Holton Heath Laboratories, nr Poole, Dorset

It’s not often I go exploring on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of the day. It’s usually fairly difficult to get in anywhere because of the higher volume of traffic or pedestrians and a lot of amateur explorers head out on Saturdays to the latest “tourist spot” and get caught by security!

So…with all that in mind, we went exploring on a Saturday afternoon! Our focus was in Dorset again, at the abandoned Royal Naval Cordite Factory site, the Holton Heath laboratories in particular. Used in the process of making cordite for shells during World War 1 & 2. Opened in 1916 and laid derelict since the late 1990’s.

After a stroll around the perimeter fence it was clear that there had been a recent tightening in security. New CCTV signs were up and a lot of broken fence posts had been replaced (since the last time we were here in 2009). We’d pretty much given up when we spotted our access – staring right at us! “There’s always a way in!”

The labs have been pretty much stripped of anything with any interest. Either by the decommissioning company or by thieves. There’s plenty of rooms and buildings which are still locked up – just waiting to be explored. Alas, that’ll have to wait for another day.

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72 responses to “Holton Heath Laboratories, nr Poole, Dorset”

  1. Simon says:

    I will be heading here today and I can say this wont be my first or last time I’ll admit the vandalism has ruined the location but it’s the history and architecture that keeps me coming back… but I do regret to say over the past weeks I have noticed younger kids ranging from ages of 11-14 being in there and smoking and smashing holes in the walls this does ruin it for other visitors as I was there last week when I noticed 2 officers entering and beginning to search the laboratories I got out without being seen but there has been a rise of police going there. So if anyone does wanna go and meet up I’m happy to as I also know the locations of other nearby abandoned buildings.

    • Aron says:

      Hello Simon, I was just wondering if I could add you on Facebook or maybe get in contact with you somehow, me and my friends are looking for more places like this in the south west, we are located in Somerset which is an hour from Bristol, so we don’t want to travel stupidly far, if you knew of any that would be brilliant.

      Thanks in advance Aron

    • Lauren says:

      Anyone know directions to here from Holton Heath train station? Thanks :)

      • Chelsea says:

        Hi Lauren, if you Google Maps Sandford Holiday Park it’s literally on the road across from it! At the end of the road you’ll go down is the Holton Heath train station! You can’t really miss it!

    • Rod Hughes says:

      Just a quick update. This site is in private ownership and hopefully, eventually, will see some form of heritage centre to the RNCF set up in the future

  2. Rob says:

    I visited the site yesterday. I arrived just as a few film students got there also in search of filming locations. We ended up all being there together to have an explore.

    It has been completely vandalised as previously mentioned but still interesting to see what is inside. I have visited all the sites now for the Cordite Factory and this is probably my favourite.

    Wear decent shoes, vandals have destroyed the glass roof and there is glass and sharp objects scattered everywhere!

    I am uploading a few photos from my time there, please feel free to have a look:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/148338705@N05/with/33167444732/

    https://www.facebook.com/pg/robertleephotography88/photos/?tab=album&album_id=378881595776982

  3. Erin says:

    I’ve visited here, and I expected the destruction. It’s sad because your images are so beautiful, with the images on the walls and things being left where they should. Of course the weather can cause destruction, but people who go to explore will be very disappointed after seeing these images. Be aware of what you wear on your feet if you visit Holton Heath Labs as there is glass everywhere, I wore Vans and a piece of glass went straight through the sole. Watch out for needles also, as I was warned by somebody before I visited!

    Overall, it’s a good place to explore if you live in the area, it’s big with different characteristics in each room. Do not visit alone! Watch out for the contractors which seem to be always doing the fence on the other side of the road, and around Holton Heath, but the same entry has been there years apparently!

    If anybody knows anything about the underground part of Holton Heath, I’d love to hear about it as I’m thinking about going back to visit the underground part and take a few more images in the labs, but don’t want to waste a journey if it’s not worth while :)

    Have fun exploring everybody!

