Explosives for war

Loading British guns

In 1902, with tensions building up between the British and the Dutch over South Africa, the Pitsea factory added buildings for the manufacture of cordite, a smokeless explosive used as a propellant in military shells.
Cordite manufactured at Pitsea was used in cartridges and shells.

Cordite manufacturing buildings featured distinctive bays with the dividing walls extending upwards between rooms above the roof to control possible spread of fire.

The RSPB visitor centre opposite the Wat Tyler Centre was once a cordite building.

Walls extending through the roof provided protection from spread of fire between bays in the former cordite buildings.


Guncotton was a primary ingredient of cordite, a mix of waste from the Lancashire cotton mills and nitro-glycerine. Its manufacture was highly dangerous, as proven in the fatal 1913 guncotton explosion at Pitsea.

Guncotton needed to be thoroughly 'picked' by hand to remove any impurities.

Picking guncotton to remove impurities.