Royal Naval Cordite Factory, Holton Heath, Dorset

Having previously visited the laboratories at Holton Heath it was a long time coming that I actually pulled my finger out and explored the rest of the Royal Naval Cordite Factory!

Across the road from the labs is the main site of the Royal Naval Cordite Factory (RNCF). Officially closed in 1997 the RNCF was used during World War 1 & 2 to make the propellant in shells, cordite.

The area, now extremely over-grown and boggy is quite difficult to navigate without a map, but luckily I teamed up with a couple of local light-painting photographers who’ve spent a lot of time on the site. (Link & link – thanks guys!).

Our first stop was one of the many underground chambers in the area. Relatively small with no existing features but interesting nonetheless. The white tiled walls still gleaming and giving off a sense of cleanliness amongst the undergrowth. Next we checked out one of the many shelters sunk in to a hillside, used in the event of an air-strike, with the entry/exit points winding to deflect any blast debris.

OP1, Royal Naval Cordite Factory
Inside OP1. Then & Now

Atop this hillside is Observation Post 1 (OP1). A small, circular building, quite charming in fact and which wouldn’t look out of place in The Shire sits on the surface with slits for viewing the war-time skies. In the centre of OP1 is a ladder which descends to the underground monitoring and comms room, where approximately a dozen stations were set up with telephones, ready to call in any enemy sightings.

A short walk through the woods brought us to the reservoirs. A massive expanse, capable of holding 3,000,000 gallons of water in each side. One side of the reservoir had been open to the elements and with the attention of seagulls and other wildlife, it was decided to place disused cordite trays on the surface of the water. Unforeseen, nitro-glycerine had seeped from the wooden trays in to the water supply and caused head aches on site! In 1934, it was finally decided to build a roof.

Unfortunately this is where my exploring finished, but a plan to go back later in the year and update this report is in the pipeline…

If you’re interested in learning more about RNCF I recommend buying the ‘Cordite!’ DVD from Greenacre AV Productions.

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57 responses to “Royal Naval Cordite Factory, Holton Heath, Dorset”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Visited this place twice this year, the first trip was good as we found the entrance easily. It was a tight fit getting underground however it was worth it. As we submerged in to the factory the light faded and it became harder to breathe. There were no problems with adders or ticks. The second trip was not so good as a group of four chavs were in the nearby area. This time we’re searching for the tunnel in the other factory. We locked our bikes up and went in. It wasn’t until we came out an hour later to find that my bike had been nicked by someone (the chavs). The trip ended out to be a nightmare. I would not recommend visiting this place!

  2. Lee says:

    I lived on the site from 1974 to 79, my father was MOD police patrolling the base. AML. Admiralty Marine Laboratories as it was known then.

    I remember seeing some of the experiments in the labs for the nuclear submarines. Silent propeller tests etc. All very top secret at the time.

    The woodland and bunkers were a great place to be as a kid. Watch out for Adders if you’re wandering around, saw a few as a kid in the woods and in some of the bunkers.
    One of the reasons it’s been derelict for so long is the whole site is contaminated due to the cordite production. So careful what you play with or dig up.

    Interesting fact for the military buffs. The first ceramic pistol was made there, and the site was targeted unsuccessfully by the IRA in the late 70’s.

    I don’t think too many people realise the importance of the research facility during the Cold War and its role in submarine technology. Most of that has gone now and the scientists who worked there.

    It’s only now that my father in his 70’s has told me some of the things that were being developed there.

  3. George says:

    Went there today found every new/still intact building there and all the broken ones they have cut off a lot of the tunnels but the underground warehouse thing with the massive bricked pillars are still available to go there. However it is a very tight squeeze and very hard to get into. There is also people living in there and I would not advise to go in them because they were very angry at us. But apart from that it was amazing got some great pictures and footage.

  4. ian r says:

    Went today, the whole of this site is now extremely well sealed, only the abandoned and heavily demolished/vandalised areas on the opposite side of the road are accessible shame really.

  5. David Mansfield says:

    Dave,
    Just like to say that I have found the whole of the info and comments really interesting and especially the top one advising people to stay away from the Holton Heath site now.

    As a bit of a Military buff I am always interested in these so-called relics of our Military past BUT I am beginning to think that some of these so-called “abandoned places ” are not quite so abandoned as we are led to believe.

