Montfode Fuel Depot
Montfode fuel depot was constructed during World War II, in the area to the north of Ardrossan on the Ayrshire coast. At the same time the harbour was taken over by the Admiralty, and became HMS Fortitude. The depot was built to hold fuel, described as high octane petrol or Avgas (aviation gasoline) for use by the RAF. This was manufactured at the Shell-Mex refinery in Ardrossan, which occupied a site at the harbour from 1927. Local residents blocked plans in the 1960s for further expansion of the refinery, limiting the operations that could be carried out there, and the refinery ceased operations in 1986. Part of the site was taken over by Saztec Scotland Ltd in 1986, until the local operation was liquidated in 2001, and the buildings in North Crescent Road were demolished in 2003.
A related site is said to have existed to the east of the refinery where, in 1939, the Air Ministry established a facility administered by the refinery for canning aviation fuel, and referred to locally as The Canning Factory. The output of this facility is believed to have been filled, one-gallon fuel cans.
RAF aerial photography of the Montfode area shows part of the tank farm under construction in 1942, and completed by 1943, and also captures part of the refinery in one view.
The depot can be seen to have comprised of three main areas, further described below, which consisted of a railway siding and transfer yard with three smaller tanks, a primary storage area with five large storage tanks a short distance to the north, and a secondary storage area with a further five tanks some 800 yards to the northeast. In addition to Avgas, storage at the depot would have been expected to hold reserves of all the refinery's product, and local accounts refer to the storage there of products such as pitch and bitumen, all transferred by underground pipelines. Fuel oil would also have been produced and stored, to provide bunkering (fuelling) for vessels making use of the facilities of HMS Fortitude.
The former Shell refinery which once produced the wartime aviation fuel stored at Montfode can be seen in the 1986 photograph, just prior to closure, and when it was producing bitumen rather than petrol.
Site visit (Main Site)
A site visit was carried out in October 2007. At the lowest part of the site, where the railway siding used to be (see map marker 1), most of the buildings shown in the 1943 aerial photograph are extant, and in use as a stabling for horses which graze on the surrounding land. On the east side of the railway line more buildings were found together with three medium sized storage tanks (see map marker 2), still three quarters buried. The access road to the storage site leads off from the farm track at this point.
Along the access road, toward the top of the hill, are two buildings near the entrance to the main storage area (see map marker 3). The five large tanks have been removed, leaving their valve chambers in places, and large depressions in the ground they occupied. The lower parts of the area were protected by an earth and concrete bund to prevent any spillage getting off site. The remains of a shallow water tank lie on the lower west of the hill, possibly for use as an emergency water supply for fire fighting, although the site was noted to be provided with numerous hydrants. The site was also provided with electric lighting, with a number of the lampposts surviving in various states of decay. A few lengths of six inch diameter flexible pipe lie on the ground. A line of concrete blocks with a steel inserts along their upper edges runs alongside the access road, and continues down to the railway line. A small section of the pipe it carried still remains encased in a concrete plinth. The site is littered with brick and concrete rubble, far more than could be accounted for by the few buildings extant in the 1943 aerial photograph, and now missing.
The final site, adjacent to Ardrossan High Road, could not be visited on this occasion.
Before reviewing the Picture Gallery, we suggest first examining the aerial photographs provided by RCAHMS.
The demolition and clearance of some parts of the overall site, and non-intuitive alignment of aerial photography provided by RCAHMS, means that the following references should be considered before attempting to cross-reference any maps, photographs, or descriptions. The following locations are described using the area of the railway siding as an initial reference:
- 1. Transfer yard
- The area to the west of the railway line has a short access road leading to a transfer yard with a single large building with loading bays for trucks. This has has been converted for use as stables. The north end of the yard is bounded by what appears to be an underground building buried in the hillside with only the entrances clearly visible. The ground above this has a smaller building with a ventilated roof, and appears to have been some form of plant room as it has two large pipes exiting one wall and leading into the ground. A smaller, unidentified, building lies a short distance to the west, across a track. These building may have serviced railway containers, as the aerial images show the siding track leading to them. All extant and visible in the aerial view, these can be seen in RCAHMS photograph SC458776.
