ICI Nobel Explosives

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:

(in case it’s a bit faint, he’s saying “Keep down”, and she’s saying “Keep up!”)

And this was a bit creepy:

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:

Go to the next installment…

All images:


2 Responses

  1. Dear Ben….It’s fascinating how coincidences sometimes come up. Your pictures of ICI Ardeer are marvellous. I worked from 1957 to 1965 at ICI Summerfield, near Kidderminster–as a draughtsman. The work there was development of solid propellant rocket motors and the base (inhibited) nitroglycerine was originally delivered by road from Ardeer. Now, the coincidence. I moved from Worcestershire in 1965 to take up a post as product engineer at IBM Greenock and lived at Skelmorlie. I then realised how close Ardeer was. Also I have only just encountered your excellent industrial albums by way of acquiring the link to your sad epic on , “IBM Greenock” ! After what it used to be–“How are the Mighty Fallen.” What an awful mess appears to have been left (By Lenovo et al ? )

  2. These are amazing insights into past glories. My late husband worked there when it was at its height.
    Loved the graffiti – that would be the ‘girls down the det’ that wrote them, I would think. It was a brave man who would go in to where they worked alone!

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