8 thoughts on “W1 Building? ICI, Billingham

  1. This photo shows the tops of the ammonia converters in the 100 ton bay in W1 building. Within the same building was the gas cooling area known by all as ‘pi$$ alley’ Gas leaks from the top joint face of the converters were not uncommon and usually resulted in a high pitched screeching noise followed by ignition and explosion of the gases. Bolting down the top flanges on the converters was a very physical job, a large flogging spanner was located on a nut and a heavy bar was suspended by a strop from the overhead crane. The bar was then used as a battering ram and swung back and forth by four? fitters to impact with the spanner and tighten the flange nuts.
    I was inside the CO2 Products instruments workshop when a large explosion occurred in the early/mid 1970’s. The explosion blew in many glass windows in the workshop, I can remember people on their hands and knees scurrying out the back door of the workshop and running away from the site of the explosion. The noise was was terrific as escaping high pressure gas was burning and roaring, clouds of smoke were rising to a great height abobe the 100 ton bay area. There were no automatic safety shutdown systems on the old plant and the fire continued for a long time before someone could locate the isolations. The cause of the explosion was attributed to internal erosion in one of the high pressure pipes, this had split on a bend and the escaping gas had ignited, no one was injured.


  2. My Father worked at ICI Billingham in the early 1960s through to retirement in the 80s. He was on the oil and gas plant I believe. I’m sure he will be well known to a lot of people. His name was Martin Donachie or he often got Don. My uncles also worked there. Bill or Bert Thompson an instrument artificer and later a trainer, Andy Hill who emigrated to Johannesburg, South Africa in the late 60s and another Uncle, John Mack all worked at either ICI Billingham or Wilton. I’m trying to find out about a big explosion in the 60s that my dad thankfully just missed.


    • I’m trying to find that out too, currently doing family tree research and understand my mother’s cousin died March 1960 in an explosion at ICI Billingham, but this is first reference I have found to it on internet…?


  3. Definitely W1 building, better known as the 100 ton bay. That is cooler alley on the left hand side of the photograph. I worked on there from 1960 to 1965.


  4. This photograph does not bear any resemblance to the W1 ammonia converters. They were in an area called the 100 ton bay and with the frequent explosions no buildings or huts would ever have been allowed in that area in my time. I suspect the photo is actually of the CO removal plant. This was the next building to the one in question. Apart from the clutter on the upper level there is the framework of a roof in the picture. The plant was erected in 1929 and the roof of the bay was removed completely in 1931. Explosions and fires had shown the roof to be a danger and needing constant repair.
    D Huckle

    Picture Stockton has a black and white picture of what is said to be the anhydrite griding plant at ICI Bllingham (t3012) which looks quite like the equipment in this coloured picture. The text in the black and white picture states that these units were used to produce ammonium sulphate. This does not make chemical sense. When I was at Stockton Grammar Schoolin 1960we were taken on a trip to ICI Billlingham by Mr Golding the Chemisty Master to see how sulphuric acid and ammonium sulphate were made. The preliminary step was to put the anhydrite into a long tunnel kiln fired with a pulverised coal burner. In this the temperature reached about 1000 deg centigrade. The anhydrite decomposed releasing sulphur dioxide.I think the residue was plaster of paris which then may have been ground up into powder in the type of plant shown in the picture. The sulphur dioxide from the tunnel kiln was then transformed into sulphur trioxide in Contact Process Reactors on the same site. After this the sulphur trioxide was reacted with water to produce sulphuric acid. At this point the H2SO4 could be reacted with ammonia also produced at the ICI to make make ammonium sulphate. The ammonium sulphate was stored in the hugh tent-like building in the south west part of the site. A lot of this is guessing so correct me if I am wrong. But I do remember that dayand the unkind remarks by my fellow Sixth Formers about Mr Golding who was Jewish having to forego the ham sandwiches we got for tea.
    Fred Starr

    This is definitely “W1” building the only one without a roof. It is in the late stages when it was used as a spares bay after yet another fire and the building of the New Ammonia plants. I did the estimate for the fire damage which came to about £20000. The old grinding plant was “WG1” where Anhydrite was ground to powder then sent to “WG2” the old open pan Ammonia plant. Next to that was the “WG3” plant which made the fertiliser which was stored in the Beehive Silo next to the Packing sheds the next plant to “WG3” so we have all four plants in a row. When the New Ammonia plants were built the old plants went out of commission apart from the packing sheds and Silo. Being Christmas reminds me the packing shed girls usually had a party in the canteen which was upstairs in the packing area. Called to an emergency on Xmas Eve I had set off up the stairs when I was suddenly hit by a flying fur coat and knocked flat on my back on the wagon loading dock and a bit concussed. It turned out one of the girls had come in for the party with a wee drop too much and fallen off the top of the stairs and for ever after called me her saviour. I ended up in the Ambulance room and much to the hilarity of the nurses doing the report “I was struck down by a flying fur coat which was the worse for drink” and asked me to sign. I have no idea what went on the real report. The Sulphuric Acid plant was a self contained plant with its own grinding room. The New Sulphuric plant was built on the Haverton Road and the old one knocked down and fenced off. We were told nothing would grow there for ten years. Two years later when I looked it was lushly covered with weeds and grass you cannot beat nature.
    Frank P Mee


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