Tag Archives: Occupations

Explosive ancestors: Alfred Nobel’s dynamite factory at Stevenston

Alfred Nobel discovered dynamite in 1865. A group of Scottish businessmen realised its potential in mining and formed the British Dynamite Company. Looking for a manufacturing site not too close to houses, they chose the rather desolate beachside location of Ardeer, between Stevenston and Irvine, in Ayrshire. The first batch of nitro-glycerine, produced by Alfred Nobel himself, was made there in 1873, and the factory employed a number of local people, including some of my Hunter ancestors. In 1877 Nobel discovered basting gelatine, and the British Dynamite Company became a major manufacturer. It went on to become the largest explosives factory in the world, and the company eventually became part of ICI.

Mary Hunter, born in Stevenston in 1833, had an illegitimate son Robert Hunter in 1853 and she then married Robert Hamilton and had another 9 children. Mary, her coal miner husband and children lived at Schoolwell Street in the Kirkgate area of Stevenston. Her son Robert Hunter lived with them and initially worked as a coal miner. Mary’s husband died in about 1889, and by 1891 the dynamite factory had become a place of work for several members of the family. Robert Hunter was working there as a labourer and his half sister Marion was a dynamite worker. By 1901, Robert was still there, his half sister Gilberta was an explosive cartridge girl and his half sister Martha was a cordite mixer. The Ardeer factory must have been offering better wages than the traditional, textile based jobs for girls.