The monument comprises the remains of part of the Eastriggs First World War cordite production factory which was built and in use between 1915 and 1920. It includes the acids production area, a glycerine distillery, a gun-cotton processing area and a nitro-glycerine production area. The nitro-glycerine production area includes 12 Second World War Nissen huts and their associated remains. The monument survives as a complex of structural remains, buildings and archaeological deposits in low lying scrub land on the north shore of the Solway Firth, 1km south of the village of Eastriggs at approximately 10m above sea level.
Surviving elements of the four production areas listed above are contained within the three discrete spaces comprising this scheduled monument. These three areas are as follows:
Westernmost scheduled monument area - glycerine distillery and acids production section
Towards the west side of the Eastriggs facility and near to the goods-in railway sidings, there is the glycerine distillation area comprising the remains of approximately 14 different structures that received, stored, distilled, treated, tested and further processed large quantities of crude glycerine. The largest structure, the distillation plant, housed 18 separate stills within a building measuring approximately 90m by 40m and roughly rectangular on plan. The remaining space within this polygon is taken up by infrastructure connections supporting the distillation process – narrow- and standard-gauge goods-in railway sidings, connections for power, heat and the transfer of liquids. The remains generally survive as concrete floor pads and low walls as well as buried archaeological materials. There is a substantial brick structure surviving at the east side of stills building, thought to be part of the distillery boilerhouse.
Also towards the west side of the Eastriggs facility is the acids section, where the production of nitric and sulphuric acids took place, both of which were essential in cordite production. Raw materials such as sulphur and pyrites as well as waste products from elsewhere in the factory were processed in four areas in approximately 75 buildings and structures. These four areas were the oleum section for sulphuric acid production (using the Grillo and Mannheim plants); the nitric section; the mixed acids section and the Gaillard towers for concentrating sulphuric acid. The building structures, fixtures and fittings have since been removed and what survives is the archaeological footprint. The ground plan can be identified and consists of low lying and underground concrete, brick and stone structures as well as some of the connecting infrastructure and the associated archaeological deposits. The underground structures of 16 furnaces in the Mannheim Oleum plant survive although several have been backfilled with building rubble. The concrete plinths used to support metalwork columns and the roof structures also survive.
Within this area are three Second World War structures (storage buildings with associated earth and masonry bunds). The upstanding elements are not included in the designation (see exclusions below), but they overlie and mask earlier First World War remains and may also help to preserve them.
Central scheduled monument area - gun-cotton section
To the north of the site, there is the remains of the gun cotton section comprising the remains of approximately 45 buildings and structures used for processing cotton, into nitro-cotton or guncotton. At the east end of this area, the remains of the first 8 of 42 buildings comprising the large gun cotton drying complex are included (the remaining buildings, outside of the scheduled monument are part of a repetitive layout of the same structures and processes). Within this area of the scheduled monument the plant, buildings and structures generally survive as low-lying concrete floor plates, the concrete and metal supports for overlying building and roof structures. The surviving archaeological remains illustrate the construction, use and abandonment of the factory. There are also the visible remains of a standing building in the alcohol loading area and the earthwork bunding surrounding the adjacent alcohol storage area. The largest building in this area was a nitrating house, measuring approximately 130m by 30m.
Within this area are four Second World War structures (three storage buildings with associated earth and masonry bunds and a single storage building without bunding). The upstanding elements are not included in the designation (see exclusions below) but they overlie and mask earlier First World War remains and may also help to preserve them.
Easternmost scheduled monument area - nitro-glycerine production area
This area is the best preserved of the five similar nitroglycerine production 'hills', located at the east side of the site. This production area would have originally consisted of 13 buildings, each surrounded by substantial, protective earthwork traverses or bunds. Some of these bunds retain tunnel entrance structures to access the interior. The southernmost of these earthworks now survives only as buried remains, sealed by later development including a rail track. In each of the remaining 12 earthworks, a Nissen hut has been inserted into the bunded spaces, using the First World War concrete floor plate but replacing the overlying structures, repurposing the area as munitions stores during the Second World War. There are three different sizes of Nissen hut, reflecting the space available within the bunding, the largest covering a rectangular space area of approximately 14m by 20m.