  4. Laurence Basset says:

    Wow… this has been wrecked! Properly now. Returned after almost a year on the 30th November 2016 to do a graff/gritty mod shoot and now anything there may have been left to explore has been totally trashed. On top of that, I have no idea how the destructodroids have managed it, but they have now also smashed in all the skylights as well in the main building. Glass everywhere! Quite a “talented” roof scaling spidey achievement if only the energy could go into something useful and creative instead of ruining it for everyone else. That being said, this is a good site to see if an explorer genuinely doesn’t understand why many locations and entry points are kept secret among the community. Once they get widely known like this one, BOOM, the destructodroids that haven’t spent hours researching, possibly due to a limited mental acuity or just can’t be bothered, go in to wreck it.

  5. Paul Jones says:

    Visited today and found easy access. Had a great time looking around and took some terrific photos but be warned the company that owns this which is called The Birchmere Group are doing regular fence checks especially if neighbours have called the police. When we went to leave 2 people from the company were repairing the fence we had come through and were not happy that we were there even though we had done no damage and made no noise. After threats from them to call the police and not let us out we eventually managed after a lot of persuasion to make them change their minds so explorers be careful.

  6. Aaron Tilsed says:

    At the industrial estate in Holton Heath is bunker tunnels underground which they made bombs and all other sorts of weapons. There is always bear traps all over the woods and also a building where they film the Bad Dads Army programme on TV, it is very big and has underground tunnels on both side of the estate… We recently broke into one and hold underground raves every month but a very scary place to be at night.

  7. Frances kluter says:

    My husband worked at Holton Heath for 11 yrs 1950 – 1961 sworn to secrecy as a polymer chemist. It is so tragic to see the dereliction and destruction.

    Why cannot the government do some restoration and show the history and make it a museum. The history of the two world wars makes it thus.

    Great now for would-be photographers but for progressive chemists?

    • Debra says:

      I think that would be a brilliant idea. It would be great if the derelict buildings were restored and a museum would be fascinating. There is great potential for a NAAFI style cafe on site too. I wish somebody like the Lottery fund were made aware of this as this as it is an iconic piece of history…

    • Rod Hughes says:

      The labs that are referred to in all these articles are actually on what was referred to as Area F. It was occupied by the Institute of Naval Ordnance which was set up in 1918/19 to test cordite under a variety of climatic conditions. One of the buildings on this site is unique and of national importance being the earliest example of a climatic testing lab and has now been totally wrecked by illegal access.

  8. Rose says:

    How long did you spend in there? Is it a big place? I’m thinking of visiting soon. Obviously it’s not a “safe” place, but I won’t die or anything in there will I? Is there any CCTV, am I likely to get caught? I’m always up for adventure, but not death or being arrested!

  9. Ellie says:

    Me and my friend visited the labs last week, it was amazing inside and I got some fantastic pictures for my photogroahy project, some amazing graffiti and such an amazing place to explore, would love to go back.

  10. Ross says:

    Visited this place today after originally trying (and failing) to gain access to the navy cordite factory. You follow the narrow road leading to the Holton Heath train station and you can’t miss the place on your right. Super easy to get into and the place is awesome. Definitely recommend checking this place out.

  11. Giselle says:

    How to get in? Spent a while having a look around, want to go back but need as much info I can get before I go.

    • Ross says:

      Went back here today to find workers fitting new bars on the fences where there had previously been gaps to climb through. [partially edited comment for the following reason: publishing access details in public tells the authorities where the weaknesses are] …but you are still able to access the laboratories, just make sure you’re not seen once inside.

  12. Kelsey says:

    My boyfriend and I went here over the weekend and were lucky enough to find another group of explorers who let us explore this place with them, we didn’t exchange names but they own a vintage BMW and live Portsmouth side, they mentioned that they had their own website, unfortunately this trip was cut short for my boyfriend and I so we weren’t able to ask for the website link, it would be lovely to find this group of people again and their website.

  13. Jen says:

    Hi, we are visiting Poole tomorrow as a last minute escape! Please can you tell us how to get in? We recently visited an abandoned school near where we live and now we are on the hunt for more! Thanks :)

  14. MR says:

    Hi,
    We are a group of people who go out exploring old places and go on ghost hunts and so on. The cordite site is one of interest to all of us, as a few had Grandparents who worked there during WW2.

    I was wondering if you could e-mail me with any advice and info safe entry also. I’ve read what you have written and seen your pics it looks amazing and the whole place intrigues me and we want to explore it as so historical and of course our family links, due to my Gran working there she gave very little information as if she wasn’t allowed even though the war had ended all those years ago, but what I’m lead to believe is she amongst other women helped make the bombs that were used to bomb the Germans and played a part in helping our troops and us win the war, it looks like an amazing place to explore, please drop me line.

