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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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Site Railways and Trolley Runways :-

Key Points :-

  • Asphalt runs for wheeled trollies present near Nitration Hills and Cordite Milling Houses.
  • Trolley viaduct between Unit 1 Nitration Hills best example preserved.
  • Indications of Narrow-Gauge Railway for trolleys elsewhere onsite.
  • Written and graffiti references to 'Snoker (Snooker) Bogies'.
  • Verandas cover unloading platforms beside explosives buildings.
  • Bogies flatbed and van types, apparently pushed by 'runners' or 'shovers'.
  • Illustrations from other sites.
  • More investigation needed.

Narrow Gauge Railway Points at west end of Bridge between Units 1 and 2.
Narrow Gauge Railway Points at west end of Bridge between Units 1 and 2.

Site Trolley Runways and Narrow Gauge Railways :


M/S Factory Dalbeattie was designed with two completely different systems of site railway, both of which had to be free from the risks of sparks igniting powders and fumes and also as free as possible from vibration. The Nitroglycerine Sections (NG Hills) used a special covered runway 'tunnel' whilst from there elsewhere in the site there were many miles of 2 feet 6 inches Narrow Gauge bogie railway tracks.

Nitration Hill Trolley Runways :

During the production of nitroglycerine, buckets or small tanks of this hazardous chemical had to be transported between the Nitration Hills. The solution was to build covered runways between the Hills, for staff to push rubber-tyred tank trolleys along. The runways were generally raised viaducts, most of them having been destroyed, but fragments survive at Unit 2 (Edingham) and at Unit 1 (Southwick) there is an entire runway without its cover but with a unique junction. Nitroglycerine recovered from the Wash Water Settling Houses and Mud Wash could be returned to the Final Wash Hill for purification and blending with acetone stabiliser.

In view of the fact that the runways were covered in acid resistant gritless asphalt and had precast surfaces, the sheer cost of having more than a limited area served by this, explains why all other goods carriage within the site was on the cheaper narrow gauge railway and its four-wheel bogie trucks.

1931 Nitroglycerine trolley<br>
Copyright M. Bowditch
1931 Nitroglycerine trolley
© M. Bowditch
Unit 1 NG Hill Trolley Runway on Viaduct
Unit 1 NG Hill Trolley Runway on Viaduct
Unit 1 NG Hill Trolley Runway Junction
Unit 1 NG Hill Trolley Runway Junction

Narrow Gauge Railway and Snoker (Snooker) Bogies :

This standard Ordnance Factory 2 feet 6 inches gauge system has left its traces throughout the M/S Factory at Dalbeattie, with embankments (traverses) and straight tracks very evident. Most have now been damaged by generations of cattle and sheep, but the layout of the lines to the Burette Houses, Cordite Milling, Stoving and Drying Houses can still be made out. Tthe most visible items are the hardwood sleepers buried in the concrete beside the buildings and in the ballast of the best-preserved traverses.

Narrow Gauge Railway Traverse in Unit 1
Narrow Gauge Railway Traverse, Unit 1
Bogie used at ICI Nobel Factory, Ardeer
Bogie used at ICI Nobel Factory, Ardeer.
Narrow Gauge Platform in Drying House, Unit 1
Narrow Gauge Platform in Drying House, Unit 1

Blasting gelatine taken from the Burette Houses was unloaded into the three storage huts (Expense Magazines) beside each Rolling House. The rolled gelatine was taken for pressing into blocks and then for die extrusion as cordite. The Paste Rolling and Press Houses, together with all subsequent process houses, used enclosed veranda-type platforms to load and unload the product. This indicates that it was considered safe enough to use the bogies, even in the acetone fumes coming from the pressing processes. Veranda stations make many buildings of different function confusingly similar, but there seems to have been a difdference between the continuous platforms of most buildings and the small split-platforms of what the writer terms 'Short Single Chamber Buildings' (SSC) of which only three damaged examples remain.

Whilst studying the Final Wash House of the Nitration Hill in Unit 2, it was discovered that a fragment of the Trolley Runway remained on the first floor level entry, but that the narrow gauge railway ran into an open area outside the Final Wash House at ground level. This suggests that the acetone-stabilised nitroglycerine was taken on bogie wagons to the Burette Houses for the mixing into blasting gelatine, this then going on the bogies to the Cordite Milling Houses, the milled product being further removed to the Stoving and the Drying Houses the same way.

Examination of the embanked houses in the Ministry of Supply Factory Powfoot Tri-Nitro-Toluene section on 17th October 2006 has revealed that the rails within the entries and the process houses were made of oak, with their upper and inner surfaces covered with gunmetal (leaded brass) as a guard against sparks. The narrow gauge track elsewhere within Powfoot was of steel. The implication was that the sister site at MS Dalbeattie had a similar rail arrangement, explaining remarks about 'brass rails' at Dalbeattie and at the Carsegowan Black Powder works.

