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Millhouse Gunpowder Mill

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The Dolphin Bell and Powder Testing Mortar/Cannon memorials at Millhouse, 2009, Fox
The Dolphin Bell and
Powder Testing Mortar/Cannon
memorials at Millhouse

Further background material can be found on our page about the Argyll Gunpowder Industry.

The Argyll Mills:

The Millhouse Gunpowder Mill, variously referred to as the Kames Gunpowder Works, Kames Powder Mill, and Kames Powder Works, was located at Millhouse, east of Ascog Loch and approximately one mile (2 km) southwest of Kames.

The site is crossed by the B8000 road from Millhouse to Kames, dividing it into the High Mills: which extended north for about 600 metres along the west bank of the Craignafeoch Burn in a strip about 100 metres wide, and the Low Mills, which extended south through woodlands for about 300 metres, and surrounded an open area, now home to a small cemetery. In 1869, some twenty buildings occupied the High Mills site, with the foundations of a water driven granulating mill discernible to the north, together with the remains of one of the three incorporating mills. The Low Mills site was similarly populated. The buildings were made of local rubble, with brick and concrete added later.

Craignafeoch Burn provided water for the High Mills, and was dammed some 3 kilometres to the north, creating two artificial lochs. Water for the Low Mills was provided by raising the level of Ascog Lorech. The supplies ran underground, utilising fireclay pipes.

Plaque below bell, 2009, Fox
Plaque below bell

Steam power was also used in the mills, with references to the use of steam being recorded as early as 1855.

The mill had a horse drawn tramway to transport material, and evidence of its existence remains visible on the site. Stables were located in a raised area at the centre of the Low Mills.

The mill road was lined with cottages, and a clock was mounted in the gable end of the manager's cottage, adjacent to the timekeeping bell. This was known as the Dolphin Bell, as it was mounted in a cast iron frame made in the form of two dolphins. The bell has been restored and re-erected at the nearby cemetery as a memorial to the workers killed in explosions at the works. No formal records were kept of such events at the time, although the deaths would still have been recorded in the various parish registers and journals kept at the time. As a result, the exact number of deaths is unknown, but has been estimated to be somewhere between thirty and forty.

A rectangular rubble building protected by earth baffle walls is described as an expense magazine, and was set into the north east slope of the raised area in the Low Mills (NR9596670709) The exposed north east end of the magazine faces away from the works. The main magazine was built prior to 1869 in open ground to the north east (NR9629070930), south of the present Millhouse road, which was originally a private track for use by the powder company. The magazine building has been extensively altered for agricultural use. An earlier magazine on the shore south of Kames (NR9775070583) had been converted to domestic use by 1869, but is now a ruin.

Powder testing mortar

, 2009, Fox
Resited mortar with projectile

A powder testing mortar or cannon still remains in a field to the north of the crossroads at Millhouse. The mortar comprises a small, single iron casting with the barrel set at 45°, used to fire a cylindrical projectile of 30 kilogrammes at a sand bank about 50 metres to the north using a standard charge. The result determined the power of the batch, and whether or not it was acceptable. A test projectile remains rusted in place within the barrel of the mortat.

In 2006, the test mortar was remounted on a stone plinth, and together with the Dolphin Bell was resited adjacent to the cemetery entrance.

Plaque below mortar, 2009, Fox
Plaque below mortar

A BBC programme, Making History, provided a short description:

The mill at Millhouse was located where it was for safety reasons. Local landowner Callum Miller gave Making History a guided tour, revealing that the building was powered by a water wheel and was built in a glen surrounded by trees. Local historian Bill Black explained that the sides of the glen would have provided some protection from a blast and the thinking at the time was that the trees would also help absorb the power of any explosion. However, despite all the efforts made, it is thought that between 30 and 40 people lost their lives at the Millhouse gunpowder mill.

© BBC Radio 4: Making History.[1] [2]

Kames saltpetre works

The former saltpetre (potassium nitrate) works at Kames (NR9741671413) comprised a group of rubble built buildings on the rocky foreshore to the north of the public pier built shortly before 1855, and extended that same year by a wooden jetty. In 1869, the buildings included charring houses for the manufacture of charcoal, stores to hold sulphur and soda, a saltpetre refinery, and Kames Cottage (NR9730671469), a villa overlooking the works from the west, and residence of one of the proprietors. At the north end of the site was a private pier, the Black Quay, built of vertically set rubble slabs extending almost 40 metres to the northeast.

The saltpetre refinery and pier were built by the proprietors, established by a Glasgow partnership in 1839, and acquired in 1876 by Curtis and Harvey, who transferred production from their works at Clachaig, and remained in use until 1921.

Site visit

A site visit was carried out during February 2009 and found that many of the buildings were still present, although all had been converted to residential use. Kames Cottage has become a bungalow. Access to the area, including the company pier, is denied by "Private" signs, with building work being carried on the pier at the time of the visit, although the final form of the building was not evident.

Modern time capsule

Cairn containing time capsule, 2009, Fox
Cairn containing time capsule

Residents of the Millhouse area prepared a time capsule, which was sealed into a small cairn near the site of the mill during 2007.

The capsule is intended to remain sealed in place until 2107, when it is to be opened.


Building, 2009, Fox
Lade, 2009, Fox


1 BBC Radio 4, Making History, Gunpowder Factories summary, November 1, 2005

2 Listen to the Gunpowder Factories programme

External links

Related Canmore/RCAHMS and ScotlandsPlaces (SP) entries:-



Aerial views



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