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The rise and progress of the British explosives industry online

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influence of size of grain, etc., on the pressure in the gun was deter-
mined, and the foundation laid for the scientific design of the gun so
that its strength at various points could be proportioned to meet the
pressures it had to withstand.

Down to 1894 guns with Noble's crusher gauges placed at various
points along the bore were used at the Butts, whenever new powders
were being experimented with. The two chief propellents introduced
into the Service during that period were prism brown powder and
cordite. A disadvantage of this system of determining forward pressure
is that guns have to be specially prepared by having holes bored
through them at intervals to take the gauges.


Since 1900 other methods have replaced Noble's system of forward
gauges. In 1896 the experimental side of the Proof Butts was developed.
Closed vessels of the Vieille type were procured and other apparatus
for research of internal ballistic problems was provided.

In 1903 M.D. cordite was introduced, and this apparatus quickly
enabled internal ballistic problems with the new propellent to be solved;
a solution, however, that cannot be arrived at in a laboratory, but
requires also experiments in the gun.

The science of artillery has made great and rapid progress in the
past forty years, a progress greatly accelerated by the invention of smoke-
less powder. During this period armaments have increased, as also
have inventions worthy of investigation, if not adoption, by the Govern-
ment. The Butts have necessarily developed also. The guns come
down for whatever proof or experiment is required in the morning and
go back at night, to be replaced next day. This is the great advantage
of having the Butts near the arsenal.

Earth traverses are now placed behind the guns and from each
side of the firing position up to the butt, so that in the event of an
accident, pieces may not be " forced into different parts of the " Arsenal.
Happily, however, there has been no case of a burst gun for at least
twenty years.

The Chemical Research Department was formed in 1904. On the
formation of the Explosives Committee, under the Presidency of Lord
Rayleigh, in 1900, a few chemists were engaged to carry out research
work, and were found a temporary habitation at the Proof Butts, and
two years later buildings were erected south of the Butts. Though
the Chemical Research Department is of comparatively recent origin
the employment of chemists in research work is of much older

About 1837 the first Arsenal chemist, Mr. Marsh, was appointed.
He was the inventor of " percussion tubes for cannon," and we see
thus early the connection between the chemist and the gun.

Marsh died in 1846, and in 1854 Mr. Abel was appointed " War


Department Chemist" in the Arsenal. It is not clear if the position
was vacant from 1846 to 1854.

Abel at first can have had little routine work. He was certainly
engaged mainly on research up to at least 1870, and he was engaged
in research up to 1885, but routine work must have increased. His
work with Captain Noble has already been referred to, a work which
only found its ultimate expression of practical utility when the research
was extended to the gun.

The department of the War Office chemist was more and more
weighted with routine work for inspection purposes with the ever-
growing increase in war-like supplies.

The introduction of Poudre B.N. in France led to the foundation,
in 1888, of an Explosives Committee with which Sir F. Abel and Dr.
Kellner, the then War Department Chemist, were closely associated.
This committee of research ceased to exist after introducing cordite in

Research now began to develop at the Proof Butts, as I have
shown, and in 1900 Lord Rayleigh's Committee was formed with
provision of chemists unweighted by routine work.

In order to achieve progress in artillery, research on explosives
destined for a gun whether as propellent or high explosive must
have its ultimate appeal to the gun. The chemist and the artillerist,
if they are to learn each other's needs and limitations, must therefore
be in close touch. This is the principle which crystallizes from the
history of the past, and underlies the organization of the Research

The Chemical Research Department had also been engaged on
questions involving metallurgical research. On formation of the
Research Department, a distinct branch, called the Mechanical Research
Branch, took over the study of these questions.

We have now followed the developments which led to the form-
ation of the Research Department in 1907, and which consists of three
branches: the Proof and Experimental, the Chemical Research, and


the Mechanical Research, under the control of one Superintendent.
The various buildings, etc., of this department are situated together,
and personal contact between these branches is thus secured.

Amongst the buildings is included a factory for the manufacture of
explosives on an experimental scale. Facilities also exist for testing
high explosive shell, either at rest or in smaller natures when fired from
a gun.

Samples may be submitted for examination. These are first
analyzed and tested by a stability test. This preliminary examination
includes for high explosives the determination of power and sensitive-
ness, and for propellents determination of calorimetric value and power
in closed vessels. An apparatus for measuring the rate of detonation of
high explosives is being installed, and an apparatus exists for the gas
analysis of the products of explosion of propellents.

