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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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Electricity Substations :

Key Points :-

  • Located between main line and railway goods yard in both Units.
  • Heavily built brick structures with blast porches and concrete roofs.
  • Internal concrete floors with drainage or cable channels.
  • Rack for gas-bottles with service pipes in one room.
  • Unit 2 example in Scottish Power control beside field-site substation.
  • Inferred function from current use.
  • Opposite former Boiler House at both Units.
  • Central position for power distribution.

Unit 1 Southwick Substation External View from East
Unit 1 Southwick Substation External View from East.

M/S Factory Dalbeattie Electricity Substations ...

The five major service requirements for the cordite factory were railway access, water, coal for generating steam for process heating and electrical power for lighting and motor power. The other three were manifest, but electricity supply was less obvious and harder to identify. Two unidentified structures unsuitable for transport, shelter or storage, existed in Unit 1 opposite the site of the Boiler House, so it was several months before the accumulation of evidence and site visits threw light on the structures.

The revelation came with a visit to the Milk Link works (formerly the Stelrad Radiator Factory) in Edingham Industrial Estate by the writer and Matthew Taylor on 13th July 2006. It was found that a mapped structure externally similar to the one across the goods yard from the Unit 1 (Southwick) Boiler House, was in use by Scottish Power. The main sub-station had been noticed in the adjacent field south of the former railway line. With this in mind, the Unit 1 structure was re-examined.

Archaeological Evidence for the Electricity Substations :

The structure was not entered until 25th July 2006 but it revealed the following layout :-

  • A basic rectangular brick structure with a sectional concrete roof and L-shape blast walls covering the doorways.
  • Five chambers, one large one with ventilators and wide floor cable or drain channels at the front, two smaller one flanking it, two larger rear chambers ones facing them and the passages into the main front chamber.
  • Low concrete bases for large and heavy mechanical or electrical equipment were visible in the rear chambers.
  • The western rear chamber had the remains of two timber racks with three wall-mounted distribution pipes running up to ceiling level, presumably for gas bottles.
  • Cableways into and out of the structure were not positively identified, but the main chamber did have a large cast iron fusebox for the domestic electrical supply of the building.

Unit 1 Substation - Pipes and Racks of CO2 fire suppression system
Unit 1 Substation - Pipes and Racks of CO2 fire suppression system
Unit 1 Substation - Transformer base and hold-down bolts
Unit 1 Substation - Transformer base and hold-down bolts
Unit 2 Substation on bank between old Goods Yard site and former railway line
Unit 2 Substation on bank between old Goods Yard site and former railway line

Interpretation of the Features in the Electricity Substations :

Taking the interpretation of the Unit 2 structure as an electrical sub-station, that drew the writer to consider the features seen within the Unit 1 equivalent. The bottle-rack could be for an early-model Halon, Nitrogen or Carbon Dioxide fire-suppression system, whilst the bases could be for transformers. The front chamber might be for switchgear routing power within the works. The massive enclosed construction in effect gave the substation equipment protection from anything but a direct hit by an aircraft bomb. The writer has not previously identified any wartime substation, but this sensible 'hardening' of the electricity supply would have beenessential in wartime.

The location of the Substation near the Boiler House may have been provisional during early site design for two reasons :-

  • Both Boiler House and Substation were a fire hazard that had to be kept clear of the Guncotton Station and the Acetone Plant, both vulnerable to fires.
  • Some munitions works had installed electrical generation capacity as a backup to external electrical power supplies. In that case, putting the Substation near the Boiler House integrated the power service. However, the remoteness of Dalbeattie and the excellent power supply from Tongland hydroelectric station near Kirkcudbright would have made a coal-fired power station uneconomic.

Scottish Power are being contacted to check the information and to ensure that they did not take over a structure with a different use.

Other Electrical Power Transformers in the Factory :

The site has a number of signs and a few structures indicating that small step-down transformers, pole-mounted, on concrete bases, or possibly inside small buildings, were in use throughout the Factory. Unfortunately, wooden poles, copper-filled transformers and copper power cables, are attractive for re-use or scrapping. It is possible that some older equipment standing in the perimeter of the former Stelrad works date from the 1945-1960s Royal Navy Armament Depot, but to prove this would need an historian of industrial electrical power supplies.

Unit 1 Substation - Adjacent building
Unit 1 - Reinforced Pre-War Substation
Unit 2 Motor House - Transformer base
Unit 2 Motor House - Transformer base
Unit 2 Transformer Notice
Unit 2 Transformer Notice

The Unit 1 Pre-War Substation :

A very fertile visit by Mr. Christopher Edkins, the writer's uncle, brought a fresh mind to the problem. He noticed a telegraph-pole stay actually built into the rail-side wall of the possible substation to the east of the protected wartime substation. In addition, he realised that the four walls had each been deliberately built with central 'splits'; this would have given strength to resist an external explosion such as that of a near-miss by an aircraft bomb, but an internal explosion would have felled one or more of the wall-sections. This and the concrete pad base beside the odd screen wall argue that a large and very powerful transformer was there before the war. The site had to be hurriedly protected from damage. A sign beside the south (rail-side) wall for the Stewartry Power Company also indicated that it was a civil and not a factory structure. The trackside factory fence actually bends inwards to allow the barbed wire fence-brackets to be mounted at the wall-top. It is suspected that the local power supply for Southwick may have crossed the railway at this point as there is the stump of a telegraph pole and two stays on the south side of the main line, directly opposite the now-wrecked substation enclosure.


© 2006 Richard Edkins, Dalbeattie Internet.