View Full Version : Dunham-on-the-Hill WW2 Bulk Explosive Store

06-08-2009, 23:11
It's here:


It is quite impossible to miss it, driving into, or out of N. Wales on the M56.

This is a puzzling site. It is easily visible from the M56, travelling in both directions. The most frequent view is of the two brick “sheds” from the M56, travelling past the Helsby turnoff towards North Wales.

Looking at aerial photography websites reveals a number ( 28 ) of the “sheds”, and tracks connecting them. They look military, and it starts looking like an military storage area.

A typical "shed", similar to the one near the M56:


Compare the FE, to a map, which also shows the shed numbers:


It is indeed, BE Dunham-on-the-Hill.

Despite the main function of the ROFs being the manufacture of munitions, “BE DotH” was to be different. It was not actually involved in manufacturing at all. It was primarily for the storage and distribution of explosives that were then to be used in other ROF establishments as fillings for shells and munitions.

The DotH site was built on a site requisitioned in 1941 for the war effort, on behalf of the Ministry of Supply (MoS) under the “Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1939.
Construction of the site started on the 7th June 1941, completed by the 5th August, and was open for use on the 11th August 1941.

Upon cessation of hostilities, the depot was retained as a "Buffer" store for food storage by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF). This role ceased in September 1985, and in 1990, it was disposed of into the private sector.


The main role of DotH during WW2 was for the storage of explosives, but there is a significant story behind this role. Explosives were shipped into the Mersey ports. The geographical position of DotH was very appropriate, as it was in a very good strategic position on the railway lines in the area. The site was not chosen by chance. It was in a position to receive the explosives & munitions, and to then store them for further distribution. It was also well away from the bombing routes in Liverpool.

This is a typical Luftwaffe bombing map of Liverpool:


There were shipments from Canada, distributed to ROFs at Fazakerley, Rhydymwyn, Chorley and Chelford. The shipments to Fazakerley would suggest that the shipments were into Birkenhead Docks.

The explosives shipped in were Neonite, Cordite and TNT; they arrived packed into cloth bags, which were in turn packed into wooden crates and boxes. There were also substantial quantities of ammunition boxes and cartridge cases, as well as boxes of “yellow powder”.

This distribution activity made the local railway line very important to the war effort. There are some local defensive weak spots to the railway, a cutting, and the Frodsham Viaduct, which crosses a wide valley over the River Weaver navigation.

A road bridge across the cutting was protected by a pillbox, which still remains to this day in the corner of a private garden on Wood lane. The viaduct itself was protected from air attack by two Heavy Anti Aircraft (HAA) gun sites, each with 4 guns. They are situated off Aston Lane, and Townfield Lane.

The aerial photo of the Mersey H18 AAA site below is from Google Earth


The storage of the bulk explosives was in a number of brick and steel built “sheds”, 28 in total, which included 10 “sheds” which were designated as “magazines” ( or more correctly, from Mr. Ordnance, an "ESH" - Explosives Store House ), these were surrounded by earth blast mounds, with a brick blast wall at the entrance.


Some of the ESH buildings have had the earth mound removed by Cheshire CC, and taken away to line the nearby Gowy land fill site. Where the mound has been removed, it usually leaves a diagonal line on the blast wall, as in the first photograph.



An example of an ESH, with the earth bank still in place:


The security was the responsibility of the “Ministry of Defence Police”. The whole site was surrounded by a single line of seven foot high chain link fencing with concrete posts, and the usual barbed wire on top. Significant lengths of the fence still remain. There were 4 security men per shift, and a gateman.


The site was split into two halves, seperated by a "Pillbox" type of office - it has too many holes to be a Pillbox !


A view from the Pillbox of a shed in a cornfield:


With Helsby Hill in the background


There was a hostel on the site during WW2, but most of the people accommodated in the hostel worked at ROF Capenhurst. The hostel is now the site of a traveller’s encampment.

There was also a canteen on-site. Helsby Grammar School was also used as a hostel during WW2 for DotH workers, in addition to another hostel at Lowton St Marys, near Wigan.

The storage “sheds” were all rail connected by standard gauge track work, laid on clinker and ash ballast, and mostly bolted onto concrete railway sleepers, except (as is usual) underneath the points. The points were hand switched. There were around five miles of track, and 30 sets of points. Each “shed” had its own siding, and buffer stop. The rail was flat bottomed, with a height of about 5 inches, which would have been 75 pounds weight per yard.

There was a main line rail connection (to the L.N.W. & G.W. Joint Railway), and sidings, access to which was controlled by a LMS “ARP” signal box, which still exists. The sidings were over half of a mile long, with the longest having a capacity of 60 wagons.


The DOTH No.2 Signal Box (with a 158 passing). The signal box was a LMS ARP design, strenghened against close bomb hits:


And some rather crappy drawings of it by persons unknown:


There were usually at least two shunting locomotives on the site, one in use, and the other on “standby” as a spare. Locomotives usually arrived on site by road, and were unloaded sideways by draglines and jacks, onto the tracks.

The Fowlers were reputed to have an awkward “gated” gear change, and had a conventional starting handle. The Andrew Barclay “Kent” locomotive had pneumatically operated controls, and required a charged up air tank for starting. On one occasion, the air cylinder lost pressure; consequently the locomotive had to be started by means of a “push” start from a main line loco.

All locomotives wore a dark green livery. They had water exhaust traps, so that sparks could not be emitted from the exhaust, for obvious safety reasons whilst handling explosives.

There was also a “tram” type of rail vehicle, for transporting workers around the site, it featured a roof, and no sides, but was capable of carrying 6 people (probably not in comfort). It had a petrol engine and a friction drive. The driver was always one of the loco men on the roster. However, the “tram” met with an accident where it was crushed, and was subsequently replaced. There was a trailer that was used with the “tram” for carrying small equipment.

A photo of "Kent":


The last recalled “military” use was during the Suez and Hungarian Uprising crises in 1956, when the depot was used for the storage of shells, including American shells. The shells included Phosphor bombs.

The local construction company (based at nearby Hooton) of McAlpine, was employed to rebuild and repair the earthworks around the magazine sheds, and to repair the fences around the magazine earthworks – presumably to keep the cattle off. Additionally the lightning protection was re-done, consisting of three bands of one and a half inch copper strip over the roof and sides, connected to another band around the shed, which was in turn earthed to the railway track.

The signal box at Dunham-on-the-Hill Station (not the No.2 ARP signal box) station was closed around 1956, and demolished soon afterwards. There is a closure notice for the No.2 signal box for the 24th November 1951, this signal box was not demolished, and still stands to this day. Dunham-on-the-Hill station closed in 1952.

A BR temporary Speed Restriction notice issued during the closure of No.2


It's worth a visit, and a pity it's just decaying (it's not actually decaying much at all, just unknown, it was of great importance, but just not recognised).


07-08-2009, 08:23
What a stunning post. Can anything more be added - I doubt it. Isn't this post exactly what AiX is all about?

Peter Kirk
07-08-2009, 09:00

And one that will please those who have an interest in railways as well.

There are lots of interesting looking sites to found on Google Earth (or whatever your favourite is) and it seems someone will always know a lot about it.

07-08-2009, 19:52
I beleive the signal box was demolished earlier this year?

That's correct: they demolished it to prevent vandalism (!), the vandals were trespassing on the line which was dangerous.