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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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Cordite Milling Section :-

Key Points :-

  • Conversion of blasting jelly (Ballistite) to cordite.
  • Incorporation and pressing operations, possibly also rolling.
  • Possible incorporation of vaseline and nitroguanidine..
  • Eight main types of building.
  • Ventilation to extract acetone and nitroglycerine fumes.
  • Unit 1 Cordite Milling Section intact, Unit 2 part demolished.
  • Building types examined separately.
  • Exact assignment of all operations still unresolved.

Unit 1 Cordite Milling Houses Incorporation House 2 and Press House 2 from Expense Magazine banking
Unit 1 Cordite Milling Houses Incorporation House 2 and Press House 2 from Expense Magazine banking


Cordite Milling Houses :

Introduction...

The next stage after the 'Wet Mix' blending of nitroglycerine and nitrocellulose into blasting gelatine was the conversion to the 'cords' or rods that turned it into cordite. At the same time, additives such as vaseline and nitroguanidine (picrite) could be added to reduce corrosion effects on gun barrels. The M/S Factory Dalbeattie has three types of buildings associated with this cordite milling process, with several additional buildings for staff changing, washing and expense magazines. The variety of buildings in this milling process exceeds the number of types used in each of the other processes onsite, other than those directly or indirectly involved in nitroglycerine production.

Remarkably, every Cordite Milling structure has survived intact in Unit 1 and many in Unit 2. This is more complete than any other part of the process. The down side is that the structures have been heavily used in farming processes in Unit 2 (Edingham) and the Unit 1 (Southwick) structures are unfortunately used periodically by the Army for Fighting In Built Up Areas (FIBUA) training.

A lot of graffiti and some artwork from 1939 to 1945 and from 1945 to 1960, has survived intact.

The Cordite Milling Houses and Ancilliary Buildings :

These buildings are the Narrow and Wide Milling Houses and the Double Sided Building. In each Unit, there were three pairs, each consisting of a Wide and a Narrow Milling House, located near one Double Sided Building. Each type is described separately on its own page, together with the ancillary buildings. :-

Summarising current interpretation, ballistite (gelatine) from the Wet Mix structures was delivered to stores (Incorporation Expense Magazines) beside the Incorporation House, then taken in for mixing (Incorporation) with additives such as vaseline and carbamide/nitroguanidine. The resultant product 'Cordite Paste' or 'Cordite Dough' was bagged and taken on trolleys to the Press Houses and loaded into presses in the Press Rooms and cordite extruded as strands or 'cords' of varying sizes. Following cutting and combing (separation of the strands) the cordite was briefly stored on trays in one of the three Cordite Expense Magazines in the Press House. Also stored there, for disposal by burning or by re-incorporation, were any offcuts or press surplus 'waste' cordite. The Rolling House's purpose is less clear, but it may have been used for rolling cordite paste out as sheets or for production of shaped cordite blocks. Once milling of the cordite was complete, it would have been taken away to the Stoving Houses for evaporation and recovery of acetone.

The Shifting Houses were for the use of staff, either for changing at the start and end of the shift into protective clothing. In view of the hazardous materials being handled, this interpretation appears sensible. At two locations, small toilets with a privacy/blast wall still survive, again with an obvious function.




Ancillary Buildings :

These survive in good order. The following have been positively identified :-

  • Shifting Houses (Changing Rooms) :-
    Originally constructed with a common entry and two exits. Floors and walls show signs of four lines of supports or partitions, presumably clothes pegs or lockers for staff's protective clothing and masks. There would have been a knee-high barrier marking out 'Dirty' (outside) and 'Clean' (inside process) areas.
  • Transformer Position :-
    This was revealed by references on a notice to 'Coil'. Bearing in mind the number of motors that may have been running in all three types of buildings, the Cordite Milling Houses may have been the most power-hungry processes on site.
  • Additive Stores :-
    A curious one-storey building whose rooms have different heights was finally interpreted as a store for additives such as Picrite or Acetone (chamber with lower roof) and the Jelly Melting House for Vaseline (chamber with higher roof).




Conclusions :

A great deal remains to be investigated in the exact nature of the fittings and equipment in each building, which will help to throw more light on the details of the processes involved. The identification of two buildings suggests the identity of the third, but all could be changed by further information.

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© 2006 Richard Edkins, Dalbeattie Internet.