Monday, October 29, 2012

Edingham Munitions Factory, Dumfries & Galloway

The 300-acre Edingham munitions complex was built in 1939 after the outbreak of the Second World War. Costing a not unsubstantial £3.5m, it took the man-power of more than 3,000 (mostly Irish) men to reach completion.

The Dumfries-to-Stranraer railway line ran through the site, making it ideally connected for development as well as the manufacture of cordite and nitroglycerine.

The site, comprising of two identical halves - such that if one part was damaged by explosion (accidental or targeted) manufacture would not be disrupted - remains largely intact to this day.  

Many of the free-standing buildings were used for storage. Other buildings, built into the profile of the landscape to lessen the destruction caused by any unintended explosions, were used for mixing and fabrication.

Edingham munitions factory - mixing and fabrication buildings

Dark corridors behind mixing rooms joined up the rabbit-warren of buildings.

Connecting corridors

The shabby, flaking plaster of the mixing rooms' interiors contrasted pleasantly with the geometrical precision of the door frames and latticed window; the cold, autumn light rather clumsily divided by the ragged glass panes.

Mixing room - interior I

Mixing room - interior II

Fabrication room - interior III

Chemical, as well as explosives, storage warehouses were also strategically placed throughout the site.

Chemical Warehouse

Much of the housing that was inhabited by the Irish immigrant community during construction of the site, consisting largely of basic wooden huts, was turned over to house prisoners of war towards the end of the war between 1943-47.

The Irish connection to the site remained visible, with many walls bearing inscriptions of Irish battle cries.

Faugh-a-Ballagh / Brits Out

The buildings, interspersed throughout the sizeable compound, also bore reminders of the climate within which Edingham's workers operated in. The threat of attack by enemy bombing, as well as the ever-present threat of explosions and gas leaks, characterised the day-to-day living of the factory workers' lives.

'Take your gas mask with you'

The long, eery corridors of Edingham signalled the route to the old mess hall. Though the site is only a few miles from nearby Dalbeattie, many of the factory workers lived on-site.

'Empty Corridors'

Staircases always provide a rather nice combination between the known and the unknown. What lies in wait around the corner, or at the top, provides an imaginative feast upon which one's neocortex or thalamus can gorge themselves - the viewer's as well as the explorer's.

Stairway to [              ]

At the top of this particular ascent was the promised mess hall which in many respects bore striking similarities to Detroit's Packard Plant.

Edingham Mess Hall 

Chairs, possibly original, and other kinds of paraphernalia often found strewn across abandoned buildings adorned the mess-hall's ante rooms. In this case, they were lined up with typical military precision. This odd appearance of order in a building so ramshackle and disorderly had a rather pleasing effect:


Whilst this shot provides some much-needed toilet humour:


As with most abandoned buildings, the presence of graffiti was inevitable; however, Edingham's was far from the colourful, artistic illustrations that one might have seen in, say, Glenwood Power Station. Much of it was restricted to the imprints visitors (under whatever guise) felt the need to leave after making their explorations; some of it, however, was curiously sinister. Perhaps Scots are simply less artistic - or much more depressed.

Initials and Swastikas

Whilst Edingham's overground presence is sizeable, the surface tells only half the story. The constant threat of explosion by accident, or (even worse) bombing, and the possibility of chain reactions from the production of nitroglycerine and cordite, meant that the overground rabbit-warren of corridors were complimented by equally labyrinthine subterranean counterparts.

One of the few remaining underground elements to the Edingham compound

After the Second World War, the Admiralty took advantage of Edingham's unique anti-explosion safeguards and used the complex as an explosive storage site, housing everything from dynamite stock to floating mines. However, after the Admiralty had packed up and left in 1960, and the land was sold back to local farmers, the site was effectively consigned to perpetual abandonment. 

Many of the bunkers have since been sealed off, either by obstructing entrances with rubble from those buildings unfortunate enough to be demolished,  or (ironically) implosion by controlled explosion. 

Edingham by air

Since 1960, the Edingham site has ceased to serve any useful purpose other than being used occasionally as a storage facility for everything from furniture to classic cars. Other than a brief ascension to fame in 2008 with a guest appearance in the opening shots of Outpost, the complex's main use to this day remains as an army and police training ground. 

Reminiscent of a bye-gone era, Edingham was the first set of military buildings that I had explored. Though uninteresting in its architectural design or composition, as with all buildings, it had a story to tell - and an interesting one at that. And whilst it may not have been a Steinert Music Hall, nor an Angel Island Quarantine Hospital, it had charm, and its own particular allure. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Gelston Castle, Dumfries & Galloway

I start my UK series with Gelston Castle: a building that I have not only grew up around but also in, it being currently owned by the family of one of my oldest, childhood friends. In many ways, it was Gelston Castle that spurred me into dabbling in photographing abandoned buildings. As a child, it was quite fascinating and playing in its surroundings added a very real "fairytale" dimension to childhood games. So, too, did the additional thrill provided by the menace of a promised billy goat which sentineled the glorious ruin. 

It, therefore, made great sense to me to return and look at Gelston Castle not through the eyes of a child, but through the lens. 

Gelston Castle, South-East Façade, I

Built in (circa.) 1796, Gelston Castle is a fine example of a glorious vanity project typical of Scotland's rising nobility of the time, many of whom had acquired recent, vast wealths in far from reputable trades.

