Report - - ICI Nobel Explosives Factory, Ardeer - Apr. 2009 | Industrial Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - ICI Nobel Explosives Factory, Ardeer - Apr. 2009


Mr Boombastic
Regular User
The Ardeer peninsula in Ayrshire is basically a gigantic sand dune - it was chosen by Alfred Nobel in 1871 as the site for his British Dynamite Factory because of it's remote location and lots of sand to make protective berms and blast walls. It soon grew into the world's largest explosives factory, making explosives for mining and quarrying, and expanding into other explosives and propellants for both civilian and military uses.

Nobel Explosives became part of ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) in 1926, but production shifted away and the Ardeer plant diversified into other non-explosive products, and unfortunately these didn't do very well - much of the site is now derelict.

I've visited the southern shore-facing part of Ardeer before, but this visit was to investigate the northern section. First up was an interesting building on the satellite views which I knew from other sites was probably a drum mill for milling explosive powders - after poking about in the dense woodland, I found it:


Inside, a few parts of the mill remain:


Heading North to open ground, and lots of earth-bermed enclosures for storage, mixing and drying - this one with a big compressor in an outside shed:


Next, onto a press house - an earth-buried building for pressing explosive casings, with individual bays separated by blast walls:


Most of the bays have been stripped and burned (probably for decontamination), but one press remains:


Most signs are gone, but a few remain - including one for an explosive skin care regime :)


Inbetween the big linear press houses are some smaller, newer mixing buildings:


Next onto one of the cordite rolling mills - structurally these are similar to the press houses, earth-roofed with a row of bays separated by blast walls:


These look like they were last used in the '40s - no mills remain, but on the walls are loads of old doodles and scribbles left by the workers:


Including this rather odd example:


Some parts are more modern, though - this was last used in the '90s:


One bay had loads of equipment scattered about - oscilloscopes, scales, gas meters, etc:


Heading South a bit, another rolling mill, this time with sand berms not blast walls:


An older part of Ardeer is on the mainland, over a bridge:


This section has been abandoned for decades - though the brick drying houses still stand:


There's lots more from Ardeer (several visits) in my Flickr set...




Great photos, I have been researching and mooching around munition factories in Essex. Wales, Ireland since 1983.(sadly Ardeer is far away from Essex and almost inaccessible for me)and have seen many blast walls that have collapsed after the corrigated iron had either rusted or been stolen. Imagine my my surprise when I saw your image of the Drum mill blast walls, it was better than Page 3, It was the first intact wall that I have seen. I have a drawing of the method of construction and a photo of a blast wall under contruction in 1911. I am publishing a local history book in the summer. I would like to use your image as an illustration, what is the protocol for doing so? I do not want it for nothing or not crediting yourself, but it is so brilliant that it would be a treat in the book.


Mr Boombastic
Regular User
Everyone's an armchair critic - go on, show us pictures :)

I'm sure there's loads more to find in this massive site - was back there yesterday with the other half, mainly to find more ancient graffiti:





(in case it's a bit faint, he's saying "Keep down", and she's saying "Keep up!")

And this was a bit creepy:


How about a swap? I'm thinking of doing a book on Scottish munitions factories, so if I can use your drawing and credit you, you can use my photo and credit me - how does that sound?

There's a few more intact drum mills like that in Scotland, plus lots of other variations - vertical blast walls, berms with one corrugated iron face, etc.
I think that would be fine, I have uploaded the plan, which is part of a blueprint that was sent to me by mistake. since then the owners deny its existence, It is not that clear but I have traced a copy. There are other pictures including the one showing the blast wall being constructed in 1912. The original prints were nearly useless but I managed to improve the quality.

Somewhere I have photgraphs of some unbelivably huge russian cement works taken in Cuba, when they turn up I will post them.


28DL Full Member
28DL Full Member
This factory once supplied the Penobel and Polar Ajax range of explosives to the UK mining industry.


Nobel's did supply explosives of various sorts to the North Wales mining industry. In the early days Nobels main contact in London was Orlando Webb , a solicitor, who owned slate quarries in Llanberis, North Wales (where incidentaly my father and grandfather were a shot drillers.) Webb had bought a quantity nitroglycerine from Nobel in 1869 and it was his consignment that had blown up 4 miles from Caernarvon and 500 yards from the house where I was born. Webb at the time was Nobels English agent (in 1869 the English thought that Wales was part of England!). One can imagine that Mr Webb wanted to keep his head down at this time. As mine owner he was not popular because of the large number of local people that were killed in the quarrying operation he could now add the claim to fame of blowing 5-6 local men and their horse and carts. He remained an agent for Nobel from 1863 to 1873.