These well-preserved huts retain key structural elements such as curved sections of flat bar ironwork, bolted metal floorplates, strengthening ties, overlying corrugated sheeting, sections of interior paneling, load bearing beams with load trolleys and loading ramps with traces of the narrow-gauge rail head in each. Between the 13 earthworks there are the remains of the connecting narrow gauge rail network. These connections follow a distinct plan form which allowed for the transfer of materials between the various process areas within the Hill complex. The areas between the structures and remains described above are likely to contain evidence of materials and services (such as water and wastepipes and electricity cable) linking the processing, storage and transportation areas of the Hill.
Finally, towards the southeast corner of this area, there survives a square, brick-built structure with a flat concrete roof. The entrance on the north side is protected by a brick outer wall and there are small embrasures / look-out slots on each face. This building is thought to postdate the Second World War function and it may have acted as an observation point during later use of the site.
The scheduled area comprises three irregular areas and includes the remains described above and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying maps. The scheduling extends up to but does not include the modern fencing associated with a water treatment plant located at the southwest corner of the western-most polygon. Specifically excluded from the scheduled monument are:
- the top 300mm of all metalled roads and tracks.
- the remains of eight brick and steel Second World War munitions storage buildings from the base of their foundations upward and their surrounding earthwork bunds above present ground level upward. These are located within the area of the acids section and gun cotton section (noted at the date of this document as building numbers R6, 9, 10, 11, 15, 16, 24 and 27 using Ministry of Defence numbering system to identify individual buildings).
- all modern boundary features including post and wire fencing, steel railings and signage.
Statement of National Importance
The national importance of the monument is demonstrated in the following way(s) (see Designations Policy and Selection Guidance, Annex 1, para 17):
a. The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past, or has the potential to do so, as a nationally significant munitions factory that produced the propellent cordite during the First World War. An indication of the significance of the scale of production at Eastriggs is given by the name attached to the site at the time of its construction and use - the largest factory in the empire. It is an important example in the development of industrial chemistry and is an example (in its construction) of private / public sector collaboration as part of home front efforts during the global conflicts of the First World War.
b. The monument retains structural, architectural, decorative or other physical attributes which make a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past. There survives the overall plan-form and spatial arrangement of four key areas representing the overall production site (for glycerine, nitric and sulphuric acids, gun-cotton and nitro-glycerine manufacture). The surviving elements help us understand the functions and processes of a major munitions factory operating during the First World War.
c. The monument is a relatively uncommon example of a military industrial complex, established in response to a specific need – the large-scale supply of components or war materials as part of the overall war effort during the First World War.
d. The monument is a particularly good example of industrial scale chemical manufacturing in the early 20th century and therefore an important representative of this monument type.
e. The monument has research potential which could significantly contribute to our understanding or appreciation of the past. Eastriggs contributed to the development of factory design and construction in the early part of the twentieth century, exploiting emerging industrial chemical processes and manufacturing / production techniques. To enhance this research potential, there is a substantial range of archive materials which complement the physical remains. This evidence includes extensive plans and accompanying design and construction notes, process descriptions, historic imagery and contemporary accounts of life at Eastriggs.
g. Eastriggs has significant associations with historical events, with the development of social issues and to a range of key individuals. Of particular interest is the contribution on a national scale that the materials produced at Eastriggs played, in the global conflicts of the First World War. The site has very strong connections to wider social issues such as workplace welfare, industrial health and safety (addressing the risks from industrial processes and exposure to harmful chemicals), as well as the wider development of women's place in society, affecting the tens of thousands of people who worked here (a significant proportion of the workforce was young women) and who lived in the neighbouring purpose-built settlements of Eastriggs and Gretna. Finally, there are significant individuals directly linked to the site, for example King George V, Kenneth B Quinan and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and among others.
