Gunpowder storage complex at Kennall Vale


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020441

Date first listed: 17-May-2000

Date of most recent amendment: 20-Jul-2001


Ordnance survey map of Gunpowder storage complex at Kennall Vale
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Cornwall (Unitary Authority)

Parish: St. Gluvias

National Grid Reference: SW 75372 37703


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Gunpowder was the only explosive available for military use and for blasting in mines and quarries until the mid-19th century. Water-powered manufacturing mills were established in England from the mid-16th century, although powder had been prepared by hand for at least 200 years. The industry expanded until the late 19th century when high explosives began to replace gunpowder. Its manufacture declined dramatically after the First World War with British production ceasing in 1976. The technology of gunpowder manufacture became increasingly complex through time with the gradual mechanisation of what were essentially hand-worked operations. Waterwheels were introduced in the 16th century, and steam engines and water turbines from the 19th century. Pressing and corning were also introduced between the 16th and 19th centuries to improve the powders. Pressing improved the explosive power of the mill cake and corning broke the pressing cake into different sizes and graded it with respect to its fineness. Additional techniques were developed throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries to improve the quality and consistency of the finished product, and this in turn resulted in a variety of types of powders; ranging from large coarse-grained blasting powders used in mines and quarries, to fine varieties used, for example, in sporting guns. Gunpowder manufacturing sites are a comparatively rare class of monument with around 60 examples known nationally. Demand for gunpowder centred on the London area (for military supply), other ports (for trade), and the main metal mining areas. Most gunpowder production was, therefore, in Cumbria, the south west, and the south east around the Thames estuary. The first water-powered mills were established in south east England from the mid-16th century onwards, and many of the major technological improvements were pioneered in those mills. All sites of gunpowder production which retain significant archaeological remains and technological information and survive well will normally be identified as nationally important.

The gunpowder storage complex at Kennall Vale survives well, forming one of only three 19th century factory storage complexes for finished gunpowder known to survive nationally. The individual magazines each retain a good range of original and distinctive features while their spatial arrangement within the distribution yard reflects their respective roles for large and small scale powder storage, an arrangement governed by contemporary safety regulations and remaining barely affected by later visual intrusions. The importance of the complex is further increased by its direct functional relationship with the manufacturing remains of the Kennall Vale gunpowder works which are also considered to be of national importance and which are the subject of a separate scheduling. The physical separation of this storage complex from the manufacturing area of the gunpowder works again reflects the safety concerns and regulations affecting this industry during the 19th century.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the factory storage complex for finished gunpowder made by the Kennall Gunpowder Company at Kennall Vale near Ponsanooth in west Cornwall. The storage complex includes a distribution yard containing four 19th century gunpowder magazines serving, but well separated from, the manufacturing area of the Kennall Vale gunpowder works which operated from 1812 to about 1910 further along the valley to the south west and beyond the area of this scheduling. The three large gunpowder magazines within this scheduling are Listed Buildings Grade II. The distribution yard is sub-triangular in plan, 106m long east-west by up to 55m wide, tapering to the east to give a narrow approach to the yard's gated entrance which opens onto the road linking Ponsanooth with the gunpowder works. A row of three large gunpowder magazines extends north west-south east across the yard's wider western end; a fourth smaller magazine is sited to their east where the yard narrows towards the entrance. The eastern half of the yard is levelled into the natural slope and defined to north and south by tall rubble walls diverging gradually from the entrance: the southern wall largely revets the steeply rising ground behind. Those walls were already present when the 1840 parish tithe map was compiled, at which date the yard area was open to ground sloping down to the River Kennall to the west. By 1879, maps show the yard fully enclosed, as it still survives, with well-built walls along its west and north west sides defining the yard from pasture and stabling beyond this scheduling where the works' horses were maintained for haulage within the manufacturing area and for carriage of gunpowder from the yard to customers and to the port facilities at Penryn. The three large magazines across the west of the yard are essentially similar in construction though with detailed differences which partly reflect their differing dates in the development of the yard: only the central and north west magazines, 10.2m apart, appear on the 1840 map. The south east magazine had been added only 5.5m from the central magazine by 1879. The magazines are rectangular, aligned north east-south west, and measure in the range 9.2m by 6.25m to 10.9m by 5.7m. The walls rise approximately 2.75m to eaves height, with gable ends between 4.2m and 4.9m high. The walls are of mortared granite rubble with dressed granite blocks for quoins and for the lintels and thresholds of the single doorway in each end wall. The roofs have collared trusses resting on the tops of the side walls and supporting the purlins, rafters and laths. All three magazines have a roof covering of small slates rising to angled ridge-tiles. The roof survives largely intact on the north west and south east magazines but is collapsing on the central magazine. Each magazine has a blast vent roughly central in each long side wall, visible as a single vertical slot in the outer wall face, forking within the wall thickness to emerge as two vertical slots on the inner face, some of which have been blocked. The central and south east magazines also have a short vertical slot in the upper gable at each end. The central magazine also has looped fittings to secure a former lightning conductor on its west gable. The magazines were provided with floor level drainage slots variously spaced along the side walls: small and neatly squared in the north west magazine but formed as more irregular breaks through the wall fabric in the other two. The north west and south east magazines also have a small lamp recesses in the inner wall faces, on each side of their north east doorways. Although several timber lintels occur over the inner face of some doorways, the original wooden door-frames and steel doors have not survived, but broken metal studs and plugs do remain in the cement render to which the door-frames were fixed. The original internal pine racking has also not survived but rows of wooden plugs and metal studs occur on the side wall inner faces where the racking was secured. The fourth, much smaller, magazine is located well to the east of the row of larger magazines and measures 5.2m long, north west-south east, by 3.9m wide, with a similar wall fabric to the other magazines. Originally it rose 1.7m to eaves height, and 2.85m to the top of the gables, but recent alterations have raised the roof level by 0.45m with block walling which supports a modern roof of corrugated iron sheeting. The magazine has a granite-lintelled doorway off-centre in the north west end wall; a central doorway in the south east wall has been blocked with mortared granite rubble but retains its timber lintel trapped between the blocking and the gable walling. A small blast vent occurs towards the centre of each side wall, forming an angled, but not forked, vertical slot passing through the wall fabric. Ventilation bricks at ground level are modern additions. A stone gutter runs along the base of the south west and north west walls. This small magazine is one of the yard's early structures, appearing on the 1840 tithe map, and formed a small powder store called an expense magazine. It would have been the first structure encountered by persons using the yard entrance and from its easily accessible position and small size, it is considered that this magazine may have stored gunpowder for the works' factory-gate sales, without requiring customers to approach the larger magazines where bulk supplies were stored before carriage and shipment to meet the works' major orders. A number of features are excluded from the scheduling; these are modern dumped and stored materials within the storage complex, the abandoned car, the modern roof, hen house fittings, the door of the smallest magazine, and the modern gates and their fittings. The ground beneath all these features is, however, included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 15544

Legacy System: RSM


Final Rept & Site Assment, Cornwall 2, MPP/Chitty, G, Gunpowder Industry Recommendations for Protection (Step 4), (1996)
List entries: Kerrier Dist, Stithians Par, SW 73 NW, 1/110-1/112,
MPP/Gould, S, Gunpowder Industry Combined Steps 1-3 Report, (1993)
Smith, J R, The Kennall Gunpowder Company, Kennall Vale, Ponsanooth, 1986, Unpub rept, Cwall Trust Nature Consvn
Title: 1:10000 Ordnance Survey Map; SW 73 NE Source Date: 1984 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing