Press Houses :
The Press Houses (map survey title : Wide Milling Houses) were identified on a map analysis of structure clusters at a
comparatively early stage, being paired with the Incorporation Houses (may survey : Narrow Milling Houses) and an assortment
of related buildings that included the Shifting Houses (Changing Rooms) and the unusual
Paste Rolling Houses (map survey : Double-Side Buildings).
These were amongst the most challenging buildings to identify, positive identification coming only from
finding interior pictures of similar rooms in the Australian War Memorial online database. The buildings
were obviously part of the Cordite Milling process, but details and equipment were unexpectedly hard to
Archaeological Evidence from the Wide Milling Houses :
All of the four Wide Milling Houses have survived. They are brick-built structures with 150 mm thick sectional concrete
inclined roofs with a surface water seal of two layers of gritted asphalted felt composition. They have four main sections
- Back Passage accessed from ground level, with steps up to the passage. Surprisingly, the surface was bare concrete,
presumably not entered from the Press Rooms. Studs in the floor [CAUTION : Trip Hazard] mark the position of motors. The
collars of earthenware pipes are sunk into the passage floor. The indications for water and electric motors suggest that
the system used pump-driven hydraulic presses.
- Nine Press Rooms (designated B to E and G to K) each consisting of a rectangular room floored with gritless asphalt, with a
staff door and a wider two-piece loading door out onto the platform. At the back of each Press Room is a concrete pit
about a metre deep [CAUTION : Drowning Hazard], flanked by steps up to a platform surrounding the pit on three sides, with
doors opening onto the Back Passage level. Lighting by high windows and externally accessed safety lighting mounted at rear
and front of rooms. On the wall to the right of the main loading door was found an ARP notice, giving the location of the
nearest Air Raid Shelter, with an additional comment 'In an Emergency, Use Back Passage', implying that it was only in an
emergency that this might be entered.
- Three Expense Magazines (designated A, F and L) at either end of the group of Press Rooms and between E and G.
Featureless rooms with mesh-covered ventilator near the top of the room. Wording 'Warning : Waste Cordite' found on right
hand wall near door of one of these rooms.
- Veranda Narrow Gauge Loading Station at front side of building. Consists of an asphalted platform and a slightly sunk
concrete trackway with linear sleeper beams to take a 2 foot 6 inch gauge railway. The veranda was surrounded by a thin
corrugated asbestos cement weatherpanelling, mounted on a sectional reinforced precast concrete frame that also helped to
support the roof.
Most of the five Press Houses have been used to store feed or scrap at some time, so it can be rather difficult to inspect the detail.
Interpretation of Processes, Equipment and Operations :
Cordite dough was carried in bags from the Incorporation Houses and loaded into vertical presses, which were fitted with the size of
die required for the gauge of cordite being produced. Once the press body had been loaded (and, from Australian picture evidence,
rammed in to remove air bubbles) the press was closed and wheels opened to the hydralic ram that drove the press piston down.
Cordite under pressure passed through brass grilles to retain any foreign matter such as fibres and dirt, then through the dies, being
extruded as strands or 'cords' down a rubber-covered trough. The cordite strands were lifted by hand onto a rubber-covered
table in front of the press, the strands cut to length, laid on cloth sheets and 'combed' to keep them separate, before being
loaded onto a drying truck and taken to the Stoving Houses. Very small-section 'hair cordite' for rifle and machine gun
ammunition was reeled onto winders from the troughs before being sent for Stoving.
It is inferred from the surviving signs that the Expense Magazines held both 'good' cordite, which went for stoving, and 'waste'
cordite, which was probably offcuts and mis-pressings that could be re-incorporated in another batch. Faulty cordite presumably
was burnt off at the 'Burning Ground'.
A fume-laden and unpleasant duty with risk of acetone solvent addiction and explosions. Staff from other factories
said that it was one of the jobs allocated to older women and that some Blending and Packing staff might be called on
to help out if the Press staff were too few. Staff wore protective clothing, put on in the adjacent 'Shifting Room'
Graffiti and Postwar Usage :
These buildings were found to be considerably marked by graffiti, much of it reflecting work calculations, but also a
surprising number of personal poems, messages and images in pencil. Some of it will have been staff leaving when in 1945
the factory was closed, other graffiti from the Royal Navy Arments Depot Dalbeattie days up to the 1960s, whilst more again
dates from more recent years. Unfortunately, spray-can vandalism has affected the buildings closest to Dalbeattie and some
Army activity may have affected other graffiti.