The Narrow Gauge Railway system's full extent inside the site has not yet been measured, but could not be less than eight miles of carefully-laid track. It crosses at least six small bridges, two larger ones and an unknown number of culverts. The system had approximately fifty junctions or points, of which just one survives on the bridge across the Kirkgunzeon Lane between the Unit 1 and Unit 2 Drying House sections.

© M.Bowditch
Ardeer flatbed bogie Ardeer flatbed bogie RNCF Holton Heath Covered Bogie
Holton Heath Flatbed & Covered Bogie
Detail from picture © M. Bowditch
RNCF Holton Heath loco and bogies
RNCF Holton Heath loco and bogies
© M.Bowditch

The exact kind of bogie used at Dalbeattie is not yet known, but the writer has been able to find some information :-

  • David Porter of Culkiest Farm saw six women bringing a bogie up to the Drying and Blending Houses in the early 1940s.
  • Dennis Sawden, author of the booklet 'Carsegowan Moss Explosives Factory', passed the writer two pictures of a bogie used at ICI Nobel works at Ardeer. Ardeer used 1,100 lbs (half-tonne) capacity open platforms mounted on four small railway-type wheels. These bogies could be propelled by manpower, by electric locomotives or drawn by horses. As Ardeer was the parent works, it is probable that Dalbeattie used something similar.
  • James Todd, one of Sawden's own sources, described a bogie at Carsegowan that was 6 feet long, 5 feet high and about 3 feet wide, with a curved canopy roof and canvas sides, protecting three levels of shelving that each held eight boxes of gunpowder. The shelving may have been removable.
  • Malcolm Bowditch's picture of the Holton Heath Cordite Rolling House actually has a bogie beside it matching Todd's description. He also has a different picture of a battery-powered electric locomotive drawing two loaded platform bogies matching the Ardeer images, at RNCF Holton Heath.
  • Wayne Cocroft, the writer of 'Dangerous Energy', mentioned that bogies from either ICI Ardeer or ROF Bishopton were in use at the Waltham Abbey Powder Works, but discussion established that they might have been refitted to Waltham's 18-inch gauge. However, in dimensions they resemble the Carsegowan and Holton Heath examples.
  • The 'Farewell to Shift Two' poem written by a site foreman at Dalbeattie refers to "The shovers of the Snoker Bogies" whilst a 1907 article on Ardeer describes the 'runners' who pushed the bogies around the site. He refers to one trio by telling of their "Their strong point, I'll say, was three runs a day... to S.32", this being one of the remoter Drying and Blending Houses at the north end of Unit 2.
  • Helen Ritchie, formerly a worker at Ardeer, describes a 'Honey Bogie' used to visit and clean out the dry (chemical) toilets. It was regarded as a punishment detail and was the most unpopular job on site.
  • The low-angle 1942 - 1943 RAF air photographs supplied by the Royal Commission show objects similar to the Ardeer bogies on the narrow-gauge tracks within the magazine area.
  • Katherine Mouncey and Mrs. Bell, both bogie 'runners', described platform bogies similar to the pictures of the Ardeer bogies. Katherine Mouncey and Mrs. Bell separately confirmed that Clydesdale horses were used to pull sets of two or three loaded bogies from the Blending and Packing sheds to the Magazines and Loading Station.
All this information indicates that bogies varied according to the task in hand, even as the railway wagons on the main line did.

Why Half-Ton Bogies and Why Two Feet Six Inches Gauge ? :

The short answer is that Ardeer was built with a similar gauge, but the writer visited Woodhorn Colliery Museum and realised that the pit trucks could carry half a ton and ran on a thirty-inch gauge steel track. A single Shetland pit pony could draw a half-ton load of coal along the underground driftways (tunnels). Alfred Nobel appears to have taken over an existing technology, using three women (or two men) to propel these trucks. Woodhorn also had quarter-ton trucks that resemble the dimensions and weights of the small older design of nitroglycerine trolley used at Holton Heath and at Dalbeattie.

Conclusions :

The Trolley Runways and the Narrow Gauge bogie railway on the Dalbeattie site seems to have been used for a large number of tasks, mundane and dangerous. Whilst some use may have been made of horses, the main power was womanpower, pushing the loaded bogies up to a mile at a time in all weathers. Sadly, nothing remains of their efforts except some grass-covered ballast and the embankments and bridges. It has to be said that the 'shovers' risked their lives moving explosives, the remarkable feature being that nobody got killed in the process.


© 2006 Richard Edkins, Dalbeattie Internet.