Some thoughts on the history of the Nail Factory

by Patrick Whitty, who carried out the main part of the restoration work during 2006 and 2007.

The Nail Factory, otherwise known as the Scout Hut is a building of an uncertain age, probably between 200 and 300 years old. All buildings require maintenance, and since no building will survive unless it has a function we can be sure that the Nail Factory has been used by generations of people for their own specific purposes, each making changes to the building and leaving clues which were revealed during restoration work.

In 2006, restoration work started on the roof which was unsafe but which was clearly not original, being covered with asbestos tiles. Asbestos tiles appeared in the early 1930s and were welcomed for their adaptability, lightness and economy with the material being used widely until the 1980s. The roof covering could have been replaced at any time within this period but evidence suggests that it would have been during the 1930s.

When restoration work started, the rear section of the roof was partially slated but, it is unlikely that the whole roof would have been slated as the structure itself was mainly of very light timber not well suited to supporting a heavy slate covering. Such a lightweight structure may have been designed for corrugated metal or to take advantage of the newly available asbestos tiles. Some of the roof timbers were straight branches and may have been re-used from an earlier roof.

The panels must have been fitted some time after the roof was built and the asbestos tiles were fitted since it would have been easier to have removed the cast iron roof light and tiled over the hole rather than tile round it.

Fleur-de-lis decorations

The roof was originally built with ceiling ties built into the wall head. These had been cut flush with the wall and replaced with much higher ties to which the asbestos ceiling panels were attached, giving a much higher ceiling. The original ties would have been around 2 metres from the floor, giving a very low ceiling. It seems likely that the present timber floor would not have been fitted until later, possibly at the same time as the ceiling height was changed, with the original floor of earth, clay or stone being considerably lower.

Removal of the wall panels revealed original decoration to the stone walls consisting of white over pale brown with a blue line and a row of fleur-de-lis at intervals of around 10cm, drawn in pencil and painted in by hand. The inclusion of the fleur-de-lis is reminiscent of the building's known use as a scout hut. Indeed, the building has until recently been known as the Scout Hut. While the decoration must have been added after the scout movement began in 1907, we don't know exactly when. We can, however, put into chronological order the series of changes which have been made over the years.

The building has, on the South West side, three windows. The outer two were originally doors, as can be seen from the different stonework. On the inside the fleur-de-lis decoration vanishes into the new stonework, the doors having been blocked up to form windows after the walls were decorated.

Old doorway, external view Old doorway, internal view

When this occurred cannot be accurately determined but a clue comes from the fact that the gaps round the windows had been blocked up with pages from the Daily Record and Mail of 17th January, 1936. The newspaper may have been handy when the windows were fitted or there may have been a particularly cold wind on 17th January, 1936, after the windows were fitted, and the gaps were blocked up using that day's paper.

1936 newspaper Evidence of internal wall

There is a clear indication that a stone internal wall has been removed. Traces of painted plaster with the fleur-de-lis decoration can be seen forming a corner on both sides of the building, but only on one side of the partition, the rest of the building having being whitewashed. There is a clearly marked unpainted region where the walls would have met, although on the South West side the unpainted region reaches only part of the way up the wall.

Evidence of internal wall Evidence of internal wall

When the timber floor was removed a granite lintel was found together with a number of stones, some carrying the pale brown, white and decoration from the dividing wall. One stone even carried a fleur-de-lis. The presence of a lintel suggests that the dividing wall may have had a door or other opening, possibly positioned adjacent to the South west wall from part way up where the wall is painted white. The opening might have resembled an internal window, something like a serving hatch. Stones from the dividing wall, including some which had been painted, were reused to block up the two outer doors to form windows while others were used to support the floor joists. Although the internal wall had no foundations and was not in any way tied to the main walls it was probably built at the same time as the rest of the Nail Factory, otherwise there would have been no necessity for the second door on the South West side.

Subfloor Line of stones arranged to support floor joists

This would have given access into the smaller of the two rooms which would have had no window to the outside. There is a window in the bathroom, but this was added later.

With the two doorways turned into windows there would have been no access to the scout hut and it is at this time that the present doorway would have been added. It is clear, especially from inside, how the end wall has been taken down and rebuilt, not very well. The stones have been stacked up with no thought to bonding. The doorway lintel was provided by a length of timber laid along the wall head although a perfectly good granite lintel was left below the floor. Maybe it was rejected on account of its great weight but if the new doorway was created before the internal wall was removed the lintel would not have been available until later.

Right of new door Left of new door

It seems very likely that the new doorway was formed, then the internal wall was demolished, the South West side doorways blocked up, and finally the timber floor added at the same time and probably in this order.

Clearly the building was used by the scouts before these changes were made. It seems likely that the scouts continued to use it afterwards as thirteen table tennis balls where found under the timber floor. To go under the floor there must have been gaps between the edges of the floor and the walls, suggesting that the walls were lined with asbestos sheets at a later stage.

Internal block work walls were built directly onto the timber floor without foundations and not positioned directly over joists, their positions are shown in the diagram below. The toilet door frame carried a pencil inscription which probably read Robert Shaw (or Shore) 28 Oct 1948 (or 1968).


