|View of Dalton Works from near the Reservoir. Pen and Ink Drawing by Arthur Knighton-Hammond, 1918
Image: Peter Norris, Arthur Henry Knighton-Hammond, Lutterworth Press, 1994
Image Copyright of Imperial Chemical Industries PLC (ICI) and Used with Permission
The British dyes industry had a promising start in 1856 when William H. Perkin discovered the synthetic colour named mauveine while investigating the uses of coal tar. With
financial aid from his father and help from his brother, Perkin built a dye works at Greenford Green near London. The dye was successfully manufactured and in commercial use
by December 1857.
Other dye manufacturers soon followed, such as Read Holliday in Huddersfield (click here for detailed history). Up to 1875 the British dye industry grew rapidly but subsequently
Germany forged ahead and became the industry leader. A key factor was the decision of Professor August W. Hofmann, Perkin’s mentor, to return to his native Germany. The
academic institutions in Germany were better at training the industrial chemists needed by the new dye companies being built along the Rhine and Main Rivers. The German
companies invested heavily in research and marketing. They sent out skilled chemists to help sell their products globally and provide technical support to dyers while British
companies (except for Read Holliday) only mailed promotional circulars. Dye cartels were formed with economic and resource advantages over the small, independent British
By 1913, 80 percent of the dyes used in Britain were supplied by the Germans. Even the 20 percent made domestically was heavily dependent upon intermediates from
Germany. With the onset of World War I in 1914, stocks of dyes and intermediates were depleted and the textile industry was in danger of being shutdown.
Explosives were also critically needed, so the Government subsidized some firms, including Read Holliday & Sons, to boost their output of picric acid and TNT. In late 1914, Dr.
Emile Bucher, owner of a dyewood factory in Jamaica, recommended further Government involvement in the dye industry to Lord Moulton. Some of Dr. Bucher’s comments
were reported by the English press:
“Dealing first with the question why Germany has beaten us in this industry, Dr. Bucher attributes it to the distrust of science among the business men of the country. Even Prof.
Witt, he says, concedes that the English youth has more natural aptitude for chemistry than the German-and the greater is the pity that the gift is not made more use of. As for a
tariff as the foundation stone of a synthetic dye industry, Dr. Bucher is sure it would in the end be its tombstone also. And he gives excellent reasons for saying this.”
A new company, British Dyes, Ltd., was formed in July 1915 and purchased Read Holliday & Sons of Huddersfield. The Government subscribed to part of the capital, amounting
to £1.7 million, and granted £100,000 for research, repayable in ten years. Joseph Turner, a native of Sheffield who began work at the Read Holliday firm at the age of twelve,
was named Managing Director.
The research staff in Huddersfield grew to 100 chemists to support the range of acid, basic, mordant, sulphur and vat dyes. The company had good performance in 1916, paying
a dividend of 6 percent on its capital.
The Turnbridge Works, which produced dyes since 1860, was becoming obsolete. A new plant was built in Dalton, on a site further down the River Colne valley.
The design and layout of the Dalton Works presented startup problems. In 1918 British Dyes began a relationship with Levinstein, Ltd., the largest independent company with a
dye works in Blackley, Manchester. Dr. Herbert Levinstein, head of the company, made recommendations to solve the operating problems at Dalton. The Dalton Works covered
several hundred acres and had units for the production of raw materials such as oleum (fuming sulphuric acid) and nitric acid; intermediates such as benzidine; and azo,
alizarine, and vat dyes. Some of the first vat dyes were Chloranthrene Blue BD and Chloranthrene Yellow D.
"At the end of the war ( in 1918 ) the British Dyes staff in Huddersfield were feted with a lavish dinner dance, during which a bombastic speech told them that they had helped to
win the war. On the Saturday morning over fifty chemists got the sack." (Quotation from Simon Garfield, Mauve, Faber and Faber, London, 2001)
In June 1919 Levinstein, Ltd. was merged with British Dyes and the new company was named the British Dyestuffs Corporation. The capitalization was £10 million and the
company controlled 75 percent of the entire British dye production. The transaction was criticized because of the formation of a potential monopoly. Arguments were also
made that there was over-capitalization and that the merger took place on an inflated basis. Some of the advantages of the merger, such as the economy of large scale
production, were realized. But the success of smaller, independent firms such as L. B. Holliday and Clayton Aniline challenged the concept of consolidation.
