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ROF Bishopton

The Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF) Bishopton was a UK Ministry of Supply, World War II, Explosive ROF. It is sited adjacent to the town of Bishopton, Renfrewshire, in Scotland.

It was built, with the Ministry of Works acting as Agents, as three separate, almost self-contained, explosive factories within the same perimeter fence. They shared a common Administration Group and Workshop Support Services Group. The factory was built to manufacture propellant, Cordite in the main, for the British Army and the Royal Air Force. It did not produce propellant for the Royal Navy in World War II as the Admiralty demanded, and got, its own propellant factories.

The three explosive factories opened between December 1940 and April 1941. Explosives manufacturing survived on parts of the site until about 2000; although ROF Bishopton was privatised in the early 1980s.

The privatised ROFs become known in 1984 as Royal Ordnance PLC, then in 1987 as RO Defence; and now renamed BAE Systems Land Systems.

The site is still owned by BAE Systems, who in conjunction with Redrow Homes, have submitted locally controversial proposals to use a large part of this site for building new housing. If accepted this could, at least, double the size of Bishopton.


Construction of the three explosives factories

Choice of Location

Much of the site lies around the 10 metre contour and this was one of the deciding factors for its location; as UK explosives factories were built near to sea level to take account of their favorable micro climates. Some of the site's local high-grounds were used for the many nitroglycerine hills.

The other reasons being Clydeside's high unemployment rates in the 1920s and 1930s; the need to locate explosives factories in the United Kingdom safe zone (see Royal Ordnance Factory); a remote location with good railway links; and a ready supply of female labour.

The Site

The site consists of three, almost self-contained explosive-manufacturing factories; with a common Administration Group and Workshops Support Services Group. Building work on the first factory started in April 1937, the second stated in April 1939 and the third in October 1939. The long delay in opening the first factory was due to the critical shortage of a guaranteed water supply. The site has three separate water mains: Fire Fighting, Process Water and Drinking water; and needed a guaranteed supply of about ten million gallons per day.

The site was built on farm land, acquired by compulsory purchase, on the other side of the railway line from the village of Bishopton. However, the southern end of the site included land occupied by the former, by now closed, World War I Scottish Filling Factory (National Filling Factory No. 4), NFF Georgetown.

Over 2,000 acres (8 km²) of land from up to seven farms was used to accommodate these three factories. The land included Dargavel House and its grounds, the house still survives within the site boundary; as well as a number of former farm houses and public roads that were absorbed into the ROF site.

Factory 0

Every building on the site was numbered; one part of the number code indicated whether the building was assigned to Factory 0, 1, 2 or 3. Factory 0 comprised of the non-explosive sectors of the site (mostly nearest to Bishopton itself).

Factory 0 contained most of the supporting services for the nearly self-contained manufacturing site. A permanently-manned fire station with its own fire brigade; clothing and general stores, laboratories, machine shops, general workshops, laundry, leather workshop, chemical plumber's workshop, carpenter's workshops, and (empty) ammunition box stores.

It also housed the administration block, a few of the site's many canteens, the ambulance station, the medical centre, the mortuary and the motor transport (M/T) section.

Factories I, II and III

Factories I, II and III each had their own coal-fired power stations for producing high-pressure steam for generating electricity using steam-turbine-alternators; with the resulting low pressure steam used for site heating and Cordite drying. The three power-stations were also interlinked by high-pressure steam mains.

Each factory had three nitroglycerine hills, operating on a batch process, to produce nitroglycerine. Factories I and II (and possibly III) had their own nitration plants for making nitrocellulose. Nitroglycerine and nitrocellulose were then processed to produce Cordite.

Factory II lay south of the former public road between Bishopton station and Reilly farm, it included parts of the former NFF Georgetown.

Nearly all the buildings, with the exception of the buildings on the nitroglycerine hills which were light-weight, were steel framed buildings with triple-brick walls and bomb-proof reinforced concrete roofs. However, some of the buildings in factory III, which was built last, such as the power station, were clad with corrugated iron to reduce costs.

Other facilities

ROF Bishopton had an RDX plant installed in WW II. The plant was declared redundant to requirements and was dismantled in 1950. It was apparently then shipped to Albion Explosives, presumably at Cairnlea Australia, and re-erected.

Included within the site boundary, but separate from it on the old NFF site, was an Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) storage compound. This was linked to an AFV repair factory at Linwood, the REME factory.


The southern end of the site near the River Gryfe was connected to what was then the Caledonian Railway line. The connection, just north of the former Houston railway station, dated back to World War I and the Georgetown Filling Factory. The railway connection was probably severed and the rail track lifted when the Inverclyde Line was electrified in 1960s. Within ROF Bishopton's perimeter fence this line was still there in the 1990s albeit with 20-30 year-old trees growing between the sleepers and rails.

The main standard gauge link from the railway line, by now the LMS, was just northwest of Bishopton station. ROF Bishopton had a large transfer sidings here, connected to both the up and down lines. The ROF line, which was never electrified, ran through the transfer sidings. It crossed Ingleston Road, via a gated level crossing (grade crossing), and entered the ROF site from the north. The link remained in-situ right up to closure, but was little used after the early 1990s.

ROF Bishopton had about 20 miles of standard gauge railway line within its perimeter fence, its own fleet of nitric acid wagons and its own diesel locomotives for shunting. They were used to move wagons between the transfer sidings and various locations within the ROF site. In addition, ROF Bishopton had some 80 miles of 18 in (457 mm) gauge minimum gauge railway lines for transporting explosives within the site.


Housing to accommodate what was later to become the Ministry of Defence Police was provided locally in Bishopton. Two new streets were built to provide housing for married police constables and sergeants - Holm Park and Rossland Crescent. Barrack block accommodation for unmarrried police was built adjacent to Holm Park; it was used from the 1970s onwards as a MoD Police social club. Some prefabricated houses were also built in Rossland Crescent, but these have been demolished. Houses for essential staff, such as managers who needed to be on call, were provided on Poplar Avenue. Also Ingleston Drive may possibly have been built for ROF workers. A hostel for single women workers was built in Paisley, by the Ministry of Labour, on Oakshaw Street.

War-time Production

Post World War II

After the closure of the Royal Navy Propellant Factory, Caerwent, in 1965, ROF Bishopton started making Cordite for the Royal Navy.


As a part of the Explosives Division of Royal Ordnance Plc, the ROF was privatised in 1984 and sold to British Aerospace in 1987.

The MOD Fire Service moved out after privatisation; and the MOD Police moved out after the sale to British Aerospace. Their former Social Club at Holm Park, with its adjoining sports field, became part of facilities of Bishopton village.

The former MOD Police houses at both Holm Park and Rossland Crescent were retained by the Ministry of Defence and were sold off in the mid 1980s to private buyers. As they were still connected to ROF Bishopton's sewage system and water supply system they had to be connected to the public systems before they could be sold.

The workforce fell from about 3,000 in the late 1970s to 2,000 at the time of privatisation in 1984; and about 150 in 1991.


BAE Systems is the current owner of the former-ROF Bishopton site and uses part of it as an Environmental Test Facility (ETF).

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "ROF_Bishopton". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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