- 2. Main entrance and transfer tanks
- Immediately to the east of the railway is the main entrance gate and the start of the track leading to the main storage tank area. To the west of this gate there is a small building which was probably the gatehouse and site office. Next to this is a larger building with double doors, and roof mounted ventilators in addition to those in the wall. There are no signs regarding its purpose, and it carries no warning signs with regard to electrical safety or high voltage. A few metres along the track lies a large rectangular building with no windows evident on the visible south face, and of unknown purpose, with a further small building along a small track to the north west. Past the larger building is a raised area which still contains three partially buried, grass covered storage tanks. These are relatively small, compared to those on the main site, and assumed to be transfer tanks for use with railway containers. The track continues past these tanks, eventually turning sharp right and leading to the main tank site to the north.
- 3. Primary tank site
- The track leads to a pair of buildings at the south end of the primary tank site, one large and one small. These are assumed to be the main plant and working buildings of the site, fitted with numerous windows and doorways. To the north of these buildings is the primary tank site which comprised of five large partially buried circular storage tanks, together with a protective earth bund built up around the lower extremes of the site. A small pond can be seen south west of the centre tank, and may have been an emergency water supply. The site was also provided with a number of clearly marked hydrants, presumably fed from a network of underground water pipes. The tanks have been removed from the site, leaving large depressions in the ground, with no effort being made to restore the land. The tank locations, and much of the original layout, can therefore still be seen in modern aerial images. This site, together with the tanks, can be seen in RCAHMS photograph SC458776.
- 4. Secondary tank site
- Located a further 600 m to the north east of the primary tank site, and on the south east side of Ardrossan High Road, was a site containing a further five partially buried storage tanks. The tanks have been removed, and this site has been completely cleared and levelled, with no evidence of its use as a tank farm remaining, other than the disturbed ground and perimeter boundary. This site, together with the tanks, can be seen under construction during 1942 in RCAHMS photograph SC857744, but is not referred to in their report. Be aware this image appears 'inverted', with south towards the top.
Site visit (Secondary tank site)
A site visit was carried during October 2009. The site was easily identified as it stands on the summit of a small hill where the original concrete fence posts are almost entirely extant. One half of the original gate at the southern entrance was also found. The only evidence of the entrance to the east was a gap in the hedge.
The site was then heavily overgrown by reeds and gorse, unlike the surrounding fields, and little was found in the area.
A short length of concrete road at the southern entrance and one section of brick demolition debris was noted. Three areas of apparently thin sandy soil were noted as they were dry and hard underneath, although the rest of the site was soft and wet underfoot.
Reports from previous visits referred to holes in the ground with pieces of metal sticking out, leading to speculation that the tanks still remained below ground. There was no evidence of the tanks at the main site having been removed, and the dry sandy areas noted previously may be evidence of their presence below ground. An RCAHMS aerial photograph of the area shows the tanks under construction, and their white appearance in the photograph may indicate that they were constructed using concrete. This may account for their having been left in place, as the removal of such a concrete structure would be expensive have little or no scrap value, unlike metal tanks.
The small building in the quarry further to the north was still in place, but was damaged. Its purpose was not evident, and it may not even be associate with the depot, having no signs of plumbing or cabling, and featureless apart from two ventilators and two short stub walls. It appears to have had a heavy door at one time, but this has been lost. The aerial photograph mentioned above appears to show a number of other building present on the site at the time it was taken.
The Defence of Britain Project gives the location of an anti-aircraft battery close to the depot but there is no other record currently known from RCAHMS, or Royal Artillery records, to support this, and no evidence visible on the ground. This is therefore assumed to be a mobile or light anti-aircraft battery (LAA), with carriage mounted guns, rather than a fixed or heavy anti-aircraft battery (HAA).
Valve chamber detail
- 1 Transfer yard
- 2 Main entrance and transfer tanks
- 3 Primary tank area
- 4 Secondary tank area
- Montfode Battery NS227443
- The Canning Factory at The Inches
- Former Shell-Mex refinery site
- Shell-Mex/Saztek premises, demolished 2003
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