Design and Construction of M/S Factory Dalbeattie :
The works - like all the six ICI built in Southern Scotland - was planned in August 1939 and co-ordinated by Mr. Allan
Wilson of ICI Nobel Division from offices at 'The Oaks' on the outskirts of Dumfries. War was declared on 3rd September 1939
and on 21st September 1939 the Drungans, Dalbeattie and Powfoot sites were authorised to be obtained as suitable locations.
The land was acquired on 28th November 1939 by compulsory purchase, with rthe objective of completion by the end of 1940.
Robert Macalpine's slightly over-ran that date, the factory itself being commissioned early in 1941. In the intervening
period, the largest building project ever started in Dalbeattie was put into being, the remarkable fact being that it was
done despite wartime shortages of everything including skilled labour.
The Site and the Four Farms :
The proposed factory was to be built in the shallow basin that forms the valley of the Kirkgunzeon Lane burn and on adjacent
hillslopes. It was divided by natural features and the railway into four sections, each the property of a farm. :-
- Most of the land (180 acres) to the west of the Kirkgunzeon Lane and north of the Dumfries to Stranraer railway, was the
property of Matthew Taylor of Edingham Farm. His son Matthew (Matthew Taylor II) farms the land still.
- The section north of the Knock Burn and east of the Kirkgunzeon Lane was owned by the Porters of Culkiest Farm, David
Porter still farming the remaining land in 2006.
- The section north of the railway, east of the Kirkgunzeon Lane and south of the Knock Burn, was owned by Murdoch of
Barclosh Farm. His niece Sandra and her husband Graham Cook still farm Barclosh.
- The section south of the railway and west of the Kirkgunzeon Lane.
Briefly looking at the other considerations, the site lies in a river valley with the
town of Dalbeattie protected by the bulk of Barclosh Hill. The Dumfries to Stranraer and Ayr railway ran through the proposed
site, conveniently for freight from Dumfries and up to Ardeer. Finally, the government thought South West Scotland to be a
'Back Area' unlikely to suffer air attack. As the bombing of Glasgow and Scapa Flow was to show, remoteness was no barrier
to the German Luftwaffe. A further headache was to be accommodation; staff needed rapidly exceeded the local billeting
capacity, some having to lodge in Kirkcudbright, Castle Douglas and Dumfries.
Factory Construction :
Construction began in 1939, Robert MacAlpine's being the contractor, on Unit 1, the first phase of the works. This was to the north
and east of the Kirkgunzeon Lade Burn. The 500-acre site was obtained by compulsory purchase from four farms, 180 acres from Edingham
Farm, lesser areas from Culkiest, Barclosh and Maidenholm. To avoid loss of time or product from accidental explosion or air attack,
the site was duplicated in two Units on each side of the Kirkgunzeon Lane burn. These are Unit 1 (Southwick) and the better-known
Unit 2 (Edingham). Site considerations meant that parts of the layout of each Unit differed, but they shared laboratory and
other services, which were in buildings near the railway line in Unit 2. Layout and functions are examined further elsewhere
in this website.
At the same time as Macalpines were building Dalbeattie Factory, they were also building Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF)
Caerwent in South Wales. There are some similarities in function between the two sites, and the much earlier ROF Holton Heath
near Poole in Dorset. These similarities mean that all three sites can contribute to the understanding of each others' history.
Unlike Caerwent, Dalbeattie has preserved the nitration hills where nitroglycerine was made, whilst Holton Heath and Caerwent are
also far more vulnerable to industrial and housing development. The writer has been fortunate in finding a range of specialists
and enthusiasts with whom to discuss aspects of the site, as well as a few valuable local contacts. Possibly uniquely in
Britain, the layout and process instructions for the Unit 1 Acid Plant and for the Unit 1 Nitroglycerine Plant were kept as
a memento by the manager who had prepared them, Mr. G.R. Nicholson. This variety of sources has made it possible to attempt
the full interpretation of the site at Dalbeattie down as far as many of the lesser structures.
The most fascinating tales are about the construction of the site. In those days, the only mechanical aids were draglines
and simple mechanical diggers, the main work being done by thousands of Irish labourers, who were billeted in and near
Dalbeattie or in timber barracks just outside the town; a 50-person air-raid shelter said to be part of this camp can
still be seen in a field on the approach from the east (Dumfries) side. The Irishmen were paid on a Friday night, but could
not drink at public houses in Dalbeattie since the law forbade serving alcohol to any but residents and travellers. As
travellers had to make a journey of several miles, the intelligent Irishmen walked from their camp up the roads to the Haugh
of Urr, to give their custom to the 'Laurie Arms'. Locals still say that on Saturday the roads back to the camp from the
Haugh of Urr would be littered with Irishmen lying like the dead as they slept off their night's entertainment. All went
happily enough until one of the Irish tried to make free with the landlady, there was a brawl, and she stabbed him with a
knife. The outcome is not spoken about.
As David Porter of Culkiest Farm has pointed out, the navvies varied as much as anyone else - Culkiest Farm had three Irish
navvies staying there and they were well-behaved, honest men. Unfortunately, it was the outrageous characters that got the
publicity. A further unappreciated fact is that local tradesmen were brought in to do much of the work, but its scale was so
great that outside contracting was inevitable. He also revealed that huts for the workmen had been set up in a field (now
still referred to by locals as 'The Camp') in the Haugh of Urr, these huts later being part of a prisoner of war camp.
Sadly, this time contains the only known fatality from the site; a teaboy was run down by an engine whilst crossing the line
with refreshments for the workmen. His name and age are not yet known.
Operations up to 1945 :
Whilst the works were in full production in 1942, it is likely that production began well before that. The writer suspects that work
was completed first on Unit 1 (Southwick) as the jointly-used acid facilities by the railway are closer to it. Certainly, later expansion
seems to have been done in Unit 2 (Edingham), where the site was wider and offered more scope. On completion, map measurement reveals that
the site was a statute mile (1.6 kilometers) long and at most 0.75 miles (1.2 kilometers) wide. The perimeter fence must have
been from 3.5 to 4 miles long, although with subdivisions maybe 8 miles of fence was required throughout. This disproves past
claims that the site was 3.5 square miles in size - a dimension only reached by the massive site at Caerwent.
German Bombers and Prisoners of War :