Pre-war consumption of dyes in Britain was 20,000 tons, of which 18,000 tons were imported from Germany. In 1920 the total output was an impressive 25,000 tons of which
the British Dyestuffs Corporation produced 16,000. But the range of the company's dyes was small: 500 compared to 2,000 dyes available to British manufacturers before the
In 1926, Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) was formed when British Dyestuffs merged with three other large companies to become a major player in the global industry. These
companies were Brunner, Mond; Nobel Industries; and United Alkali. ICI's first Chairman was Sir Alfred Mond. The Brunner, Mond & Company Ltd. was formed in 1873 to make
soda ash by the new ammonia soda process. It manufactured alkalis from the vast salt deposits in northwest England, and ammonia and fertilisers in the northeast of the
Nobel Industries Ltd., a successful explosives concern, was established in Scotland in 1870 by Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite and founder of the annual Nobel Prizes.
United Alkali Company Ltd., was an unsuccessful competitor of Brunner, Mond in soda ash production.
The merger provided the new company with the scale to compete in the world market. With 33,000 employees, ICI sold £27 million worth of products and made a pre-tax profit
of £4.5 million in its first year of business. The broader diversity of the company and new sources of basic raw materials resulted in better competition with I. G. Farben of
Germany and US conglomerates such as Du Pont and Allied Chemical.
In 1928 ICI acquired Scottish Dyes of Grangemouth, founded in 1919 by James Morton. The site was 80 acres with six sheds. The legendary names of such dyes as Caledon
Blue RC, Caledon Jade Green and Monastral Fast Blue are associated with those early days. The vat dye Caledon Jade Green (chemical name 16,17-dimethoxydibenzanthrone,
derivative of anthraquinone) and Monastral dyes (based on copper phthalocyanine) were among the most important dye discoveries of British chemists (click here to view
historic ICI film on Monastral Blue). The range of products at Grangemouth expanded to drugs and anaesthetics, plastics, synthetic rubbers, insecticides, synthetic fibres and
antiseptics. The site employed around 2,000 at its peak.
The company rapidly built a reputation for innovation in science and technology and grew organically. Examples of this process of evolution included:
1) ICI's business in pharmaceuticals came from pioneering research in medicinal chemistry carried out by dye chemists.
2) The development of alkyd resin paints stemmed from the nitrocellulose technology of the explosives business.
3) ICI's activities in petrochemicals originated from work on the production of petroleum fractions from coal
4) ICI pioneered the development of polyamide (nylon) fibres in western Europe.
The ICI dye business, known as the ICI Dyestuffs Division in 1969, went through increasingly difficult times and several reorganizations. Through the years it was combined with
other specialty chemicals businesses and became ICI Colours and Fine Chemicals and then ICI Specialties. Textile manufacturing shifted to Asia, lowering demand for dyes in
the UK. In 1993, in response to takeover fears, ICI split itself into two parts, ICI and Zeneca. Zeneca was the higher-tech part made up of pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals and
specialties, roughly in size ratio 10:4:1. Zeneca sold the textile dyes business to BASF in 1996, retaining the newer and more profitable ink jet colours interests. The remaining
parts of the specialties business were sold in 1999 to a management buyout backed by venture capital which was called Avecia. By that time the major remaining dye works at
Huddersfield and Grangemouth were about 50 percent devoted to agrochemicals manufacture. These parts of the works were retained by Zeneca and finally became part of
Syngenta. Also in 1999 Zeneca merged with Astra to form AstraZeneca, which is now entirely a pharmaceuticals business, and well over ten times the size of the restructured
Avecia, which took over the Blackley site for its corporate headquarters and research center, is currently divesting several of its business groups. The ink jet dye business was
sold to Fuji Photo Film in February 2006 for £150 million ($260 million). The liquid dyes for ink jet printing represent the last of the dye production in Grangemouth. Only a handful
of employees remain at Blackley compared to 14,000 in 1961 when the site had the largest research facility in Europe.
