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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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Incorporation Houses (Narrow Cordite Milling Houses) :

Key Points :-

  • Paired with Press Houses (Wide Milling Houses).
  • Five out of six Incorporation Houses have survived.
  • Structure designed for side venting of any explosion.
  • Twelve chambers and rear passage, front narrow veranda passage.
  • Passages to three Incorporation Expense Magazines.
  • Floors covered in acid-resistant gritless asphalt.
  • Incorporator rooms fitted with power drive and ventilator access.
  • Possible equipment Baker-Perkins Universal Incorporator.
  • Fume scavenging ventilation system and motor mountings in back passage.
  • Externally accessed safety lighting.

Unit 1 Cordite Milling Houses Incorporation House 2 and Press House 2 from Expense Magazine banking
Unit 1 Cordite Milling Houses Incorporation House 2 and Press House 2 from Expense Magazine banking


Cordite Milling Incorporation Houses ...

These buildings were surveyed as 'Narrow Cordite Milling Houses' (NMH) and initially were thought to be rolling houses where cordite paste was mixed and then rolled out as sheets. In fact, they appear to be where the raw Ballistite jelly (Cordite MD) from the Expense Magazines was thoroughly mixed and blended with Vaseline jelly and possibly with Nitroguanidine (Carbamide). The result was a Cordite Paste or 'Cordite Dough' that was then bagged and taken round to adjacent Pressing and Rolling Houses for further milling into Cordite rods and granules.

As indicated in the Cordite Milling page, each NMH was paired with a Wide Milling House (Press Houses), three pairs per Unit, with the Double Sided Milling House (possibly the Cordite Paste Rolling House) adjacent. All three Incorporation Houses have survived in Unit 1 (Southwick), but in Unit 2 (Edingham) it was only recently realised that only two Incorporation Houses survive. The missing one was in the (July 2006) currently open and unused section of the Edingham Industrial Estate, the site having been completely levelled.

Archaeological Evidence at the Incorporation Houses (Narrow Milling Houses) :

Incorporation House front entrance beside Motor House
Incorporation House front entrance beside Motor House
Incorporation House from Expense Magazine banking.
Incorporator Room : Safety light, fume vent, asphalt floor and Incorporator base.
Baker-Perkins Incorporator © M. Bowditch
Baker-Perkins Incorporator
© M. Bowditch

The NMH buildings have three main sections :-

  • A Back Passage, accessed by a rear door or by a central passage from the Veranda. This holds a dozen concrete bases with studs for electric motors, each with a shaft-drive through to its adjacent Incorporation Room. At ceiling level there was also a fume extraction ventilation system, the motor (and possible fumes condenser) being in a porch-like projection from the back of the building near the main entrance to the veranda. As the floor was bare concrete, the Back Passage seems to have been kept separate to the actual process rooms.
  • Fourteen Incorporation Rooms, each with a fume extraction fitting in the back wall near the ceiling, and with a safety light mounted in the upper centre of the back wall and the front wall, with an entry for a shaft drive in the back wall and a wide doorway closed by two unequal-width doors at the front. The floor was covered in acid resistant gritless asphalt except in one large irregular patch towards the back of the room, bare concrete and presumably for the Incorporator. Wall bolts on the wall to the left of the door marked the position of some kind of control panel. There were no obvious signs of radiators or other heating fittings, but from the Wide Milling Houses it is possible that preparing the rooms for storage of ammunition after 1945 destroyed the evidence. As an example, the drive shaft entries from the back passage were bricked up and painted over, in one of the few examples of alterations by the Royal Navy. By chance, this also covered up the metal plate of the emergency motor cutout, which in Unit 1 Incorporation House 3 was seen under peeling plaster in rooms K to N.
  • Veranda enclosed at the front by a sectional reinforced concrete frame shrouded in panels of corrugated asbestos cement. Like the rooms, floored with gritless asphalt. Openings into three angled passages to the backs of the adjacent bays holding the Ballistite Expense Magazines (Embanked Bays).

Incorporation House back passage - Motor plinths
Incorporation House back passage - Motor plinths
Incorporation House back passage - Ventilator plinth
Incorporation House back passage - Ventilator plinth
Incorporator Room door modified with lockbar for ammunition storage
Incorporator Room door modified with lockbar for ammunition storage

Thanks to the Baker-Perkins Historical Society (BPHS) and the Australian War Memorial websites, the writer was able to identify the equipment used in the Incorporation Houses as the Baker-Perkins Incorporator and by analogy with the terminology at Carsegowan Black Powder Factory (M/S Factory Carsegowan) to title NMH buildings as Incorporation Houses.

Inferred Operation of Narrow Milling Houses (Incorporation Houses) :

Ballistite from one of the Expense Magazines was brought in bags to one of the nearest Incorporation Rooms and emptied into a Baker-Perkins Incorporator, a 'Universal Mixer' similar to a commercial baking mixer. The lid was then lowered onto the Incorporator and closed with latches. Staff would be cleared from the room, the foreman starting the Incorporator and running it for about three hours, then additives such as liquefied Vaseline (Petroleum Jelly) and Picrite (Nitroguanidine) were measured and poured in. From BPHS illustrations, it is evident that some Incorporators were fitted with fume extraction lids and ducts to extraction systems. Although this would certainly have reduced the risk of acetone and nitric oxide fum poisoning, it is suspected that the need to conserve acetone was more important at Dalbeattie and that the ventilation system was used to control the fume level during loading and unloading of the Incorporator. At ICI Deer Park in Melbourne Australia, additional acetone and water were added.

After the first stage of incorporation, the mixture should be termed 'Cordite Paste' and on completion its consistency changes and it is strictly called 'Cordite Dough', although these terms are almost interchangeable in practice.

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© 2006 Richard Edkins, Dalbeattie Internet.