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Main Laboratory and Three Associated Explosives Stores to North at Former Royal Naval Cordite Factory

A Grade II Listed Building in Wareham St. Martin, Dorset

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Latitude: 50.7181 / 50°43'5"N

Longitude: -2.0825 / 2°4'56"W

OS Eastings: 394274

OS Northings: 90942

OS Grid: SY942909

Mapcode National: GBR 32G.VQM

Mapcode Global: FRA 67J5.VYY

Entry Name: Main Laboratory and Three Associated Explosives Stores to North at Former Royal Naval Cordite Factory

Listing Date: 21 August 2000

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1382127

English Heritage Legacy ID: 482492

Location: Wareham St. Martin, Purbeck, Dorset, BH16

County: Dorset

District: Purbeck

Civil Parish: Wareham St. Martin

Traditional County: Dorset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Dorset

Church of England Parish: Wareham Lady St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Salisbury

Find accommodation in
Lytchett Minster

Listing Text


235/3/10010 St Martin's Hill
21-AUG-00 Main laboratory and three associated e
xplosives stores to N at former Royal
Naval Cordite Factory


Laboratory. 1915, by Fox and Sons of London for the Admiralty. Flemish bond brick; hipped plain tile roof with cast-iron guttering fixed to projecting timber eaves. Rectangular plan with central hall. Neo-Georgian style. Single-storey with attic. South elevation facing Laboratory Square has timber lintels over horned 6/9-pane sashes arranged in 3:2:2:3 fenestration either side of central entrance. Flat-roofed dormers with relacement 6/6-pane windows. Panelled double doors with overlight, flanking red brick pilasters and bracketed hood. Similar fenestration to 6-bay side elevations, that to W with plank door and overlight. To rear, sashes flank small windows with gauged red brick flat arches.
Interior: lantern lights hall, with similar dog-leg stair to offices (qv).
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: three single-storey gabled stores to rear, each comprising a small rectangular plan of similar materials. A2, to west, has plank door set in east porch with hipped roof and two 4-pane casements in each side wall. A3 has stack in W gable, louvred windows to each side and E plank door. A5 to E, remodelled as acid store after 1918, has brick screen wall to E entrance.

HISTORY: Holton Heath comprises the most significant of the explosives factories constructed for the British government during the First World War, very different in its plan form and development from earlier sites - notably Waltham Abbey - which had been based on gunpowder production; later sites, such as the Royal Naval Propellants Factory of 1938 at Caerwent in south Wales, benefitted from the technology gained at Holton Heath. The site at Holton Heath, adjacent to a railway and well-placed for export to the principal naval dockyards, was selected in autumn 1914 by the Admiralty for the manufacture of the Royal Navy's independant supply of cordite for shells. It was opened in January 1916. The hills at the centre of the site were used for a reservoir and nitroglycerine plant. In the inter-war period, Holton Heath, together with Woolwich Arsenal - where Frederick Abel's 1860s offices have been listed grade II - became the site of the British government's most important explosives research laboratory. The nitroglycerine factory was reconstructed after a massive explosion in 1931, the site's most prominent feature - a massive mound containing a Schmid continuous production plant, ordered from the Meissner corporation in Cologne and now a unique surviving example - dating from this period. A picrite factory, for the production of flashless cordite (an important development in explosives technology), was constructed at the beginning of World War II.

The part of the site built from late 1916 for the production of acetone (a major ingredient in cordite) has international significance for the its application of biotechnology on an industrial scale: see the Cooker House (qv). The acetone plant with its vats in the south-western corner of the site, the nitration plant and cordite press plant within the central area, and the cordite drying plant and picrite factory to the east are Scheduled Ancient Monuments. The subjects of additional schedulings are the anti-aircraft sites and bombing decoy sites to the south, constructed for the protection of the site during the Second World War.

The administrative block and laboratory buildings comprise the principal elements in a formal layout on the west side of the factory, facing each other around an open space with a small test laboratory building positioned opposite the west entrance gates and explosives stores to the north (qqv). The laboratories controlled the testing of raw materials coming into the site and the quality of explosives manufactured on the site. To the north is a group of stores for explosive samples, very similar in form to the expense magazines found on other explosives sites such as Waltham Abbey. The buildings, built to the designs of Fox and Sons of London, are all designed in the neo-Georgian style adopted for the administrative buildings associated with the government control of munitions which Lloyd George introduced as the National Factories Scheme in 1916. Thirty six explosives factories were built, mostly occupying areas of between 200 and 300 acres, of which the most significant is Holton Heath. With the exception of the National Machine Gun Factory in Burton-on-Trent, this group of buildings comprises the most important purpose-built complex to have survived from this programme.

(M R Bowditch and L Hayward, A Pictorial History of the Royal Naval Cordite Factory, Holton Heath, Wareham, 1996; W Cocroft, Dangerous Energy (draft text, unpublished), RCHME)

Listing NGR: SY9427490942

This text is from the original listing, and may not necessarily reflect the current setting of the building.

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