Royal Ordnance Factory, Bishopton

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Royal Ordnance Factory Bishopton

Postby BenCooper » Mon Jul 27, 2009 10:00 pm

Try again with this one, and hope the forum mice don't eat it :D

For about six months, I've been working on a project to record as much about ROF Bishopton, the massive explosives factory, as possible. Some ex-employees have been extremely helpful, and I've taken hundreds of pictures and spent many hours mapping things, but I'd really love to hear from anyone else who worked at Bishopton, especially in the earlier years when it was running at full capacity.

Most of the workers came from Glasgow, as though it's outside the city limits, I hope this is okay. If people are interested, I can do a report on what I have so far...
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Re: Royal Ordnance Factory, Bishopton

Postby wee minxy » Mon Jul 27, 2009 11:21 pm

Excellent photos on flickr about it too. Just so happens my father worked there, he died in 1959, but i'll ask my mum if she remembers much about it. We lived in Johnstone at the time he worked there.
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Re: Royal Ordnance Factory, Bishopton

Postby BenCooper » Wed Jan 06, 2010 7:16 pm

I promised a report on this, so here you go :)

The Royal Ordnance Factories were built during the rearmament phase of the 1930's, just in time for WWII - 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. There was also a large support staff - this building was a machine shop where equipment was repaired and overhauled:

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

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

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In the same building, giant tanks wash and blend the nitrocellulose:

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Older nitration troughs:

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

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

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

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

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

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In a nitration building, more giant tanks:

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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:

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

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

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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.

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

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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:

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Inside, the blending drum itself:

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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:

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

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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:

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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:

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More long connecting corridors, with a strict warning sign:

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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:

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Inside the white phosphorus section:

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

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...to be continued.
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Re: Royal Ordnance Factory, Bishopton

Postby Doorstop » Wed Jan 06, 2010 7:19 pm

How on earth has that glass retort managed to stay intact?

Excellent shots as usual Ben. Fantastic.

Keep 'em coming my old son - we're a greedy lot here. :wink:
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Re: Royal Ordnance Factory, Bishopton

Postby BenCooper » Wed Jan 06, 2010 7:21 pm

...continued: Next onto another part of the acids recovery section of Factory I, recently used as a murder scene in Taggart:

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Some of the acid recovery plant is pretty modern:

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

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And here's what it looks like now:

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Next, the Factory I power plant:

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

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

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

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

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

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There's a gruesome story behind this:

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A vertical mixer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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:

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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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Re: Royal Ordnance Factory, Bishopton

Postby BenCooper » Wed Jan 06, 2010 7:22 pm

Doorstop wrote:How on earth has that glass retort managed to stay intact?


It's got BAE Systems' finest security services looking after it :)
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Re: Royal Ordnance Factory, Bishopton

Postby Pyroninja » Wed Jan 06, 2010 8:09 pm

Ahhh very nice Ben, I was wondering when you'd post this, still get very excited when I see these shots haha
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Re: Royal Ordnance Factory, Bishopton

Postby Josef » Wed Jan 06, 2010 9:39 pm

Impressive scarcely covers it.

Thanks, Ben.

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.


And indeed, folks. Make sure you know what you're doing if you intend to follow in his footsteps.
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Re: Royal Ordnance Factory, Bishopton

Postby Dexter St. Clair » Wed Jan 06, 2010 11:23 pm

Image

Does not apply to management.

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"I before E, except after C" works in most cases but there are exceptions.
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Re: Royal Ordnance Factory, Bishopton

Postby Vinegar Tom » Thu Jan 07, 2010 12:46 am

Brilliant Ben, thanks for posting those - much appreciated :)
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Re: Royal Ordnance Factory, Bishopton

Postby BenCooper » Thu Jan 07, 2010 9:37 am

Thanks :)

Would it be impolitic to mention that I've collated huge amounts of info on ROF Bishopton and ICI Nobel Ardeer into a book?
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Re: Royal Ordnance Factory, Bishopton

Postby Monument » Thu Jan 07, 2010 10:25 am

Fascinating and great pictures. Thanks Ben.
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Re: Royal Ordnance Factory, Bishopton

Postby penguinmonkey » Thu Jan 07, 2010 6:47 pm

more fantastic shots thanks 8)
It's always funny 'til someone gets hurt and then it's just hilarious
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Re: Royal Ordnance Factory, Bishopton

Postby BenCooper » Thu Jan 07, 2010 7:02 pm

Cheers :)

I got a huge amount of very useful information from several ex-employees of ROF Bishopton (see the book) but I'm still very interested in hearing any more stories and reminiscences from people who used to work there - especially people who remember it in the wartime years.
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Re: Royal Ordnance Factory, Bishopton

Postby Kirsty ELB » Thu Jan 14, 2010 1:46 pm

Ben

All the info and the shots are just awesome! I grew up in Bishopton and knew next to nohing about the ROF so this is really enlightening. We had a tour round Dargavel house donkeys ago when I was in the Girl Guides but for safety we were not allowed near the rest of the factory so only had a wee glimpse into the grounds. There was a lot of old memorabilia in the house then but no idea if there's anything still there.

Best of luck with getting more info :D

K xx
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