Assessment of Cultural Significance
This statement of national importance has been informed by the following assessment of cultural significance:
Intrinsic characteristics (how the remains of a site or place contribute to our knowledge of the past)
The monument includes the remains of four key parts of a large, purpose-built, early twentieth century chemical plant located in a rural, coastal setting, adjacent to the north shore of the Solway Firth.
The Eastriggs site (commonly known as Eastriggs, Dornock or Site III) was a part of a larger industrial production complex, known as His Majesty's Explosives Factory (HMEF) Gretna - spread along 12km and set out to exploit innovations in industrial chemistry and large-scale manufacturing and production. At its western end, Eastriggs (covering an area of approximately 1000 hectares, 5km by 2km) was the start of the production process - raw and constituent materials were deposited by rail; these materials were processed into chemicals (such as acids), explosive constituents (nitro-glycerine and nitro-cellulose or 'gun cotton') and into the finished explosive (cordite) and these constituents were stored onsite before being transported by rail, continuing a broadly eastwards production flow, for finishing and storage at Gretna and Longtown (England).
An official account of the site gives an insight into cordite production and the scale of effort undertaken at Eastriggs (Ministry of Munitions, 1919). The co-ordination and scale of production at Eastriggs was impressive. Records indicate an estimated 600 rail wagons arrived every day, transporting construction and raw material to the site. Construction was started in July 1915 by the main contractor Pearson and Son Limited. The site was erected by an estimated workforce of more than 10,000 and production started only 11 months later (The Devil's Porridge Museum). In one area alone, at the glycerine distillery, some 2000 tons of crude glycerine could be stored at any one time and an estimated 250 tons were processed each week. In the case of the nitro-glycerine area (the Enclave), two of the five hills (the outer most hills on the west and east sides) were built to provide redundancy and spare production capacity in the overall system. Overall, the annual output of cordite materials was projected at 40,000 tons and by 1917, the plant was producing 1000 tons per week.
Nitre, or sodium nitrate is a naturally occurring soft, white soluble mineral. This was imported from South America to the factory where it was dried and heated with sulphuric acid made on site in the Oleum and Mannheim plants, using producer gas also created on site in the north and south retort houses. The resultant nitric acid was then distilled in the still house, condensed and collected. Both nitric acid and sulphuric acid were needed in huge quantities to enable the nitration of refined glycerine to make nitro-glycerine.
Sulphuric acid (also known as oil of vitriol and fuming sulphuric acid) was produced in the Grillo Oleum plant formed by combining sulphur, hydrogen and oxygen. Sulphur was heated in burners to produce sulphur dioxide and further processed to produce the required levels of sulphur trioxide using platinum as a catalyst. The resultant highly concentred acid was colourless, odourless, dense, corrosive and oily - hence 'oleum'. To the east of the Grillo Oleum plant was the Mannheim Oleum plant. Sulphuric acid was also produced here. Sulphur trioxide was absorbed in sulphuric acid by the catalytic action of iron oxide (mixed with sulphur) in the form of pyrites and with platinum. The plant required a nearby store for the pyrites and a screening / crusher plant. At the glycerine distillery, crude glycerine (a by-product of soap making and the oil industry) was refined by steam distillation. It was then mixed with sulphuric and nitric acid in lead cylinders to make nitro glycerine at the Enclave.
The scale to this section indicates the volume of material being produced. The largest of the buildings was the Mannheim Oleum plant which measured 90m by 60m. The adjacent Grillo Oleum section had approximately 27 separate structures, many of which were between 25m and 80m long by between 10m and 15m in width. The stores for raw materials adjacent to these buildings were also necessarily large – approximately 60m by 65m on plan.
