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Ministry of Supply Factory, Dalbeattie
World War II Cordite Works

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Black Powder (Gunpowder) Works :-

Key Points :-

  • David Ferguson stated that a Black Powder works was northeast of the station area, possibly in converted Blending and Packing houses.
  • Sixteen unusual structures were constructed here and most were demolished.
  • A further six SSC were built south of the dismantled railway, only two surviving.
  • Ena Bolton suggested that Dalbeattie 'finished' work done at Drungans and Powfoot.
  • Further investigation needed.



A Black Powder Works at Dalbeattie ? :

The three structure types found in the area between Unit 2 Cordite Milling Houses and the Kirkgunzeon Lane have long been a mystery to the writer, mainly because they did not fit in with the Cordite production process. It had been suspected that some of them were used in the processes of Blending and Packing the dried cordite, as the buildings used in this final process had not been identified. A further problem was that Drying Houses at the Culkiest (northern) end of both Units 1 and 2 had been converted to Blending and Packing Houses, as witnessed by Ena Bolton and shown by site archaeology. That left a substantial number of buildings unidentified.

Two former staff volunteered relevant information and a third factor had already been a problem. :-

  • David Ferguson stated that a Black Powder works was put in 'as an afterthought' to the northeast of the Edingham station area. 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.
  • Ena Bolton remarked that Dalbeattie 'finished off' work done at other plants like Drungans and Powfoot.
  • The Dalbeattie Museum newssheet links the Carsegowan and Dalbeattie works, with the managers' goodwill messages. Drungans and Dalbeattie would appear to have been more connected.
This information was only gathered in the end of August 2006, but may explain some puzzling aspects of the works.




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.

The Black Powder Works at Carsegowan and a Finishing Works at Dalbeattie :

David Ferguson is currently the only source for the Black Powder works existing at Dalbeattie, but as he mentioned it without prompting, it has to be part of his own understanding. He had mentioned it in passing whilst 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 David Ferguson's comment. More importantly, it set the writer to making a careful comparison of the relevant portions of the Carsegowan works.

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 by rotating rollers set in a metal bowl. Two structures of seven bays each.
  • Pressing Houses P : Vertical presses used to compact the mixture from the Runner Mills, producing a 'Mill Cake'. Four structures.
  • Cake Breaking Houses B1 : Mill Cake broken (pulverised) into granules. Two structures.
  • Corning/Sieving 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. Six structures.
  • Glazing Houses C1 and C2 : Where the granules were polished in another rotating drum. Four structures.
  • Dusting/Sizing (Finishing) Houses C3 : Corned granules sieved to remove loose dust and sort into a range of grades. Two structures.
  • Expense Magazines : Storage of powders during processing. Eight structures.
  • Packing Houses G : Sampling for testing, batch numbering and packing in cases for despatch. Two structures.

Possible Processes and Functions :

Finishing and Packing Houses had two distinctive features found in the now-demolished Embanked Process House (EPH) 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 or packing processes being carried out in the EPH and naturally raise a further question about the processes in the adjacent SSC buildings.

Process buildings Z and P are special structures and absent from Dalbeattie, as is a Charcoal Plant. Carsegowan's layout is a possible clue to the need for additional finishing following the Corning/Sieving stage, which required six structures. Glazing, Finishing and Packing are not in proportion. There was also a Sulphurless Powder Ball Mill and mention of pelleting being done but no identified structures for it.

For the above reasons, the writer would expect to find the following equivalents to Carsegowan on site at Dalbeattie in a Black Powder Finishing Works :-

  • Glazing Houses : Location : SSC. Minimum of two structures.
  • Finishing Houses : Sieving and grading houses. Location : SSC. Minimum of two structures.
  • Pelleting facility for producing pellets and prisms of powders. Location : SSC. Two or more structures.
  • Expense Magazines : Minimum of two structures, probably three. Location : Three-Chamber Magazine and two SSC.
  • Packing House for finished loose and pelleted powder. Location : Embanked Process House. One structure.
The above would provide additional capacity for the Carsegowan post-Corning processes and incidentally allow duplication at Dalbeattie of every finishing process except Black Powder Packing. That could have been done at one or more isolated SSC, maybe in the Magazine area.

Conclusions :

This assessment of the SSC, the Embanked Process House and the Three-Chamber Magazine, is admittedly based on limited information, but it appears to be the best fit for that information, as parts of a Black Powder Finishing Works supplied with corned powder by Carsegowan works. It explains the links between Carsegowan and Dalbeattie and accounts for the curious excessive Corning and Sieving facilities at Carsegowan.

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© 2006 Richard Edkins, Dalbeattie Internet.