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The National Explosives Company

Hob Uid: 1310585
Location :
Cornwall
Gwinear-Gwithian
Grid Ref : SW5762703989
Summary : Late nineteenth century Explosives Factory, extensive remains of this factory survive amongst the sand dunes at Upton Towans and associated housing survives in Trevue Lane.
More information : SW 572 395. The National Explosives Company, Upton Towans, Hayle was one of the most successful independent manufacturers of chemical explosives in the late 19th century. The factory was set up by the Kennall Gunpowder Company, who were aware of the inroads that dynamite was making in the traditional blackpowder market in the local mining industry, The site chosen for the new factory was in the sand dunes at Upton Towans at Hayle, which was well served by coastal shipping and a local railway line which could be used to bring in raw materials and export the finished products.

The factory was laid out in the most up-to-date manner by Oscar Guttman, a Hungarian by birth and one of the leading chemical engineers of the day. The dunes formed an ideal location for the falling levels of its nitroglycerine factory and for the wide spacing of other buildings, which were either dug into the sand dunes or surrounded by sand traverses. Guttmann divided the danger areas of the factory on a continental pattern into a `wet part' and a `dry part'. In the wet part nitroglycerine was manufactured, purified and stored, and in the dry part it was processed to produce marketable forms of explosives. In operation this differed from the normal British practice by holding the nitroglycerine in a Store House before it was moved by tramway bogie to a Mixing House, in contrast to the normal British practice where nitroglycerine was poured directly on to an absorbent surface. From the Mixing House the explosives were removed by tramway to the Cartridging Huts, where three or four girls per hut worked hand operated cartridging in the factory. The huts were timber-framed, weatherboarded on the exterior and lined internally with varnished wood, with a material described as `breeze' in between. Their pitched roofs were wooden with a felt covering. The entire layout of this operation may be traced in the surviving sand traverses which formerly surrounded the process buildings. In the construction of the magazines,Guttmann made extensive use of mass concrete, a feature perhaps also reflecting his continental background. A number survive at the Northern extremity of the site.

At the southern end of the site to the rear of the dunes, a large area was levelled to accommodated the central services. These included stream raising facilities, air compressors and engines to power the pumps to extract water. Large acid handling plants, also designed by Guttman were also errected. These included sulphuric and nitric acid factories with de-nitrification and acid recovery sections. The factory was served by its own tramway and electricity supply. Sections of the nitric acid factory remain as derelict buildings adjacent to the one surviving tall factory chimney. The site of the sulpuric acid factory (SW 5822 4025) has, however, been cleared and is now covered by a caravan park.

At the outset the factory's primary product was dynamite; later with the lapse of the geletine patent it secured licences to extend it's activities. Later cordite was also produced, which necessitated the construction of a guncotton section between the nitric acid section and the central services, close to the water supply and poWder for the guncotton manufacturing machinery.

It's capacity to manufacture nitroglycerine placed this modern factory in an ideal position to diversify its activities away from high explosives and in to nitroglycerine-based propellants, in particular cordite. Additionally, when it installed the guncotton section it had adopted the Abel pot nitration process and purification methods for the manufacture of guncottoN, which was specified for government cordite contracts. The company's speculative development of a cordite factory in advance of government contracts was rewarded when, in 1894 it was one of two firms, along with Kynoch's, who received contracts to supply the government with cordite. The buildings of the cordite section lay to the south and east of the first nitroglycerine factory on Jack Straws Hill (SW 578 400). The field remains include the include the mounds of Guncotton Drying Stoves, the long rectangular cleared areas of the Cordite Incorporating Mills and Press Houses, and (indistinguishable from the mounds of the Guncotton Drying Stoves), Cordite Drying Stoves and Storage Magazines. The central services area was also extended, and pumps and accumulators were installed to provide hydraulic power. By the189s the factory employed 200 people in around 100 buildings spread out over aa area of 300 acres (121.46ha).

Continued cordite contracts not only insured the financial security of the company, but also led to further extensions of the factory. Around 1905 an additional nitroglycerine factory (SW 5757 3970) was built to the west of Jack Straws Hill. Set amongst the traverses of the cartridging huts, it was designed prrincipally to serve the manufacture of commercial explosives. At the same time the factory adopted the Nathan-Thomson displacement method for guncotton manufacture and a new guncotton plant was errected adjacent to the Nitric Acid Works close to the site's entrance. Lying close to the former acid factory at approximately SW 5785 3976 is a large dump of earthernware associated with the manufacture and handling of acids. A careful study of this material could potentially yield valuable information about the technology of acid manufacture and handling during the late nineteenth century.

The Nitrate Store was also of mass concrete and was covered by a light metal single pitch roof, perhaps covered by corrugated iron. Adjacent to it is the brick Nitric Acid Factory, it is now roofless, but its acid resistant brick floor remains. Dark, highly fired acid resistant bricks used in the factory include examples by HANCOCK & CO/HAWARDEN, OBSIDIANITE/REGD/ACID PROOF,C.DAVIDSON & CO'S/ADAMINATE and TRADE MARK METALLINE.

Along Trevue Lane, are the imposing houses with pilisters and Corinthian capitals built for the senior factory officials, Gwithian Court and Dongree, and closer to the factory gate a modest pair of cottages, Trevue, for lower grade employees. The now derelict Hillside Cottage (SW 5780 3958) may have also housed workers from the factory. However, the majority of the workforce, including the young girls from the dynamite sheds wew recruited localy and lived away from the factory.

Developments which may be attributed to the expansion of the factory during the Great War include the construction of a new Press House, an Acetone Recovery Plant and canteens to feed the enlarged workforce, which rose to 1800. To cope with the greater requirements for raw materials the factory was connected by a standard gauge line to the Great Western Railway at Hayle.

The Explosives Factory closed in 1920 and was demolished shortly afterwards. A small group of magazines (SW 576 403) was retained by ICI until the early 1970's to store commercial explosives and gunpowder for its local fuse factories. This area was surrounded by a fence, many of the concrete posts of which remain. It is understood that part of the factory site was re-occupied during the Second World War for the construction of a Bromide Factory. This probably lay along the western side of the factory where the where the sand dunes have been flattened and displaced fragments of concrete litter the surface. (1-1e)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Wayne D Cocroft/ 21-MAY-1997/RCHME: Dangerous Energy Project
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Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 1A
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Earl B, 1978, Cornish Explosives, Trevithick Society, Penzance
Page(s) : 184-250
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 1B
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : Earl B and Smith J R, 1991, National Explosives, Upton Towans, Hayle, Cornwall
Page(s) :
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Vol(s) :
Source Number : 1C
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : 1891 Census Return RG12/1852 Gwithaian Cornwall
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Vol(s) :
Source Number : 1D
Source : Information
Source details : Brick Imports to Hayle Cornwall Late 18th to 19th century (J Fergusson)
Page(s) : 15-23
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 62, 1994
Source Number : 1E
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 25 inch, Cornwall Sheet LXII.10 Second Edition 1907
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 1907

Monument Types:
Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : NBR Index Number
External Cross Reference Number : AF00164
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SW 53 NE 123
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, RCHME: DANGEROUS ENERGY PROJECT
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 1994-04-01
End Date : 1997-03-01
Associated Activities : Primary, RCHME: NATIONAL EXPLOSIVES COMPANY PROJECT
Activity type : MEASURED SURVEY
Start Date : 1994-06-22
End Date : 1994-06-22