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Report - Royal Ordnance Factory Bishopton, near Glasgow - Early 2009

Discussion in 'Noteworthy Reports' started by BenCooper, May 19, 2009.

  1. BenCooper

    BenCooper Mr Boombastic
    Regular User

    Aug 30, 2008
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    The Royal Ordnance Factories were built during the rearmament phase of the 1930's, just in time for WW2 - Bishopton was by far the largest, employing over 20,000 workers at it's peak in three almost-self-contained factories within one perimeter fence. Factory III closed down almost immediately after the war, but factories I and II continued production of cordite, picrite (an anti-flashing and stabilising agent), RDX, white phosphorus, ball powder (gunpowder) and various other explosives and propellants up until the year 2000.

    I spent three days exploring ROF Bishopton, taking hundreds of pictures - even the edited highlights run to 270 pictures, so this is just a brief summary of this absolutely massive (2.5 x 1.5 miles) site. I'll do it in order of my explorations.

    Bishopton had over 20 miles of standard-gauge rail lines - these were used with the ROF's own fleet of diesel locos to move raw materials and finished propellant. This is one engine shed for the diesel engines:


    Next onto the pulping and blending house - cordite is a mix of nitroglycerin and nitrocellulose:


    Nitrocellulose pulping is very similar to paper pulping, so paper machinery was used - rows and rows of beaters made by Bertrams of Edinburgh:


    In the same building, giant tanks store the nitric and sulphuric acids used in the process:


    And settling troughs are used to recover waste acid:


    I visited four separate pulping and blending houses in all three factories - all similar in design and layout, but different in size:


    Next, onto a vat house - again, these were duplicated:


    Through a connecting passageway, with a stern warning about unboiled guncotton (nitrocellulose):


    Then the mixing house, where nitroglycerin was introduced to the guncotton - the shelter, I think, refers to an air-raid shelter:



    In the acids section, a three-storey glass retort:


    In a nitration building, more giant tanks:


    Cordite is made and extruded while damp, to stop it burning - then it needs to be dried. ROF Bishopton had over 80 miles of narrow-gauge rail lines used to move materials around the site, so the damp cordite was loaded onto wagons and moved into one of dozens of drying bays, were hot air was blown through the wagons:


    Cordite is processed in various ways - this is a rolling mill:


    Note the giant roof vents - each of these is over one rolling machine:


    Then onto the laundry - like all explosives factories, ROF Bishopton had a worker's uniform - outdoor clothes were strictly banned because they could contain metal or other materials that could cause an explosion.


    Earlier, I said there were three factories, but there was also Factory 0 - this was the admin and support buildings, including workshops:


    For my second visit, I was more prepared, with a list of places that looked interesting on Google Earth. First up was one of two drum blenders, where highly explosive materials were mixed in a building inside a giant blast wall - it's interesting to compare these to an almost identical building at ICI Ardeer:


    Inside, the blending drum itself:


    A panorama of the second larger drum blender shows the inner three-storey building inside the blast wall - the gantry is an emergency exit so workers on the upper level could get out quickly:


    The drum bender is controlled from a shed outside the blast wall, to cut down on the number of workers at risk:


    A wee diversion - ROF Bishopton was made up of the compulsory purchase of seven farms and one country mansion - the farm buildings were either demolished or converted to other uses, but Dargavel House was almost untouched:


    On to the CCC (Combustible Charge Container) felting, pressing, lacquering and finishing building - this is similar to the guncotton works, but also has a series of presses in blast-proof bays:


    More long connecting corridors, with a strict warning sign:


    Then onto the white phosphorus section - the blue building in the background is the Factory II boiler house. Each factory had it's work independent power supply from a boiler house and separate power station - the steam also heated all the 2000+ buildings on site:


    Inside the white phosphorus section:


    On to a giant acid settling tank - to give you an idea of scale, the white walls are about 10 feet high:


    ...to be continued.
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  2. BenCooper

    BenCooper Mr Boombastic
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    Aug 30, 2008
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    ...continued: Next onto another part of the acids recovery section of Factory I, recently used as a murder scene in Taggart:


    Some of the acid recovery plant is pretty modern:


    Next, onto one of the most distinctive buildings in Bishopton - the Picrite "cathedral". Here's what it looked like in 1958:


    And here's what it looks like now:


    Next, the Factory I power plant:


    Next, on to a gun propellant research building, with a modern (or, at least, well-maintained) cordite extrusion press:


    A similar buidling next door (the Tangye press house) shows the rows of individual press bays:


    Next, a giant bulding in Factory III - I'm not sure what this was, as all equipment has been stripped:


    And a wide-angle view of the Factory II nitrocellulose section:


    For my third visit, another list of places to see - and some snow to make things photogenic :) First a shear mill buidling:


    I'm sure there's a gruesome story behind this:


    A vertical mixer:


    Most of Factory III is gone, but these lovely drying bays remain:


    Next onto the "Little Steamie" - old propellant was steamed out of shells and rockets for recycling:


    Nearby, in a WW2-era ammo store, a stack of WW2 ammo boxes:


    Next, onto a propellant cutting building - the cutting was done by remote control from the other side of a blast wall:


    Then onto an X-ray building - propellant was X-rayed to make sure it had properly filled the canisters:


    In another very heavily-armoured bunker, a 10" horizontal press extruded cordite for rockets:


    NItroglycerin is made on a "hill" - pumping a very sensitive explosive is a very bad idea, so everything is gravity-fed. ROF Bishopton has two hills per factory - that's six nitroglycerin hills in total.


    BAE Systems and Redrow Homes now have a plan - they want to clean up this entire massive site, and build a housing estate. This is receiving a lot of local opposition, not least because the preferred method of cleaning up 2000+ buildings full of explosve residue is by burning them. They have test-burned a couple of buildings:


    The back-story: I originally posted three resports on ROF Bishopton a few months ago - then, I had a friendly visit from the police. I suppose it's not surprising that a multinational arms company which doesn't flinch at bribery and can get "independent" government enquiries cancelled would have influence with the police - I was charged with Breach of the Peace, for causing distress to BAE Systems. Bless.

    Anyway, the Procurator Fiscal is more sensible, and all charges ahve been dropped - case closed. I took everything Bishopton-related down while this was ongoing, and took the opportunity to tidy up and re-edit lots of images.

    Be warned: this site is covered by the Manufacture and Storage of Explosives Regulations 2005, and it is an offence to enter. Don't say I didn't warn you.

    The rest of the images are in my Flickr set...
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  3. BenCooper

    BenCooper Mr Boombastic
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    Aug 30, 2008
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    Oh, and one big advantage of the housing estate plan is that the public planning permissions have loads and loads of info, which I've mapped in Google Earth - I'll put the data on my website once I've tidied it up, but here's some screenshots. First, the standard-gauge (orange) and narrow-gauge (yellow) railways and waterways (blue):


    Next, mapped dozens of buildings:


    And a map of the factories - the buildings were not numbered in any logical order to make it harder for spies, but if you know the code you can work out which building is in which factory. Green is Factory I, Red is Factory II, Blue is Factory III:

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