A view of the loading gates at the Nobel Factory in Ardeer circa 1900, the employees are all wearing Tam O’Shanters except of course for the foreman with his bowler hat.
My great grandfather Finlay Gibson is at various dates during his career at the explosives factory described as ‘searcher’, ‘cartridge foreman’ and ‘gatekeeper’. A remarkable photograph shows the very gate where Finlay would have been positioned as gatekeeper, no doubt wearing a bowler hat similar to the one in the photo. A 'searcher' had the task of making sure nobody entering the factory was carrying matches.
In the Early 19th century nitro-glycerine was the main explosive used in mining throughout the world, even though it was incredibly unstable, it had caused many fatal accidents in its use and just as many in its manufacture. Nitro-glycerine was so unsafe that many countries outright banned its use, a safer form of blasting had to be developed.
Alfred Nobel invented Dynamite in 1864; he used a method of saturating diatomaceous earth with nitro-glycerine and various other chemicals to make a solid compound. This made it far safer to handle; it could even undergo force-impacts and not explode, unlike nitro-glycerine that would sometimes explode literally at the drop of a hat. He was only able to manufacture small quantities at a time, as had limited working space and it was still a very dangerous manufacturing process.
In choosing the location for his new explosives plant, he sought an isolated location, with goods access links by sea. The Ardeer peninsula seemed perfect with it was isolated from any major settlement and could be accessed by sea easily. The plant opened for business December 1872, a notice appeared in the Mining Journal: 'The British Dynamite Company, having erected extensive works at Ardeer, Ayrshire, near Glasgow, with all Mr. Nobel's recent improvements for the manufacture of dynamite, are now prepared to execute orders for Home Consumption and Export.'