When an explosive is followed up beyond this preliminary stage,
it undergoes a more extended trial in climatic huts. These huts are
kept at 1 20 Fahr. and 1 1 5 Fahr., the 1 20 huts being dry and the 115
huts 75 per cent, saturated with moisture. The huts are of special design
with a view to their yielding at once, and so relieving the pressure
should a flare result. They are of course strongly traversed and well
isolated. The explosive is also more particularly examined as to the
special purpose for which it is intended.



HEAD OFFICE: 29, Great St. Helen's, London, E.G.
CAPITAL: ,120,000.
FACTORY: Gathurst, Wigan.

Recently new arrangements have been made for the manufacture
of this explosive at the works of the Roburite Company.


r I "HE Elswick Works of Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth and Co.,
-L Limited, were started in 1847.

In 1854 the outbreak of the Crimean War brought Elswick,
perhaps for the first time, into connection with the War Office. Mr.
Armstrong, who had some experience of the class of work required,
was asked to design some submarine mines to blow up the Russian
ships which had been sunk in the harbour of Sebastopol. The drawing
of this explosive machine, which was never actually used, shows a
wrought-iron cylinder loaded with guncotton and fitted with arrange-
ments for firing by electricity. Experiments were carried out, and
Mr. Armstrong invited the principal Elswick employes to witness a
trial in his field at Jesmond. It was a very pleasant function, and
greatly enjoyed by all the guests. The mines, planted in different
parts of the field, exploded in the most exhilarating manner, and after



tea had been served out, the party separated, delighted with the
afternoon's entertainment. There is something refreshing in the
remembrance of this genial little exhibition, and the informal friend-
liness between employers and employed to which it testified.

The Ordnance Works at Elswick were started, in the first instance,
solely to undertake Government orders, and the Secretary of State for
War was a party to the contract.

Between 1859 and 1863 the orders given by the War Office to
Elswick amounted to , 1,067,000. In the course of the next fifteen
years they were ,54,000. But in 1864, the supply of foreign orders
for artillery gradually grew greater, with Denmark, Turkey and Egypt
among the customers.

The Ordnance Works consist of 93 buildings, including 40
large workshops, fitted with the most modern machinery, exclusively
employed in the manufacture of war material, and equipped for the
following work: Gun construction, naval gun mountings, land-service
gun mountings, field-service carriages, shot and shell, cartridge cases,
forgings, cast-iron castings, blacksmitheries, gun-sights and fittings,
brass finishing, electric work, gun inspection, pattern making, material
testing rooms, stores, engine and boiler houses. In the main offices
are large and well-lit drawing offices, chemical laboratory, plan printing
and photographic studios, etc.

The Scotswood Works are situated on the north bank of the Tyne,
three miles from Newcastle, and a full mile from Elswick. They
have a frontage of half a mile, and the area occupied is about 37 acres.

A bridge connects the yard with the North-Eastern Railway
system, and a jetty on the river front enables water transport to be

The Fuse Shop, having an area of 45,240 square feet, is equipped
with automatic machines, lathes, milling tools, drilling machines,
presses, etc. In all there are 360 machines, driven by a 250 H.P.
gas engine. The work done in this shop comprises the making of
fuse bodies, primers, shell plugs, bolts, nuts and screws, electrical


fittings, motor car detail, tinsmiths' work, night-sights for guns, small
shell, powder-cases, hydraulic motors, lubricators, etc.

The Shell Shop, comprising an area of 37,440 square feet, is
devoted to the manufacture of shot and shell for all sizes of guns from
T 2-inch downwards. There are 115 machines in this shop, driven by
a 250 H.P. gas engine.

The Fuse Factory comprises an area of 48,800 square feet. In
this factory the work of filling fuses, primers, etc., with explosives is
undertaken. It is fitted with the necessary machinery for this work;
there are 30 machines in all.

The Forge comprises 14,400 square feet.

The High Explosives Factory, comprising an area of 88,000
square feet, is set apart for the filling of shell with high explosives, the
buildings being erected on the most modern principles for this special
purpose, and isolated from the other parts of the works with mounds
and screens.

The Thames Ammunition Works, founded in 1879, were acquired
by the Company early in 1902. They cover a site of about 40 acres,
and are situate on the spit of land between the Thames and the
Darenth rivers, where the latter joins the main stream at Dartford
Creek. The Thames forms the northern boundary, and, by means of a
pier, material can be shipped directly to and from the factory into
barges for transport to Woolwich or Hole- Haven. A narrow gauge
line connects the pier with all buildings in the enclosure.