    Any advice, info would be so grateful we are researching as much as we can about this place and possibly trying to map out as much as the site as possible.

    Kind regards
    MR

  15. Oscar says:

    It has changed so much. I wish I could have seen it sooner. I’ve shot a few rolls of film around the place which I will hopefully develop soon. Really quite easy to access now. It’s a good explore despite the large amount of graffiti and vandalism it has now obtained. Have fun.

  16. Tristan says:

    Hi,

    I saw the location and fell in love with it would i be able to get the address of this place just to look around and maybe film in ?

  17. Aiden says:

    Hey, visited this yesterday and we found these large power plant looking things with trees growing through them any idea what they are?

  18. Beau says:

    Hi there Adam. New to the whole urban exploring thing but really want to get involved! Ideally was looking for an old hospital or similar, thought about denbigh but I know security is pretty tight. This place however would be perfect as is pretty local to me I was just hoping that you could help me with directions or location and entry as I wouldn’t have a clue where to start and would be gutted to get there and not be able to get in… I would even be up for joining you if you wanted to go back! If you could email me at beau1231@live.com it would be massively appreciated and if anyone else can help me out I would be incredibly grateful, many thanks guys!

    • The Urban Explorer says:

      Hi Beau, we’ve all been there, starting out in this hobby and not being sure what’s “right” – but let me say, there’s no right or wrong way. And as for turning up somewhere and not being able to get in – it’s part & parcel of this hobby! Access will change all the time so it really is down to how lucky you are on the day.

      All that being said, there are some fundamentals you should familiarise yourself with, starting with the 28dayslater – Trespass law.

      You should also be aware that asking for “…directions or location and entry” isn’t going to help you. “Urban Explorers” put a lot of effort & research in to finding places to explore, and just giving up that information when they’ve worked so hard in uncovering it isn’t going to happen. Put your own research & effort in to finding somewhere and the explore becomes a lot more rewarding.

      If you need any more pointers drop me an e-mail, but I think that’ll be enough to get you on your way!

  19. Laurence says:

    Got in on Sunday, lovely explore!

    The backward portion the vandals have smashed the place to pieces, but on the other hand have also helped by smashing holes in the walls next to the locked doors contained within. I quite like and have respect for the ones who have talent and leave GOOD graffiti ART on walls such as the Alien in one of the buildings, but the ones who put bricks through windows, feel the need to smash anything liftable, and spray simple lines spelling out the likes of ‘poop is funny’…seriously, is that really necessary?!

    Still a lovely explore though, brought back the memories of science class in school which had the same atmosphere, furniture and smells. Thank you for documenting this site Adam! I would have never known about it otherwise.

    Oh, the underground tunnels on Holton Heath that go for miles was a myth! I got the wrong end of the stick. My colleague meant you can get a good view of Poole Harbour from the main existing rail tracks. As all rumours end, this one escalated to there being an underground tunnel that leads to Narnia where the Unicorns roam freely and the magic pixies clean your shoes for a bag of lucky charms. LOL!

  20. Black Plaques says:

    FYI – drove past yesterday afternoon and there was a lot of police with dogs round the site.

  21. Sid says:

    Hi Adam,

    Just visited there for the first time yesterday. Access was surprisingly easy! Sad to say that most of the newspaper clippings have stripped away, the windows have been smashed in and the weather hasn’t been kind. It’s sad to see the deterioration, this place has crumbled even since you visited.

    Another thing is that all of the buildings are now unlocked, most kicked in or the doors have literally been smashed through. Shame really.

    Good fun explore though, I want to find more local stuff like this – I found out about the Poole Power Station, it’s a shame that they demolished it a long time ago.

    • A real shame about the Poole Power Station! I’m sure it would have been incredible.

    • ROWLANDIA says:

      Hi Sid,

      One of my first explores as a kid was Poole Power Station the day they blew the chimneys we went in that evening, inside was huge couldn’t believe I was standing in there but nervous as we knew we shouldn’t be in there. Looking back I wish I stayed longer. On the way out even took a souvenir and took some of the black painted bricks from the top of the chimneys. That place was great like stepping back in time. Old lamp posts and even road names now there’s nothing the only other part is the outlet in Hamworthy park which my Dad said use to let the warm water out from the turbines.