    As I live locally to Holton, in Christchurch, a day out in the car usually means a detour down Station Road to have a look and on one occasion resulted in the most bizarre behaviour by a marked Police car! A great deal of effort does seem to be put into maintaining the security fence and on my last visit a workman was actively re welding the fencing and another occasion I spotted a Royal Navy vehicle on what appeared to be grounds maintenance. The old Gatehouse complex is kept in very good order for something that is empty. I do believe that a lot of these sites although not on MOD books anymore are “held back” in some way for any future emergency and the complex’s at Chilmark, West Dean, Sopley Underground Command bunker etc. are good examples of this especially West Dean which is now turned over to an Industrial Estate, until you go up the side lane to the other entrance where there is a nice shiny new CCTV camera that logs your car number. As for the ex-RAF Chilmark site the current occupiers have close friends in Hereford and the last time I was there the “No Photography” signs had been renewed on the wire fencing on the opposite side of the road, very odd for a site that is being allowed to return to nature!

    It is after all lot cheaper to refurb in a hurry than to build new although the bulk of the work that was undertaken at Holton would never be needed again there’s obviously something there that is being conserved and protected and it’s not scrap metal. Finally has anybody explored the site on the opposite side of the road to the main site (same side as the cottages) as those buildings appear to be very much as was but the the huge main gates don’t appear to be have been opened in a very long time. At nearly 70 I am a bit too old to be doing the jumping over the fence and scrambling through the brambles thing (thank God for Google Earth it saves all that pain) so I salute those of you who can and let the armchair explorers like me see a little of the Secret Places, keep up the good work! P.S- Try looking up “Admiralty International Plc”

    • paul says:

      This site is an asbestos minefield. It would cost the MOD millions to safely demolish it hence why it’s kept locked up and allowed to decay naturally. There is no secret to the place or conspiracies about the site just a lot of people going there putting their lives in danger. The MOD are trying to keep you out for your own good.

  6. Laurian Robertson says:

    Hello everyone,
    I would just like to make you all aware that Admirality International plc, the owner of the Holton Heath sites, is cracking down on those seeking unpermitted access to their land. Due to a recent string of burglaries at the various sites, as well as criminal damage to the older buildings, the police have taken to treating the area with a low tolerance policy on trespassers.

    I myself was cautioned for my trespassing on the Heathland there. Although the police do not treat the presence of people doing photography and artwork on the sites as serious, due to the nature of other more high-profile crimes at the local industrial estate, and arson on the heath, you can expect to be treated as a hardened criminal until proven innocent- if you are caught there.

    So be careful, explorers. I no longer think accessing the site is worth the risk. The police have stated to me that ANY access to Holton Heath sites that are secured via a perimiter, without permission for access, is forbidden and that the owners are now seeking to charge and fine anyone who invades their property.

  7. Ross says:

    Decided to explore this place today and spent about 3 hours inside the area hiking around to only find demolished buildings. Very disappointed.

    • Luke says:

      Me and my friend had the same problem as Ross the other week when we went exploring for these cool buildings, we only came across piles of rubble etc. We would definitely be interested in the exact locations for when we go there again!

      thanks,
      Luke.

  8. Jaz says:

    I’ve been to Holton multiple times me and friends used to camp down there sometimes but would spend all day for weeks exploring the buildings we found pretty much all except the second water reservoir with the brick columns, where is this located?

    • The Urban Explorer says:

      You’ll kick yourself when I say it’s right next to the other reservoir you found. It’s the same structure.

      • Jaz says:

        We searched for weeks even finding another building along the main road towards Stanford with a massive concrete raised floor in multiple areas. The door next to the reservoir we found only had pipes and stuff in it, where is the entrance to the second half? There’s several other buildings in this area with full structures as well as a white room buried under a hill accessible via tunnel or digging out archway. It’s awfully dangerous at the reservoir now compared to the other buildings we have entertained in, held a free party at the beginning in it and it was okay went back to the reservoir September to find the other one for another party but as well walled in parts on the ceiling had fallen down so there was a bit of light.

        • The Urban Explorer says:

          I really don’t like the idea of holding a party at this historically important location, but apparently parties have been happening here for decades! If you look at the reservoir from above (Google Maps etc.) you’ll see it’s a semi-circular shape. This structure is then divided in to two with a wall right down the middle. The brickwork columns are on the other side. Easy!

  9. Holly says:

    Hi, I saw that you said the coordinates can be found on the first link when you type it into Google, but I couldn’t actually find them. Can someone email me the coordinates for this please
    09murdenh(at)lytchett.org.uk

  10. Dan says:

    Me and my partner went there today and did the east side of the factory on the other side of Admiralty Park where there are massive earthworks and loads of destroyed buildings, it’s a long old hike and you have to use your imagination to get in due to the new high green fence. We got in by ***** we were trying to find the reservoir however we did not know it was actually on the west side towards station road. Now we know and will go back and find the bits we missed, however there is plenty to see on the west side all the underground stuff has been demolished or filled in but it was a nice day to look around and get a feeling for exploring. Had to dodge a few tree surgeons but was all okay. We will do the other side of Holton heath and find the laboratories and reservoir another time.

