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A Pictorial Record

Royal Naval Cordite Factory

Holton Heath

by Malcolm Bowditch & Les Hayward

 

Hardback with dust jacket
244 pages, 250mm x 250mm
ISBN: 978 0 9928554 4 4
Price: £24.99 post free to UK mainland addresses
Publication date: September 2015

 

 

 

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During the first few weeks of the First World War, Winston Churchill − then First Lord of the Admiralty − insisted on the need for the Royal Navy to have its own independent supply of propellant (cordite) for shells.
Realising that the propellant manufactured for use in fighting at sea had to be of a very high quality, with a greater uniformity of ballistics than was necessary in propellants made for use on land, it was decided that the
production of such high grade cordite could be best achieved by a specialist factory designed specifically for this purpose.
The large scale production of explosive called for the very careful selection of a suitable manufacturing site and it was with this in mind that a committee from London visited Holton Heath in East Dorset during 1914.
By coincidence, Frederick Lewis Nathan − a leading authority in the chemical engineering and technology associated with the explosives at the time and with an association with cordite which had begun in the pioneering days of the mid-1880s − was able to make available a complete set of up-to-date plans for a modern factory of the type that was required.
The decision made, land was purchased and construction commenced on a massive scale, the isolated site being turned into a secretive munitions plant the true scale of which only became apparent in recent times by the publication of this fascinating volume. This wide-ranging book tells the absorbing story of the Royal Navy Cordite Factory (RNCF), Holton Heath from its inception, through to 1957 − when the production of propellant was stopped − up to the present, including a detailed study of the remaining facilities, some of which today provide a refuge for wild life under the watchful eye of English Nature.
Malcolm Bowditch and Les Hayward are both well qualified to present this unique survey of what was potentially one of the most dangerous working environments in this country. Talking to people who formerly worked at RNCF, researching official files and gathering together a collection of photographs − most of which have never been published before − they describe the magnificent plant that was the RNCF and what it meant to work in such a dangerous environment.

Key Features:

  • The most comprehensive account of the development of cordite manufacture of the production processes involved ever published.
  • A major contribution of the history of the First World War and the development of Naval gunnery.
  • Detailed plans of the factory and of selected items of production plant.
  • Illustrated with over 300 archive photographs showing the factory at peak production.
  • Includes detailed description of the catastrophic explosion of 1931 and of the consequent improvement in the methods of nitroglycerine.

Contents:

1 The beginnings
2 Water supplies
3 Transport systems
4 The factory buildings
5 Acetone and Chaim Weizmann
6 Major accidents involving explosives
7 The new Nitroglycerine Hill
8 The Second World War
9 Social activities
10 The products and how they were made
11 The batch-wise production of nitroglycerine
12 The Schmid continuous process
13 Cordite production methods
14 The final years
15 The manufacture of explosives today
16 The RNCF Association
17 Surviving features
18 Emphenara