In addition to the production of acids and the refining of glycerine, the processing and transformation of compressed waste cotton was a key process here. Raw waste cotton bales were picked, teased and willowed to dry and open up the cotton fibres. The cotton was then mixed with sulphuric acid in over 600 large basins or pans to produce nitro-cotton or guncotton. It was then transported to a boiling house where it was boiled five times in over 120 stabilising vats. The nitrated cotton was then beaten, potched (bleached) and screened, breaking the cotton fibre into a fine white pulp. Water and calcium carbonate were added to reduce acidity. The nitro-cotton was then agitated and rung to reduce the moisture content. It was then transported to be screened into a loose consistency before being dried. The bagged nitro-cotton was split between wet magazines and the 41 drying houses or stoves after which it was then transported to the dry nitro-cotton magazines.
The Enclave at the east side of the complex comprised five 'hills', each with various process buildings protected by large enclosing earthwork bunds. The final nitrocotton product known as 'paste' was manufactured at the hills. The nitroglycerine 'hills' made use of the local natural topography, for a south to north gravity feed, using the natural slope of the ground to aid the flow of liquid material. The configuration of these 'hills' illustrates batch production for nitro glycerine. A single 'hill' consisted of a soda dump, glycerine dump, acid storage tanks, brine storage tank, air storage tanks, charge houses (acid and soda), nitrator separator house, washing houses, wash water settling houses, mixing houses, nitro-cotton magazine, paste magazines and a loading platform. The dried nitro-cotton was transported by narrow gauge rail to the nitro glycerine washing and mixing houses. Refined glycerine was nitrated with concentrated sulphuric acid and nitric acid. Dry nitro-cotton was taken from the dry nitro-cotton magazines and mixed in the mixing houses by hand to produce the paste. It was then transported to the magazines and loading platforms. The outermost hills shared mixing houses, nitro-cotton magazines and paste magazines.
The paste was stored in magazines before rail transportation eastwards to the other Gretna sites. At these other sites, the paste was mixed with ether, alcohol and mineral jelly to make cordite dough. It was then pressed, cut, dried and packed. The inherently dangerous (explosive) nature of materials being produced and handled at Eastriggs necessitated careful design and layout, construction and site management – from earthwork containment around key process buildings to the ways in which power, heat, materials and transport were used, to minimise risk (for example from sparking / ignition). Because of this, the security oversight of work, staffing and materials handling at the Enclave was an important element in its operation.
The four key areas described above functioned as elements of the larger, industrial production flow – producing and refining chemical ingredients and combining these into processed materials all of which were essential components in the manufacture of a relatively new type of propellent known as Cordite RDB (Research Department formula B). These areas provide evidence of large-scale industrial chemistry during its developing phase in the second decade of the twentieth century. They demonstrate how the chemical processes were scaled up to meet the demands of munitions supply during the First World War and they help us understand how emerging production techniques were employed to ensure efficiency, optimisation and safety in manufacturing – for example the breaking down of complex processes into smaller tasks, which enabled an unskilled workforce to undertake technical tasks relatively easily. The surviving elements in these key areas represent the materials, design, and construction methods and the functional nature of the site. They reflect a complex and ambitious factory design plan of more than 300 buildings and structures.
The period of munitions production represents a short, single phase of use, responding to a national need between 1915 and 1920, after which the site was partly sold under auction in 1924. 600 separate land parcels were auctioned at Carlisle County Hall and this included land, buildings, the adjacent housing stock at Eastriggs and bundles of dismantled materials. The industrial infrastructure and apparatus was largely dismantled and removed. By 1936, the factory ground at Eastriggs was described as "a mass of dismantled and broken-down buildings" (Dundee Evening Telegraph).