  11. Victoria says:

    Hi just let everyone know the DVD and a display of the Cordite Factory is in Wareham Town Museum. Opening at Easter.

  12. The second edition of our Holton Heath history is now available from Folly Books. See:

    http://www.bradford-on-avon.org.uk/holtonheath.html

    I have some pictures and details on:

    http://http://www.mw0sec.co.uk/hhintro.html

    Les.

  13. Chris says:

    Went there just a couple of days ago, a bit of fence hopping and bramble bashing required. Made it to the reservoirs, and found a few buildings and bunkers on the way. Hoping to go back in the not too distant future as when we were leaving we found some more buildings that were not easily accessible and really out of the way, plus the fading light didn’t help.

  14. Jack Milnes says:

    My friends and I went there last Saturday, we were very impressed thanks guys going to check out more stuff thanks again.

  15. JP says:

    Hi there, can someone please give me direct instructions on how to get there, and will I get into alot of trouble if caught? Thanks

    • Harry says:

      Again this place has been blocked up and you can only get into 1 or 2 places out of the 30+ buildings. Also, the storm drain door has now been welded back shut. One minute it was all open, the next half of it was gone and the rest was blocked up

  16. Cara says:

    Hi guys! Just wanted to let you all know not to go out too far when exploring the laboratories or factory as there is a high security military base around that area hense why a lot of that area doesn’t show up on the maps. Just be careful to avoid getting in trouble!

  17. Jimmytheface says:

    Hey All,
    Found the Cordite Factory today – i had previously been to the labs but so pleased to explore East of that. Found loads of demolished bunkers etc but also found one shelter building with some decent graf, and another one further South that had been padlocked closed. Got loads of mint photos if anyone is interested or needs guidance etc.
    cheers,
    Jim

  18. ram says:

    Hi guys,

    It may just be me being stupid, but really want to check this place out, but I don’t see a location/address for this place. Can someone help me out

    Many thanks

    • The Urban Explorer says:

      Hi Ram,

      I can confirm it’s you being stupid. Haha! Seriously though, the exact co-ordinates for this places are on the first page of results on Google. It’s that easy mate.

  19. tom says:

    Did you encounter many ticks on your adventures through the cordite site? My personal best is 9 ticks on me (originally 7, found the other 2 on me the next day when i had a shower!)

  20. russ says:

    I really want to get to this place. Just been nosing online and think I have been bitten by the exploring bug… If anyone has any info then it would be greatly appreciated.

  21. Oscar says:

    Hi there. Me and two friends visited the site today. We found everything on this page. This area is a fantastic place to explore and thanks for the heads up on it… us three were all quite blown away when we actually managed to find everything especially the reservoirs. We had fun with the echoes and I have a lot of photos of all the surrounding area. Also found an old room with a shower compartment and urinal with very interesting wooden rafters holding up the roof. It was a great day out and I recommend it to anyone who wants to put a little effort in to get to this place. Its very exciting and great website thanks again.

    • The Urban Explorer says:

      Thanks for the comment Oscar. You’re right, all that’s required is a little bit of effort and anyone can find this site and explore it.

      The shower room sounds interesting, can you remember where exactly it was? I do need to return soon and spend a whole day here really.

      • Oscar says:

        Initially we headed the wrong way to the reservoir and avoided hitting anything particularly interesting for half the day. However about ten minutes on we came across this building with a curved roof. It had an open area inside and then a couple of separate small rooms like I said. I can email you a photo of the building if you’d like and a map screenshot of an approximate location. Cheers, Oscar.

  22. darrell says:

    Hi, spent all day searching for the entrance of doom found all other sites but this one evaded me please help.

  23. Chris gould says:

    I’ve heard that heavy plant has been on site recently so maybe exploring days are numbered

    • The Urban Explorer says:

      I’ve heard the same too, however I’d be surprised if it was this area of the site. The surrounding woodland is extremely dense and they’d need to clear a lot of trees to get anywhere near any structures.

  24. Danny burns says:

    Me and my friend have been onto the labratory part opposite Admiralty Park but can’t find the ladder of doom etc. we’re dying to find it and have a nose around can someone tell me kind of how to get there bearing in mind I work on Admiralty Park we can’t find it :(

    Someone please help!

