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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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Short Single-Chamber Buildings (SSC) :-

Key Points :-

  • Fourteen SSC between Unit 1 and 2 with six SSC south of the dismantled railway, only three surviving.
  • Side veranda unloading 'platforms' similar to Stoving and Drying buildings. Heavy foundations to keep the buildings dry.
  • Largely demolished in 1970s - 1980s.
  • Nitrocellulose stores and Blending and Packing rooms suggested, although some structures with these functions exist elsewhere onsite.
  • David Nicholson stated that a Black Powder works was northeast of the station area, possibly in converted Blending and Packing houses.
  • Ena Bolton suggested that Dalbeattie 'finished' work done at Drungans and Powfoot.
  • Further investigation needed.

Short Single-Chamber Buildings (SSC) :

The most enigmatic structures on the entire site are these buildings, only one of a cluster of fourteen surviving north of the railway line. Two out of a cluster of six still survive south of the railway line, north of the magazines and east of the cordite loading station. Their exact functions remain unestablished. The uncertainty makes it necessary to refer to these buildings by their map survey classification rather than an assigned process building name.

Two former staff volunteered relevant information :-

  • David Ferguson stated that a Black Powder works was put in 'as an afterthought' to the northeast of the Edingham station area. He thought this had been in unused packing and blending houses.
  • Ena Bolton remarked that Dalbeattie 'finished off' work done at other plants like Drungans and Powfoot.
This information was only gathered in the end of August 2006, but may explain some puzzling aspects of the works.

Short Single Chamber Buildings Archaeology and Description :

  • From a map survey, the SSC occupied about 20% of the land in Unit 2 and about 30% of the land in the Magazine section. This is more than the area covered by the Cordite Milling and Stoving Sections. The buildings are therefore important.
  • The SSC were built at the same time as the rest of the factory and to similar designs, so they were not erected by the Royal Navy for its Armaments Depot.
  • In appearance the SSC are not unlike the much longer Stoving and Drying/Blending Houses but have no subdivisions, hence 'Short Single Chamber' buildings.
  • The SSC are also on massive dwarf wall foundations and concrete slabs up to five feet above local ground level, to keep the floors dry, as with Stoving and Drying Houses.
  • The SSC also have a side veranda with unloading 'platform' for Narrow Gauge track-mounted ordnance bogies. Unlike the Stoving and Drying Houses, the unloading platforms are not continuous, being restricted to areas near the doorways.
  • The back passage and the extensive radiator and ventilator arrangements of the Stoving and Drying Houses are missing from the SSC. There are no visible signs of process machinery bases.
  • The surviving two houses south of the railway both have wall-mounted safety lighting and what appear to be pendant ceiling-mounted wire-caged ordinary incandescent lights. This unusual lighting system may indicate either a re-assignment of function or a change in risk during the working process.
  • The surviving doors are similar asbestos cement panelled frame doors to the Stoving, Cordite Milling and Drying Houses, arguing either for use in the process or storage of explosives or bureaucratic inertia in providing doors.
To summarise, although the SSC are superficially similar to Stoving and Drying Houses, sufficient variations exist for them to be considered for a different but essential function.

The Recollections of Ena Bolton and David Ferguson :

Mrs. Bolton has hinted that the Dalbeattie Factory 'finished off' some production from Drungans and Powfoot. This would make sense in terms of the Drungans production of Guncotton (nitrocellulose) into Cordite. As the main products of Powfoot were monobase cordite (Guncotton granules) and Trinitrotoluene (TNT), the writer is still uncertain how these would have been further worked on. The next stage with both Powfoot products would have been either cartridge manufacture or (in the case of the TNT) blending into explosive mixes for bomb and shell filling. Unfortunately, other staff have told the writer quite categorically that the Dalbeattie works only produced Cordite and never filled shells or cartridges, so a different interpretation is called for.

David Ferguson considerably surprised the writer by looking at a 1940s air photo of the site and identifying the area 'northeast of the station' in Unit 2 as the 'Black Powder works'. He then further suggested that at a late stage in the construction of the site, the Blending and Packing Houses might have been converted into the Black Powder works. He focussed on the extreme danger of fire and the powder, which made it clear that he was aware of the hazards in an industrial context. The Dalbeattie Museum newssheet from the Carsegowan and Dalbeattie works has always been something of a puzzle - Drungans and Dalbeattie would appear to have been more connected - but, if a Black Powder section existed at Dalbeattie, this would explain both Ena Bolton's comments and David Ferguson's.

Black Powder (Gunpowder) Manufacture :

The Carsegowan Moss Black Powder works (M/S Carsegowan) had a series of processes to produce a range of finished powders for different purposes. The main processes were as follows, according to Dennis Sawden's 'Carsegowan Moss Explosives Factory' :-

  • Incorporation Runner Mills Z : Massively built structures within which nitrate, sulphur and charcoal were mixed.
  • Pressing Houses P : Vertical presses used to compact the mixture, producing a 'Mill Cake'.
  • Cake Breaking Houses B1 : Mill Cake broken (pulverised) into granules.
  • Corning Houses B2 : Pulverise mixed with potassium nitrate solution to form granules and milled in rotating drums, before being sieved to separate granules into different sizes.
  • Dusting, Glazing and Sizing Houses C : Smaller grains removed from the corned granules, which were then polished in another rotating drum and (if sized) sieved again to remove loose dust.
  • Packing Houses G : Testing, batch numbering and packing in cases for despatch.

Process buildings Z and P are special structures and absent from Dalbeattie, as is a Charcoal Plant. That suggests that a Dalbeattie Black Powder Works took part-finished powder and then finished it. However, Sizing and Packing Houses had two distinctive features found in the now-demolished embanked House east of the Unit 2 Rolling House. :-

  • Circular or oval embankment around a square or rectangular structure.
  • Narrow Gauge bogie tunnel through the embankment to one corner of the rectangular structure.
  • This would point towards finishing processes. It is also

    Possible Processes and Functions :

    Guncotton, Picrite and Vaseline Storage : The Guncotton from M/S Drungans at Dumfries would have been unloaded at the Guncotton Unloading Stations, which may also have stored the bagged explosive until it was moved elsewhere. This is uncertain, as the Guncotton Expense Magazines near the Burette Houses may have held a considerable amount. It is possible that a few of the the SSC may have been used to store Guncotton, others possibly being used to store Nitroguanidine (Picrite) and Vaseline.

    Manufacture or processing of Black Powder (Gunpowder) : This had not previously been considered, in view of the works at Carsegowan, but conversion of packing and blending sheds to tasks such as flare assembly would have been possible. The embanked house near the Unit 2 Cordite Milling Area then makes sense as a process unit for gunpowder and the 3-chamber Magazine might then be a Black Powder Expense Magazine.

    Conclusions :

    The Short Single Chamber buildings are believed now to have been designed as the Cordite Blending and Packing Houses, but were converted at a later stage in site construction into some kind of processing works for Black Powder. It is also possible that some SSC were used for pre-mix storage of Picrite and Vaseline added during cordite Incorporation. Unfortunately, demolition and the lack of other information has made an exact interpretation impossible.

    Site visitors are welcome to put forward their comments to


© 2006 Richard Edkins, Dalbeattie Internet.