Ardeer Peninsula

The Ardeer Peninsula and Irvine Bay
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

The Ardeer Peninsula and Irvine Bay

A peninsula of North Ayrshire, the Ardeer Peninsula extends southeast from Stevenston with its southern tip facing the new town of Irvine. It is approximately 2 miles (3 km) in length, and 1½ miles (2.5 km) at its widest point. Its western shore forms the northern part of Irvine Bay, an inlet of the Firth of Clyde, while to the east is the mouth of the River Garnock.

Amongst the sand dunes of the Ardeer Peninsula was an extensive explosive manufacturing plant built by Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite and originator of the Nobel Prizes. Having had difficulties finding an appropriately remote location, Nobel acquired 40 ha (100 acres) of land from the Earl of Eglinton, formed the British Dynamite Company in 1871 and laid out what was the largest explosives factory in the world. The key explosive constituent, nitroglycerine, was so dangerous that it was manufactured at the top of hills created within the sand dunes so it could flow downhill using gravity and avoid the potentially-dangerous use of pumps. The buildings were spaced out across the site to minimise damage in the case of an explosion and the dunes were reshaped to provide natural safety barriers protecting the factory's workers by directing the blast upwards. A sizeable industrial complex grew up in the area, together with a major research centre for the development of new explosives. From 1926, the plant became part of Imperial Chemical Industries Limited (ICI) and, by the 1960s, had diversified to manufacture other products such as nitric acid, nylon and cellulose-based tobacco- substitute. Once employing more than 18,000 men and women, the Ardeer plant was declining by the second half of the 20th C., although explosive-related chemicals and equipment are still manufactured in the area and a Nobel Business Park has been established.

The southern tip of the peninsula was the location of the 'Big Idea' inventions centre between 2000 and its closure three years later. This included displays on the life and work of Alfred Nobel.

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