On the land side, the Works may be approached by rail from Erith
or Slades Green stations on the South-Eastern Railway through Slades
Green Village, and thence by a private road across the marsh.

The factory is divided into two portions by a main road, carefully
fenced in on either side. All persons entering must pass along this
road, and cannot reach the danger areas without passing through one
of the " changing rooms," whence, having donned the proper clothes,
they proceed on platforms leading to the ammunition sheds. The
enclosures are intersected by dykes, which would serve to diminish


the risk of a fire spreading should there be, at any time, an out-

For the manufacture of ammunition, filling of cartridges and
similar purposes, there are 13 buildings, separated from each other
by the regulation distances, according to the amount of explosives
allowed in them. These buildings are devoted to the filling of shell or
cartridges of all descriptions, and the filling of fuses. They are steamed
by a system of pipes which are served from two Cornish boilers, which
also supply the steam for an engine for driving the dynamos for lighting
the factory and supplying the power.

There are nine buildings devoted to the manufacture and storage
of electric detonator fuses for blasting purposes. These are supplied
with steam from an auxiliary workshop in an isolated building outside
the danger area.

The factory is licensed for the storage of 83 tons of explosives in
nine mounded magazines, of which six are built, and the remaining three
can be put up under the licence at any time whenever required.

A large building serves the purposes of receiving and unpacking
material, and storing empty cases; it is also used as a workshop.
The factory is equipped with a small forge, and dining-room for the
operatives, together with a lodge, waiting-room and stabling at the
entrance gates.

There is also a platform from which small guns can be fired along
a covered range into a stop butt.

The Government licence in the factory covers the filling of all
kinds of fuses and primers, shell, cartridges, and quick-firing


HEAD OFFICE: Roskear, Camborne, Cornwall.

CAPITAL: ,36,000.

FACTORY: Roskear Fuse Works, Camborne, Cornwall.


PERSONNEL : i Chemist.

i Scientific Engineer.

6 Manufacturing, Commercial, and Administrative employes.

20 Male workers.

206 Female workers.

PRODUCTS MANUFACTURED: Patent Safety-Fuse for Blasting.
PRIME MATERIALS USED: Jute, Flax and Cotton Yarns, Gutta-percha,

Glue, Tar, Pitch, and Gunpowder.

The GOODS are manufactured for home consumption and for export.
SPECIALITIES MANUFACTURED : Blasting Fuse of all descriptions.

This firm was founded in 1871 by the late Mr. William Bennett;
after his decease in 1890 it was continued by the survivors of his family.
It was converted into a limited company in June, 1907.


HEAD OFFICE: Tuckingmill, Cornwall.

CAPITAL: ,200,000.

FACTORIES: Tuckingmill, and elsewhere in Cornwall.
St. Helens Junction, Lancashire.
Bendigo, Victoria, Australia; with numerous foreign connections.

PERSONNEL: The Resident Directors are Sir George J. Smith
(Managing Director) and George E. Stanley Smith, with a
numerous technical and commercial staff under them.

PRODUCTS MANUFACTURED: Every kind of Blasting Fuses, e.g., Bickford's
Safety, Bickford's Instantaneous, Bickford's Colliery Fuses,
Electric Fuses, Permitted Igniter Fuses, Metallic Fuses, etc.

The capacity of the works has been largely increased during
recent years, and is at present in process of further development.

PRIME MATERIALS USED: The principal materials are Gunpowder of
several descriptions, Jute, Cotton, and other yarns, Gutta-percha


and other hydro-carbons, used in varnishes, and other insulating
and chemical materials.

THE MANUFACTURES are both for home and foreign consumption. The
exportation arrangements consist of established agencies of the
Company in most of the important Colonies and some foreign
countries. Bickford's Fuses are also largely purchased in this
country by merchants exporting abroad.

practically all its varieties is the invention of William Bickford, of
Tuckingmill, and his successors. The Company's most recent
specialities have been the Colliery Safety-Fuse and Permitted
Igniter Fuse, the Bickford Instantaneous Fuse, and the recent
development of that idea in the tri-nitro-toluene fuse, patented
by their French partner, M. Jean Harle, (No. 1820/08).

BENEVOLENT INSTITUTIONS: Bickford, Smith and Co., Limited, subscribe
to and utilize general hospitals and charities in Cornwall and

DISTINCTIONS OBTAINED : Bickford's Fuses have obtained the First
Awards of Merit at practically all the great Exhibitions since the
first of 1851 in London, including those of Paris, Vienna, Phil-
adelphia and Chicago.



GENERAL MANAGER: John H. Barker, M.Inst.C.E., M.lnst.E.E.
HEAD OFFICE: Adderley Park, Birmingham.
CAPITAL: ,600,000.

The shares of this Company are held by Nobel's Explosives
Company, Limited, Glasgow.
FACTORIES: Adderley Park and Streetly.


(a) Adder Ley Park

WORKS MANAGER: V. E. Greenwood, A.M.I.M.E.

SIZE OF FACTORY : About 3^ acres.

NUMBER OF BUILDINGS: i three-storey Building; i two-storey Build-
ing, with Offices (about 690 feet frontage); 18 Metal-Casting
Shops; 12 other large Buildings.

HOSPITAL: i fully equipped Surgery with trained Nurse as Matron.

FIRE BRIGADE: Voluntary (13 Fire Hydrants) Manual Appliance.

RECREATION: Cricket and Football.

NUMBER OF OFFICIALS: Officials and General Office Staff = 28;
Works Staff and Foremen = 21.

CHEMISTS: Cecil Leigh, F.C.S., F.I.C., and two assistants.

NUMBER OF WORKPEOPLE: Average, 500 to 600 men; 300 to 400

NUMBER OF BOILERS : Each department, including two Metal-Rolling
Mills, is now electrically driven, taking the electrical power from
the Corporation about 1000 Kilowatts. Four boilers are used
for Hydraulic Pumping Engines, and for heating purposes, etc.

NUMBER OF ENGINES: All Steam Engines for driving purposes were
removed on Electrical equipment being installed, excepting five
double-acting Hydraulic Pumping Engines.

PUMPS: Two deep well pumps, electrically driven (with automatic
starting and stopping gear attached). One pair of vertical hydrau-
lic pumps electrically driven with Morse chain drive belt and
auto starting and stopping gear attached for Hydraulic Lifts.

TRAMWAY: One ton overhead electric Transporter running through the
main walk of each department on ground floor.

PRODUCTS OF MANUFACTURE: Ammunition, Breech- Loading Cart-
ridges, for Ordnance and Small Arms, Percussion caps, etc.
Manufacturers and Rollers of Copper, Brass, Nickel Silver, and
other Metals; Stampings and Drawings, Wire, etc,

MEDALS: Grand Prix, Paris Exhibition, 1900; Grand Prix, St. Louis,
1904; Grand Prix, Franco- British, 1908.


(6} Streetley

WORKS MANAGER: Harold Harris, F.C.S.

SIZE OF FACTORY : About 98 acres.

NUMBER OF BUILDINGS: 3 rows of Workmen's cottages, 2 dwelling-
houses, i block of buildings comprising Offices, Mess Rooms and
Stores, 64 sheds for loading purposes, etc., 500 yards Range and
Workmen's Hut; Velocity Range, Firing Shed with guns,.
Chronograph Room, etc. ; 2 large magazines.

HOSPITAL: i fully equipped ambulance outfit with Staff.

FIRE BRIGADE: Voluntary. Manual Equipment.

RECREATION : Cricket and Football.

NUMBER OF OFFICIALS: Officials and General Staff = 5.


NUMBER OF WORKPEOPLE: Average 25 to 30 men; looto 150 women.

NUMBER OF BOILERS: 2 Lancashire Boilers.

NUMBER OF ENGINES: i horizontal Steam Engine; i double cylinder
high speed vertical Steam Engine.

TRAMWAY: 3 overhead Transporters with carrying-cages connecting
loading-sheds, etc.

PRODUCTS OF MANUFACTURE: Cartridge and Detonator Loading, Fog

These factories were at one time owned by the Birmingham
Small Arms and Metal Company. There are extensive rolling-mills
equipped for the manufacture and loading of military ammunition of
every kind, to which has been added the manufacture of commercial
articles made from brass.


HEAD OFFICE AND FACTORY: Skelton-on-Ure, Ripon, Yorkshire.
PRODUCTS MANUFACTURED: Fireworks, large and small.
CAPACITY OF WORKS: Four magazines, one for Chlorate compositions,



capacity 300 Ib. ; one for non-Chlorate, capacity 600 lb.; one
Gunpowder magazine, capacity 300 lb.; one factory magazine for
finished goods, capacity 5,000 lb.; and a drying-room, capacity
500 lb.

MATERIALS USED: Ordinary pyrotechnical materials.

GOODS are manufactured for Home consumption.

NUMBER OF BUILDINGS on the Factory: 1 1.

ENGINES: One ^ H.P. oil engine.

SPECIALTIES MANUFACTURED: Flash-light Rockets and Roman candles.

Mr. Oswald Bradley discovered or rather invented a Chlorate but
non-sulphur composition, which will in all cases take the place of Meal
Powder. It is used for priming Chlorate stars, lances, or little coloured
lights used in large designs, and for making quick-match for pill-box
stars or for lancework. The use of this composition does away with
the liability to spontaneous combustion, always present when Meal
Powder is used to prime anything containing a Chlorate. The following
is the formula:

Fine Saltpetre, 6.

Pot Chlorate, 8.

Shellac substitute (George Boor and Co.), 2.

Finest Charcoal, 3.

To be passed thrice through a 3O-mesh sieve.


Manufacture of Electric Detonators, Fuses, and Electric Fuses.
Licensed in 1878 and 1892.




The British Explosives Syndicate, Limited, was formed in
September, 1891, with a capital of ; 100,000, made up of 7,500
Ordinary and 2,500 Deferred Shares.

The operations of the Syndicate commenced in the same year and
a suitable site for a Factory was obtained on the Pitsea Hall Farm in
the County of Essex, and in close proximity to the mouth of the river

In 1894 the necessary Buildings and Machinery for the Manu-
facture of Nitro-Glycerine were completed, and in the same year orders
for Cordite Paste were obtained from the British Government. In
1895 additional Buildings and Plant were erected for the Manufacture
of No. i Dynamite.

In 1896 the Syndicate made provision for the manufacture of
Gelatine Compounds, as it was being proved that Gelignite, Gelatine
Dynamite, and Blasting Gelatine were gradually taking the place of
No. i Dynamite in many parts of the world.

Negotiations quickly followed for the representation of the Syndi-
cate in various Colonial Markets, and early in 1896 first consignments
of Dynamite and Gelatine Explosives were shipped to Australia and
South Africa.

In October, 1896, additional Capital was raised by the issue of
Debenture Stock in order to further develop the business of the Syndi-
cate, and from that period up till the present the operations of the
Syndicate continue to extend.

In 1902 Buildings, Plant, and Machinery were laid down for the
manufacture of finished Cordite, and since then the Syndicate has
regularly supplied this Military Powder to the British Government.

Besides the Explosives above referred to the Syndicate manu-


facture two "Permitted" Explosives called " Britonite " and " Frac-

In 1904 the Capital of the Syndicate was reduced and a new Com-
pany registered in August of that year.

The Registered Office of the Syndicate is now at r 24, St. Vincent
Street, Glasgow, and the present Directors are:

DOUGLAS CAIRNEY, Stockbroker, Glasgow (Chairman}.
JAMES B. GIBSON, Chartered Accountant, Glasgow.
WILLIAM SHAW, Warehouseman, Glasgow.

The Syndicate has now Agents in all the Australian Colonies, and
in Chili, Peru, and Bolivia, and they have also numerous Agents
throughout the United Kingdom.



Manufacture of Safety- Fuse. Licensed in 1877.


Manufacture of Electric Detonators and Fuses. Licensed in 1907.


Manufacture of Westfalite, Electric Detonators, and Fuses. Licensed
in 1889.



HEAD OFFICE: Sutton, Surrey.

FACTORY: (No. 190 Surrey) situated at North Cheam, Sutton, Surrey,
comprises about two hundred acres, and is considered a model
Firework Factory.

Norwood Factory, at South Norwood, in the Parish of Croydon,
Surrey, absorbed by Sutton Factory in 1902, and people, sheds,
and explosives removed to Sutton.

Harold Wood Factory, in the Parish of Hornchurch, Essex, absorbed
by Sutton Factory in 1907, and people, sheds, and explosives
removed to Sutton.
The Hulks "Alfred" and " Bluebell" moored at Higham Bight, on

the Thames below Gravesend, in the Parish of Chalk, Kent.
PERSONNEL: i Chemist, 3 Artists,
i Scientific Engineer.

25 Manufacturing, Commercial, and Administrative employes.
150 Male workers.
90 Female workers.

PRODUCTS manufactured include Fireworks of every kind for public
and private display, for expert and amateur handling, ships'

Online LibraryInternational Congress of Pure and Applied ChemistThe rise and progress of the British explosives industry → online text (page 23 of 29)