dalbeattie. Unusually, the writer has been able to match the process to the archaeology, rather than having to analyse the archaeology to deduce the process, as happened elsewhere on the site. One type of House remains unidentified, so further research is needed.

Hills and Houses :

When Alfred Nobel built his first Nitroglycerine works at Ardeer in Ayrshire, he sited it on a hill, so that the liquids - acids, nitroglycerine and water - could flow from one process House to another without needing pumping. Since that day, Nitroglycerine plants have been termed 'Hills', the embanked process buildings as 'Houses'. That is why the artificial hills on the slopes in Unit 1 and Unit 2 are 'Houses' and the grouping of Houses is termed an 'NG Hill' or 'Hill'. The staff at the Ardeer NG Hill once wore red uniforms to indicate that they were allowed to work in this dangerous section of the works.

Outline of Hill layout and Process Houses :

Examination of the surviving Houses in the Nitroglycerine Hills of Unit 1 (Southwick) and Unit 2 (Dalbeattie) has made it possible for three out of the four House types present to be clearly identified. :-

  • AB : Nitration : Continuous nitration of glycerine with mixed concentrated Sulphuric and Nitric Acids to produce Nitroglycerine, with separation of Nitroglycerine from the acids, followed by acid dilution in cold and warm water wash columns and neutralisation of remaining acid in soda solution. More details>>>
  • C : Final Wash : Final washing of Nitroglycerine in hot and cold water, then its filtration, weighing and blending with Acetone before transport to the Burette Houses. More details>>>
  • D : Wash Water Settlement : Removal of traces of Nitroglycerine by settlement in cascade tanks and cataract separators, possibly assisted by use of a clay based mud flocculant to enhance absorbtion. Followed by trough settlement and wash water cleansing in a holding pond lined with clay. More details>>>
  • X : Unidentified House : One per Unit. Purpose not yet established. Adjacent to Nitration House or Houses but not linked to it. Lines of pipe supports for unidentified gas or liquid pipelines go to this House, as they do to the other Housess. Possibly onsite test lab.More details>>>

Other Structures :

Near the Nitration House there are heavily built brick walls for supporting horizontal cylindrical tanks (boilers) for various strengths of mixed acids, together with a two-chamber brick-built Charge House and a Control Blockhouse that may have been used to give remote control of the process once it was set going.

The Layout of the NG Hills :

Unit 1 (Southwick) has a total of seven Houses associated with Nitroglycerine. Two Nitration Houses (AB1 and AB2, in tandem), two Final Wash Houses (C1 and B2, side by side), two Wash Settlement Houses (D1 and D2, side by side) and one unidentified House (X) to the east of the two Nitration Houses. RAF Air-views of the site taken in 1946 revealed that Unit 2 NG Hill had a similar layout, with AB1 (present) in tandem with AB2 (demolished), AB2 being linked to the northwest to C1 (present) and so to D1 (demolished in 1980s), but also AB2 was linked southeast to C2 (demolished), itself linked northwest to D2 (also demolished). Unit 2's Houses C2 and D2 stood on the land currently occupied by the Edingham Industrial Estate's two large multi-unit buildings. House AB2 was definitely demolished by the 1980s, on map evidence, leaving a featureless slope. Matthew Taylor, the landowner, has confirmed that only four hills existed in Unit 2 during his knowledge.

It is possible that the full capacity was never made use of. This would explain the conversion of Drying Houses to Blending and Packing Houses at the north (Culkiest) end of Unit 2 and maybe the curiously unfinished appearance of some Burette House sites in Units 1 and 2. The reasons for this outcome could be one or more of the following :=

  • Collapse of the front in France during 1940 meaning less immediate demand for ammunition. Generals tend to plan for the previous war and the Western Front in France in 1914-1918 had used vast amounts of shells.
  • Production from existing facilities was greater than expected.
  • Imports of finished munitions from factories in Canada, possibly also India and Australia, helped reduce local needs.
  • The entry of America into World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor led to greater imports of munitions into Britain from the United States. However, this occurred after the Factory was in production.
As it was, the ICI factories at Dalbeattie, Powfoot, Girvan and Dumfries, produced a third of Britain's cordite from 1942-1945.


Forward to Charge Houses ~ Control Blockhouses
Nitration House ~ Final Wash House


© 2006 Richard Edkins, Dalbeattie Internet.