Jul. 1st, 2012

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Okay, after a slight hiccup in posting, here's the finished version!!!

A bit of industrial archaeology now...

Our recent trip up north took us home via the island of Seil, where we hoped to find accomodation. Unfortunately, there was scarcely a B & B to found there, so we ended up exploring Kilmelford.

We found a lovely place to stay, a Georgian building which was once attached to a former gunpowder works, much of which has now been restored as a leisure/up-market holiday complex.  Information relating to this complex is sketchy, to say the least - the CANMORE entry is miminalist, unfortunately, so I'm going to have to rake through my memory and try and recollect what I read in the RCAHMS Lorn volume, which had a marvellous write-up of the site.

The gunpowder works were established in the late nineteenth century, and operations ceased in 1877, I think it was, after an explosion caused substantial damage to the infrastructure (can't remember if there were any recorded casualties - I'd be surprised if there weren't...). The owners also had links with the Bonawe Ironworks, if I remember right. 

The site was devoted to the production of gunpowder, which - as any industrial archaeologist with an interest in munitions or artillery can tell you - is a combination of charcoal, saltpetre and sulphur. 

All powder mills - whatever the age - have similar elements.  Areas where raw materials are received, areas where the component ingredients are mixed and transformed into the finished product, and areas where the finished product is stored prior to being sent out to the consumer.  The processing buildings often include incorporating mills, grinding mills, etcetera, which in many cases use machinery similar to that seen in any other industrial building, particularly those involved in large scale food/drink production.  But the dead giveaway is the use of copper instead of iron in the metalwork (no sparks, you see), and the presence of blast banks/blast walls around the buildings where the explosive materials are handled and stored.

The modern holiday complex occupies the area of the service buildings - manager's house, worker's houses, stables, stores, supply stores.  Spotting the new builds amongst the earlier structures is quite tricky, because everything's been restored so nicely!  When I first snooped around this place, I didn't know about the powder works, and I was perplexed.  I knew this wasn't a farmsteading - it was too big.  But there was nothing explicitly industrial that leapt out at me, and the possibility that this was once a gunpowder works just didn't cross my mind:-




The process buildings (or what's left of them...)  are located further up the hillside behind the service area. They sit on the edge of a narrow gorge, and they're serviced by a lade which allowed the milling mechanisms to be run by water power.  At the lower end of this complex, these ruins can be seen:-

 


Now, this looks like an engine house to me, but coal-fired steam engines and explosives do not good bedfellows make (understatement here, methinks!), so what the heck's it doing here?  So my assumption is that this is actually a pumphouse, assisting in the circulation of water from in and around the mill buildings.

Further up the hill, there are a number of isolated buildings like that pictured below.  I think it may be a magazine, as it's very small and very simple, with not much room for manouevre and no traces of any machinery:-





And then there's mysterious set of footings in its sunken setting, which must surely be one of the processing houses:-





It's a brilliant site, and well worth a detailed exploration, but unfortunately not much is known about it at present.  Now, if I could only get out there for a week with the Great Surveyor and the Leica EDM (staying in that lovely B & B and eating slap-up meals in the rather tasty on-site restaurant in the holiday complex each night...) and spend another couple of weeks researching the company in the archives, then I might have a whole lot more to tell you.

Ah, dream on....

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