The fireplace was built after the decoration was applied. The timber mantel piece extends back only as far as the asbestos wall boards and the fire place may have been added at the same time as the boarding.

The two windows on the left hand side are more recent than those on the right and have timber lintels. The window in the toilet area had two sections of railway sleeper while the smaller window had lengths of square section timber. Both openings have been made using brick suggesting that they may have been made later than the front door for which only stone was used. They might very well have been added at the same time as the block-work internal walls. Until the internal walls were built the three side windows would have given enough light but the toilet and adjacent areas would have been very dark. The toilet window is of frosted glass which would have been required when the toilet was installed.

It appears that the scout hut was originally built with two doors and a window in the South West wall and with a partition dividing the interior into two rooms, one with a door and the other with a door and a window. There may have been a doorway or window between the two rooms. It has been suggested that the original use could have been as a barn, or it may be that the half with the window was used for accommodation while the smaller half could have been storage or stabling. The ground to the South West where the garages now stand has been built up and it seems likely that the original front of the building, with its window and two doors, over-looked a bank. In addition, it is built up on a line of boulders which form the foundations for the South West wall. These may have become exposed as a result of erosion or excavation but if not they would have made access difficult, especially for animals, and this, together with the relatively narrow doors, would argue against its use for stabling. The fireplace is recent, probably being put in for the comfort of the scouts.

Floor plan, circa 1936 Complete absence of foundations

The South West wall is built on a line of boulders, the North East on a line of buried rocks. In places, as shown in the adjacent photograph, this wall has no foundations at all. The stone walls vary from around 450mm to over 600mm and consist of inner and outer leaves filled with rubble. There is considerable freedom of movement in the structure. Whatever the original intended purpose of the Nail Factory, it was not built to a high standard and the builders would never have expected it to survive into the 21st century.

Suggested order of events.

The original building was erected some 200 to 300 years ago with two doors, one window and an internal partition which probably had an opening linking the two rooms. The floor was very likely of earth or clay. The original roof was probably covered in turf.

It is recorded that the building was used as a nail factory although there is no evidence of this use. As such it would probably have benefited from Dalbeattie's port as a means of export.

The building was re-roofed with a lightweight timber structure, either for a corrugated metal covering or possibly taking advantage of newly available asbestos tiles in the 1930s. The inclusion of a cast iron roof light would suggest that the roof was replaced before the ceiling was panelled.

Building decorated and used as a Scout hut, after 1907. Scouting spread very rapidly and there would probably have been a scout group in Dalbeattie very soon after 1907. This may not have been the original Dalbeattie Scout hut. Dalbeattie museum or the local scout group may be able to help here. Decoration of the walls suggests that the Scouts activity was confined to the larger room which benefitted from a window. There would also have been light from the cast iron roof light.

A new doorway was formed in the end wall, now the front of building. The internal partition was then taken down and the stone re-used to build up both doorways (leaving three windows in the South West wall) and to support new timber floor. The 1936 newspaper used to fill gaps round the windows suggests that these changes may have been carried out around this time.

Electricity was added at this time. Much of wiring is below floor level and cables enter by way of gaps left at base of blocked up door ways. The new door, which is still in use, may have been made specially or one of original doors may have been re-used.

The walls were strapped and panelled. There was probably some time between the timber floor being put in and the walls being panelled, allowing 9 table tennis balls to be lost by way of gaps between the floor and the walls. With the new floor the original ceiling joists would have been about 2 metres from floor level. These were removed and ties put in much higher up before the ceiling was panelled. The cast iron roof light on the North East elevation was left illuminating the void above the ceiling but probably at this time a row of fixed timber roof lights were fitted on the South West elevation. Internal walls were built after the walls were panelled, the panelling passing behind the wall ends. A water supply was provided together with drains which also serviced a number of toilets to the immediate North West of the building. The internal toilet was fitted and new windows created in left hand side to bring light into the toilet and extra light into the main room. The fireplace and chimney were built at the same time as the walls were panelled. The inscription on the toilet door frame would give a possible time for this work as being around 1948. It could be that the first part of the changes, from forming the new doorway to putting in the timber floor, could have taken place in the 1930s with work on the internal walls and panelling being carried out in the late 1940s after the war.

The newly panelled walls were redecorated and the building continued to be used as the Scout Hut until new accommodation was found.

When the building ceased to be used by scouts it no longer had a function and fell into disrepair with serious decay in roof structure and intrusion of plant material through rear roof area.

At this stage the most economically satisfactory solution would have been to demolish the remains and rebuild it, taking advantage of the VAT refund available on new buildings. Fortunately this was not allowed to happen.

During late summer of 2006 the roof structure was removed and replaced using trusses from Forfar Roof Truss Company and slated in Spanish slate. All the internal panelling was removed and the rotting suspended timber floor was replaced with chipboard flooring panels laid over an insulated concrete floor. The toilet was reinstated and a shower was included. A solar panel was fitted to roof to take advantage of the sunny aspect of the South West elevation and to supplement gas central heating and a wood burning stove. Dalbeattie's Nail Factory and Scout Hut is restored and upgraded for use as an art gallery into the 21st century.

Another use has been found for an old building, ensuring that it will be maintained and will continue to survive. Another stage in its long history.

Back to 'About the Nail Factory'

© Patrick Whitty