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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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Drying, Blending and Packing Houses :-

Key Points :-

  • Originally widely distributed over northern half of total site area.
  • Final drying of cordite before Blending and Packing.
  • Steam heated by radiators.
  • Roof vents for water vapour.
  • Similar to Stoving Houses in construction.
  • Bogie Railway used to move explosives.
  • Northernmost Unit 1 and 2 Drying Houses converted to Blending & Packing.
  • Demolished examples reveal well-drained substructures.

Unit 1 Drying House A - View along veranda showing doors and Narrow Gauge bogie platform
Unit 1 Drying House A - View along veranda showing doors and Narrow Gauge bogie platform

Drying, Blending and Packing Houses :


The most common structures during the map analysis were what turned out to be the Steeping/Drying Houses, which originally covered almost a third of the area within the site perimeter fence. In all, there were 14 in each of the two Units, a remarkably large number for one process and the largest number of buildings of any one type on site. The function was identified quite early on in the survey, as the interiors of the buildings matched internal illustrations of stoving and drying facilities at Royal Ordnance Factory Holton Heath. Later investigation showed that some of the surviving Drying Houses had been modified for other purposes, and only in mid-June did it become clear that Drying Houses at the Culkiest end of the site had become Blending and Packing facilities for the finished cordite.

Archaeological Analysis of the Drying/Steeping House Structure :

On the map, these structures appear as blocks with two projections on the back and an enclosed veranda at the front. In this they are similar to the Stoving Houses, even to having a radiator system fed by a pair of steam-heated boilers in the passage at the back of the building. Unlike the Stoving Houses, there is only one large vapour exit from each of the eight rooms, going to individual galvanised 'pagoda' roof ventilators. This made it evident that the design was not intended to recover acetone but rather to get rid of any remaining water vapour. The doors of the building were not faced with zinc, but consisted of simple timber frames covered in asbestos cement soft panels to disperse blast.

In common with the Stoving Houses, the Drying Houses stand on massive dwarf-wall foundations up to five feet high. these almost indestructable platforms are in many cases the only remaining signs of eleven Drying Houses in Unit 1 and of eight Drying Houses in Unit 2. In all, only nine intact Drying Houses remain.

Blending and Packing Houses :

The six Drying Houses in Unit 2 by a trick of fate have preserved S.32 from the 'Farewell to Shift Two' poem. A further surprise was that the radiator entries in at least four of those six had been bricked up and the buildings altered to another use. Ena Bolton, formerly in the Blending and Packing teams for Unit 2, confirmed that these buildings had been where she and other women had worked, using the bus from Dumfries on the A711 as their signal to run to the Canteen. The Drying Houses must have been surplus to requirements, implying that fewer buildings had been needed for the drying task than had been anticipated. As Ena was 18 in 1942 when called up, she would have been there when the Factory was working at capacity. That implies a question - why was the excess drying capacity constructed?

The three surviving Unit 1 Drying Houses had no identifiable numbers left, so were labelled A, B and C, from the south to the north. Ironically, C was the first to be visited. It was noted that the radiator entries had also been bricked up but otherwise floor marks of racks and the single large round vent were present.

Unit 1 Drying House A Room H showing
 radiator lugs and single round drying vent
Unit 1 Drying House A Room H radiator lugs and single round drying vent
Unit 1 Drying House C back passage vent pipes
Unit 1 Drying House C back passage vent pipes with drainage plug
Unit 1 Drying House C from E. Pipe supports,
 veranda and pagoda vent
Unit 1 Drying House C from E. Pipe supports, veranda and pagoda vent

Drying to Excess - Ether & Powfoot :

When M/S Factory Dalbeattie was constructed, it was done at the same time as factories in Drungans (Dumfries), Girvan, Carsegowan, Powfoot and Charlesfield (Newton St. Boswell). Similar building designs were used at Dalbeattie, Drungans, Powfoot and Charlesfield. Although Powfoot is now gone, its drying houses covered a vast area, because its ether-dissolved nitrocellulose powder took many weeks to dry out. Dalbeattie used acetone to gelatinise its cordite, recovering much of this chemical in the Stoving Houses. The consequence appears to be that Dalbeattie's product dried much faster and the surplus Drying Houses - at the very end of three-quarter mile steam lines - could be converted to Packing and Blending. It is just possible that the early stages of design had meant Dalbeattie to be similar to Powfoot, but that demand for artillery cordite propellant had become increasingly important and acetone was available for a solvent-based cordite process.


© 2006 Richard Edkins, Dalbeattie Internet.