Attempts to dispose of the whole factory largely failed, and the site lay dormant until the whole site was then taken back into government ownership for the Second World War and transformed into a munitions storage facility, involving a reworking of the overall layout to facilitate storage and movement of finished munitions. The Second World War building stock surviving in the acids and guncotton section is not of sufficient significance here. However, within the area of Hill 3 in the Enclave, there is considerable interest in the surviving group of later buildings (Nissen huts) which replaced the early, purpose-built nitro-glycerine houses.
Combined photographic and field evidence shows that the First World War building stock was removed from The Enclave at some point, probably in the inter-War period. Subsequently Nissen Huts (of at least three different variations using the standard five foot component sections) were carefully inserted over the existing concrete footplate, making use of the surrounding earthwork bunding at each house. The survival and good preservation of a group of varied Nissen Huts is relatively uncommon. The group is a good example of the range of uses to which this simple, effective type of prefabricated building was put to. The presence of a group of these buildings (from a surviving overall group of 34 examples at Eastriggs) demonstrates the scale of munitions storage undertaken during the Second World War and later (including the First Gulf War in 1991) up until relatively recently when the site was closed as a munitions storage facility. The huts are therefore evidence an interesting development sequence from the First World War until the early 2000s.
In addition to the standing and ruined remains of buildings and structures from the production and storage phases at Eastriggs, there is likely to be good overall potential for the survival of archaeological evidence relating to the site's construction, use and reuse. This can include evidence of the materials and apparatus built from 1915 onwards, the residual features of infrastructure connections such as power water, heat, waste, railway lines and importantly, surviving chemical signatures from the various processes taking place here.
Contextual characteristics (how a site or place relates to its surroundings and/or to our existing knowledge of the past)
The choice of a munitions production site along the inner Solway Firth (straddling both Scotland and England) was based on what was described at the time as 'war factors'. The site was relatively inaccessible by land, sea, and air by German military forces, it was an undeveloped site with sufficient space for the very large factory complex with access to existing main rail lines and critically, with access to sufficiently large quantities of fresh water.
Eastriggs and the wider complex, HMEF Gretna, were developed in direct response to a single issue - an insufficient supply of small and large calibre munitions during the First World War (commonly known as the '1915 shell crisis'). The site at Eastriggs was part of a national response to the crisis, aiding in the supply of munitions to various land campaigns. A newly created government department, the Ministry of Munitions, tackled this shortfall within a very short timescale, implementing a co-ordinated munitions and war materials production programme. This programme combined existing munitions production and contracted commercial companies with the development of new sites such as HMEF Gretna.
The Eastriggs / Gretna site was one of the newly formed National Factories providing munitions materials on a vast scale. Chemical constituents such as acetone and components such as shells, projectiles and explosives were all produced at key sites. Explosives such as the high explosive, TNT, were manufactured at Craigleith, Edinburgh and at Alfred Nobel's commercial plant at Irvine, Ayrshire while component materials were made elsewhere, for example at Dundee (acetate of lime) and at Mile End and Mossend, Glasgow and Renfrew (high explosive shells). The combining of these into finished munitions was also undertaken at newly built facilities with filling factories established at Georgetown, Renfrewshire and Cardonald, Glasgow.
In 1914, across Great Britain, the production of cordite took place at seven private factories, including the large private works at Cliffe, Medway (Historic England scheduled monument designation reference – 493683), and Hayle, Cornwall (Historic England scheduled monument designation reference – 533338) and the government factory at Waltham Abbey in Essex (Historic England scheduled monument designation reference - 1016618), joined shortly after the outbreak of war by Holton Heath in Dorset which produced cordite specifically for the Royal Navy (Historic England scheduled monument designation reference – 1019151). The Gretna site was unique as the sole purpose-built cordite factory in Scotland and the single largest producer of cordite the United Kingdom. It plays an important role in our understanding and recognition of the home front, industrial scale response to the demands of the First World War. It was one of 24 munitions factories in Scotland, collectively producing essential war materials and contributing to the outcome of the First World War.