  25. roz says:

    Hi,

    Are the underground entrances in the fenced in area of the cordite site? We searched the site and the small forest area on the inside of the fences and couldn’t find the ‘ladder of doom’ etc, just wondering if the hidden entrances are on the actual cordite site or in the nature reserve… spent a good hour or so searching?!
    HELP

  26. Abigail Hurren says:

    Hi Adam, me again! I went to the site, but only got as far as the labs, really struggling to find the rest of the site. Are there any pointers you can share? I have used Google maps and think I can see the reservoir and a few other buildings but getting to them seems difficult… Please feel free to check out both mine and my explorer friends Facebook pages. Mine is Every Door Photography and his is Oakwood Portraits, we’re both new to exploring but have some stuff up online :)

    Thanks, Abigail

  27. Sid says:

    Hi Adam,
    Just did my first visit of Holton Heath yesterday. I decided not to bother with the labs as they seem to be a visit in themself, my goal was the reservoir. With the aid of google-maps I knew where-ish the reservoir was, it was just a case of blindly heading east until I hit it, which luckily I did.

    Misreading what you’d said about it, I had assumed that there was still an open part of the reservoir – Spent a good hour fighting through the overgrowth covering every side of the reservoir to find a hole or something. I almost gave up when I came to the bolted door. Rather annoyed, I sat on top to rest – sitting directly on top of the access! I was kicking myself when I figured that one out!

    Still, it’s a stunning place, it was a hell of an explore. Planning to go back with some friends and do some light painting there.

  28. Steve says:

    Hi, went to the factory today and now have the bug to explore! I’m yet to find the chambers but will be going back. I’ve heard that there is an entrance by Bournemouth train station to some world war underground tunnels that go to Richmond hill. Would be great if you could email me to say if you have heard anything about these or know of them

    Steve

  29. Liam Basset says:

    Hi matey. These are some really good shots. Love this article!

    I’ve been working at Holton Heath Ind Est for 6 years now and on recently hitting portland for some exploration, I have the bug!

    I drive past the new fencing every day and intend to get onto this site soon, but is there an easy way to get in there nowadays? Any help greatly appreciated from anyone that knows an easy way in.

    • Hi Liam,

      Yeah, the whole site is easy to access. Once you’re out of your car and actually have a wander around you’ll find a way in.

      • Laurence Basset (Not Liam :-( Apologies) says:

        Hi Adam.

        I got onto the western side of Holton Heath last week (Love the reservoir! :-D) and although missed a few features due to running out of time and quite badly torn up arms, lol, a collaegue told me that there is an underground train/rail line that goes through the site and ends for a spectacular/unique view of Poole Harbour. Before I spend more time there searching for the elusive entrance, pretty please can you confirm if this is true? Any help greatly appreciated as always Adam. Laurence.

        • I’ve not heard anything on that. The “Cordite!” DVD has no mention of it either, just the land rail. I think perhaps it could be a case of Chinese Whispers with your colleague? Have they actually seen it with their own eyes?

          • Laurence says:

            Thank you for the reply matey.

            I think you are probably right, could be Chinese Whispers. I have noticed a couple of interesting features on Bing Maps though to the south of the existing railway, with a structure of some sort in the trees and the path of the old rail line disappearing before the sea. Probably nothing, but I will be going out again in a couple of weeks to have a look.

            Thanks again, and please keep up the excellent work here :-D

  30. Nige says:

    Hi Adam,

    Your photos of the reservoirs brought back some memories.

    Must of been about 10-12 years ago that me and some friends went to a free party or illegal rave you may want to call it, inside! One of the most amazing and strange venues I ever went to.

    I remember jumping a fence from an industrial estate in pitch dark and making our way up through the woods, not sure how we heard about the party, bit different back then, no facebook, twitter, not everyone had mobiles.

    Came across some people sitting in the trees, strange no noise etc but then we were shown the entrance in to the reservoir.

    Once inside there it was in one corner, sound system, full light system and about 100 people dancing away! It was booming!

    One stand out memory was walking away from the music and lights in to the darkness of the reservoir past all the brick pillars, getting to the other side turning round and looking back to the lights and thinking, “this place is Huge!”

    Anyhow, as dawn broke the cracks in the roof started becoming visible as the sunlight started to come down through, we were told later that it was an underground reservoir but I never realised what else was on the site until I saw your post.

    Thanks for reminding me.

    If only we had camara phones back then!
    Nige

  31. Ash says:

    Hi Adam, ive been looking thorugh this site for a good 3-4 hours and searching the web for details on how to get to this location! it looks amazing!! please email me the details, im intrigued by it!

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