  22. Abigail Hurren says:

    Hey Adam,

    I’m heading down to the site *****, have just spent hours doing research on the place and your page has been so useful, just wanted to say thanks for sharing! Hoping tomorrow will be a good day :)

    Abigail

  23. Gyles says:

    Hi there Adam. I went up today around the industrial estate but to my utter disappointment couldn’t seem to find the way in! Went from the far end of the estate all the way to the Holton heath train station, the problem was that I didn’t really know where to start! Would really appreciate some pointers towards the correct way in. Drop me an email please,
    Thankyou.
    Gyles.

  24. Romana says:

    Hi Adam,
    I am a very keen adventurer, especially the coast and abandoned buildings…
    I do not work for anyone but myself… I have always had a passion with old buildings since i was a kid..
    Anyway, cut to the chase, i am trying to search for places and my god its hard to find anywhere on the net!
    I would really appreciate your help please :-)
    Romana

  25. Mike Patrick says:

    I used to manage the steam plant maintenance in there for a company called Cosens & Co, I had an office in the main boiler house. This was in the late ’80s early ’90s. We used to do loads of military site plant maintenance all over Dorset including a massive underground nuclear bunker near Sopley… this place was HUGE.

    We used to look after the Portland bunker plant too.

    I’d love to go back & see some of these sites now… a lot were only on skeleton staff at the time waiting for closure. I wonder if the Sopley place is still active… it’s huge with two levels, totally self contained with hospital, accommodation, computer rooms, plant rooms etc. the corridors where big enough to drive a car through!

    The company did work on Portland Breakwater but I was never involved with that, more the shame. West Moors is another huge site, fuel storage facility but would have thought that is still in use, that was my last posting in ’92. I left the company before it went to the wall with all the ministry cut backs around Dorset. Keep up the good work & if you need any info on places let me know & I’d be happy to help if I can.
    Mike

    • Thats fascinating Mike, thank you!

      Sopley has been on many peoples radar for a long time! As far as I’m aware it’s still live and I imagine will be for a long time! It was sold and changed hands several times. It’s reported that it’s now in the hands of an American company who don’t like visitors.

      I’d be more than happy to talk to you further about these sites and possibly others? Contact me via the contact page

  26. Laura Ford says:

    Hi Adam,

    I am a photography student and really interested in exploring this location for a landscape project I am working on.
    I just wanted to know if it is difficult to enter this premises? Could you possibly reply or email me with details as to how you got in?

    Thanks!

  27. JC Denton says:

    hey, me and some of my friends were exploring this area yesterday and the day before. we can’t seem to find the labs/bunkers and we keep on getting lost. do you happen to have any instructions on how to get the labs?

    JC

    • Hi JC,

      Your brother Paul has just spoken with me and said you’re working for UNATCO. That’s not cool man. I’m afraid I’m not going to tell you anything!

      However… if you open your eyes and look on the Western side of Station Road you’ll find the labs. They’re really not hard to find and there’s stacks of info on the net with location details!

  28. Hey,

    seems like a pretty cool location, I was wondering if you have any information on getting to the location and getting in? thanks, ersan

  29. Nicole Schmidt says:

    Hiya – where did you find the entrance? I’m familiar with the area and I’m thinking of doing a little explore shortly. Thanks for the information:-)

  30. malcolm atherton says:

    There are quite a few articles about this site when it was a working RN cordite factory. I can’t recall the names of any except the Royal Navy Scientific Journal which mentioned it in some issues. There are still some huge concrete tanks which were used in the production of Acetone from acorns and horse chestnuts in WW2. As a child at junior school, we collected these for the war effort but were told that they were to be used for making medicine for horses in Russia !
    If you look for a building named “The Admiralty” on the main road near Corfe Mullen, that was the pumping station for the huge quantities of water that was required in the production of acid used in the cordite process. I can remember the level crossing near there where a railway branch line delivered coal (or coke) for the steam powered pumps.
    I visited the site in the 70’s and 80’s when it was known as “Admiralty Materials Laboratory (AML) Holton Heath.

  31. Lee says:

    Hey could you possibly email me the location?

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