Sir William Douglas, who made much of his wealth through the "American trade" in Virginia, owning plantations, and dabbling in occasional privateering, began to buy up vast amounts of land surrounding where now exists Castle Douglas - modestly named after himself.

The nearby village of Gelston was bought to house estate workers, and after being made a baronet in 1796, Douglas took the adage "every man's home is his castle" quite literally by building his very own.

Gelston Castle, South-East Façade, II

The Adam-style façade is coupled with "anachronistic castellated parapets and round corner towers with arrow slits [which] combine to create an illusion of grandeur befitting the man", as the current owner describes, creating an "uneasy pastiche".

The Adam-esque style has led to the building's design being attributed to Edinburgh architect Richard Crichton, pupil of Robert Adam and notable designer of the Bank of Scotland building in Scotland's Capital which dominates the skyline from its imposing situation on The Mound.  

Whilst dates are difficult to pin down, it is generally thought the building was finished by 1805, leaving Douglas only four years to enjoy his palatial lodgings before his death in 1809. Even in death, however, Douglas could not conceal his vanity. His final act of egoism must be the supercilious mausoleum in which he was buried (having apparently been denied a plot in the local churchyard due to his questionable character), which is described as consisting of a "bizarre mix of styles incorporating neo-classical and Egyptian elements".

Douglas died without an heir, but the Castle passed to his distant relatives and continued to act as a splendid home for the 150-or-so years in which the Castle was inhabited.

This early postcard from Kirkcudbrightshire is one of the few coloured depictions of the Castle before its abandonment.

Postcard of Gelston Castle 

The photograph below shows the Castle in the later stages of its life, circa. 1920 from the front driveway.

View From the Driveway 

After being requisitioned during the Second World War in order to house children evacuated from Glasgow, the Castle was in need of significant renovation and modernisation into the electrical era. Bought by the Galliers-Pratts, the roof was removed in order to avoid rates payments and the building left to rot.

The Castle has remain abandoned to this day, a forlorn reminder of an era-passed.

Front Façade and Remainder of Staircase

Other than half of the front-door and some strapping on the interior walls, little other than the masonry exists. The hard Scottish weather has dealt with most of the finishings, though some original wood work has tenaciously remained affixed.

Turret Window, With Original Woodwork

This shot of the entrance hall shows the relative size of the living space - much smaller than the deceptive façade would suggest.


Only one section of the grand staircase remains, seemingly determined to remain despite the parlous state of the building's structure.

Remainder of Staircase

With the Castle's internal structure consisting of merely brick and rubble walls, the decay of the interior was swift and, ultimately, irrecoverable. Save for a few of the external turrets, the Castle today remains a shell - bereft of hope, and with an uncertain future.

Empty Space

However, the Castle continues to exert an imposing presence from the ground with much, if not all, of the fine sandstone masonry in remainder as a testament to the craftsmanship that carved it.

North-West Façade 

However, the influence of Sir William Douglas, and Gelston Castle in particular, was not limited merely to the South West of Scotland.

When Douglas' niece, Harriet Douglas Cruger, of Jordanville, NY, visited her uncle's Castle in the early part of the 19th Century, she returned to the USA, enchanted, and vowed to build her very own Gelston Castle. And she did just that, completing her very own vanity project in 1836.

Little photographic evidence of Gelston Castle, NY, exists though the image below gives an idea of its somewhat Americanised style.

Home From Home: Harriet Douglas Cruger's Gelston Castle, NY 

After Harriet Douglas Cruger's death, the Castle passed through various hands remaining largely empty during the latter half of the 20th Century. It was eventually bought by the famous cellist Mstislav Rostroprovich in 1979 who, uninterested in restoring the charms of Gelston, built a new home in the Castle's grounds in 1983.

Today, much of the Castle has collapsed, with what remains being beyond repair. Douglas Cruger's dream began and ended much the same way as her uncle's - and despite being over 3,500 miles away both Gelston Castles have, ultimately, shared a similar fate.

A Project in Ruins: from USA to UK

In my first post of the year, and my first post for a year, I return to A Project in Ruins to publish some of the photographs I have taken after my summer "chronicling the rise and fall of American architecture", as Judge Douglas Woodlock was kind enough to describe my project in his generous inscription in a book gifted to me in remembrance of my summer project of 2011.

Undertaking that project confirmed my own belief that the aesthetic pulchritude of the built world extends both to the unpreserved as well as the preserved, and that the beauty of an abandoned building is not merely a difference in degree to its inhabited counterpart, but, rather, of kind.

In my first post in this series, back in Boston, MA, in July of last year, I did not myself attempt to explain the allure of the ruined world.

Thus, I begin my UK endeavour as I began my US one, by recounting the telling words of Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre:

Ruins are the visible symbols and landmarks of our societies 
and their changes, small pieces of history in suspension.

The state of ruin is essentially a temporary situation that happens at 
some point, the volatile result of changes of eras and the fall of empires.
This fragility, the time elapsed but even so running fast, leads us to watch them one very last time : 
being dismayed, or admire, making us wonder about the permanence of things.

Photography appeared to be a modest way 
to keep a little bit of this ephemeral state.