Hexagon House New, the HQ for many years, has been sold, and all the remaining businesses are in Hexagon Tower and possibly another building. AstraZeneca still owns and
runs the Computer Centre which was built by ICI on part of the Blackley Works site.
Syngenta is currently producing agrochemicals at Huddersfield. One of the sold-off Avecia businesses still operates there but it is quite likely that the Huddersfield works will be
closed down completely in a few years. The Grangemouth Works, where some colours and other chemicals are still made, has a longer-term future.
|Dalton Bank Nature Preserve Overlooks Huddersfield and Dalton Works of Syngenta-December 2005
Photos Copyright of Nigel Homer and Used with Permission. Click to Enlarge
1) J. Morgan Rees, Trusts in British Industry 1914-1921, University College of Wales, 1922 (see web edition by Batoche Books, Kitchener, 2001 at
http://www.ecn.bris.ac.uk/het/rees/Trusts.pdf, accessed March 17, 2006)
2) Maurice R. Fox, Dye-Makers of Great Britain 1856-1976, Imperial Chemical Industries PLC, Manchester, 1987
3) Peter Norris, Arthur Henry Knighton-Hammond, Lutterworth Press, Cambridge, 1994
4) "New Company", The Gleaner (Kingston, Jamaica), April 1, 1915
5) "Dye Monopoly To End", The Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wisconsin), October 20, 1916
6) "British Learn Secret of Dye", The Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) Times, June 27, 1918
7) Simon Garfield, Mauve, Faber and Faber, London, 2001
8) Thomas Jackson, personal communication, March 1, 2006
9) Robert Swan, personal communication, March 6, 2006
10) Bob McClelland, personal communication, March 19, 2006
11) David Baird, personal communication, March 21, 2006
12) ICI website at http://www.ici.com/ici-overview/pages/milestones_detail.htm; accessed March 17, 2006
|ICI Blackley Works 1958-1974, Photographed by L. Kaye
Photos Courtesy of Manchester Archives and Local Studies, Central Library, www.images.manchester.gov.uk
Reproduced with Permission. Click to Enlarge.
|British Dyestuffs Corporation and ICI
|Joseph Turner, Managing Director of British Dyes, Ltd.
Photo: M.R. Fox, Dye-Makers of Great Britain 1856-1976, ICI, 1987
Photo Copyright of ICI and Used with Permission
|View of Turnbridge Works from Kilner Bank,
Etching by Arthur Knighton-Hammond, 1919
|Views of Turnbridge and Dalton Works
Images: Peter Norris, Arthur Henry Knighton-Hammond, Lutterworth Press, 1994
Images Copyright of Imperial Chemical Industries PLC (ICI) and Used with Permission. Click Images to Enlarge
|View of Dalton Works in Construction
Water Colour by Arthur Knighton-Hammond, 1918
|Dalton Works Azo Colour Shed
Water Colour by Arthur Knighton-Hammond, 1918
|Aerial Photos of Dalton and Blackley Works
Photos: M.R. Fox, Dye-Makers of Great Britain 1856-1976, ICI, 1987
Photos Copyright of ICI and Used with Permission. Click Images to Enlarge
Dalton Works of British Dyestuffs Corporation, 1924
Blackley Works of British Dyestuffs Corporation, 1921
Blackley Works, View from ICI Building, 1958
|Blackley Works 1972
Crumpsall Hospital on Skyline
River Irk Passing through Blackley Works,1974
|ICI Blackley Works, Night View, Mid-1960s
Photo Courtesy of Bob McClelland
|Left: British Dyestuffs Ad in China
Source: Rea's Far Eastern Manual, 1922
Click to Enlarge
Right: British Dyestuffs Ad in India
Source: Times of India Annual, 1922
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|This bust was made by noted sculptor Fiore de Henriquez in 1953. It was found in the rubble of the demolished
ICI Dyestuffs works at Blackley. Dr. Peter Morris of the Science Museum of London has positively identified
the bust is of Cecil J. T. Cronshaw (1889-1961), who retired as ICI Board Member in December 1953.
Photo Left: http://www.peraltatuscany.com/fiore/index.html
Photo Right: M.R. Fox, Dye-Makers of Great Britain 1856-1976