The landscape at Eastriggs, a previously quiet and relatively remote coastal area, changed radically as a result of the emerging factory complex (and over an area of approximately 5km east to west by 2km north to south) and subsequently, when much of the industrial fixtures and fittings were removed and a new munitions storage function was developed. The essential character of the factory survives in its overall footprint and the low and buried remains of the buildings, structures and physical connections here - the four key production areas within the monument are an important illustration of this character and the overall factory layout. It is one of the key sites that make up the overall Gretna complex, from Longtown (Cumbria) in the east to Eastriggs in the west and combined with the planned villages of Gretna and Eastriggs, both purpose-built to house the workforce. The survival of other elements of this dispersed complex adds to the significance of Eastriggs.
Associative characteristics (how a site or place relates to people, events, and/or historic and social movements)
In 1915, Britain faced a persistent and significant shortfall in munitions production. In part this was caused by a lack of materials and also a lack of workforce, the result of a significant proportion of the male population enlisting for military duty. This led to women being employed in the munitions industry and was an important pre-cursor for the significant role those female workers would play in the overall home front effort. A newspaper article on the 'Shell scandal' in May 1915 highlighted the lack of an unlimited supply of high explosives as "…a fatal bar to our success" (The Times Newspaper, 14 May 1915). As a result of the so-called 'shell crisis', the 1915 Munitions of War Act was passed by Parliament and the Ministry of Munitions created. Notable ministers of this department included David Lloyd George as the founding minister and Winston Churchill. The act gave the Government extensive powers in controlling the UK-wide production of munitions across the private sector and in the creation of national factories.
The complex at Eastriggs / Gretna was a major producer of the explosive cordite to the war effort. The scale of production here earned it the label, 'the largest factory in the Empire' and so on production scale alone, it played a significant part in the outcome of the war. It also played an important role in the development of explosives. Because of the shortage of raw materials, for example acetone, alternative chemicals and production processes had to be found to meet the demand for propellants. The site produced a newly developed type of cordite, Cordite RDB (Research Department formula B), which instead of acetone used ether-alcohol to gelatinise the cordite paste. The factory exploited emerging ideas in manufacturing, such as the breaking down of production into smaller, key stages along a logical sequence or flow.
Cordite RDB was almost exclusively used for land service munitions and was supplied in enormous quantities to support the huge artillery barrages on the Western Front. Munitions such as these were a chief cause of mass casualties on both sides and a grave reminder of the human impacts of industrialised war.
On a social level, Eastriggs and the wider Gretna facility contributed to shifting attitudes towards women and the role of women in society. By the Armistice of 1918, over 1.5 million women were employed on government contracts in industrial supply and in administering the war effort. Of a 30,000-person workforce at HM Factory Gretna, around 12,000 of the workers were women. Women, many young, single and working-class, were employed across the factory in a variety of roles, including manual labour as part of the production of cordite, hospitality, domestic service, medicine, chemistry, firefighting and policing.
Kenneth Bingham Quinan (1878-1948) is one of several key figures associated with Eastriggs. Quinan was an American-born chemical engineer who later settled in South Africa. He had a background in explosives and mining, and upon the outbreak of war was put in charge of the Factories Branch of the Ministry of Munitions. This included designing and overseeing the construction of HMEF Gretna and the Eastriggs factory. Quinan recruited chemists and technical experts and used his expertise to develop a highly complex cordite production system at Eastriggs, made simple by the breaking down of processes into constituent parts (The Devil's Porridge, Quinan). David Lloyd George publicly thanked Quinan in the House of Commons and commented: 'It would be hard to point to anyone who did more to win the war than Kenneth Bingham Quinan.'
King George V and Queen Mary conducted an official visit to the site in May 1917. The writer, Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle is attributed with the phrase 'Devil's Porridge', a popular term used to describe the appearance of the gun-cotton and nitro-glycerine mix used in producing cordite material. Conan-Doyle also wrote about the factory in popular print media, in his capacity at the War Propaganda Bureau.