Ruston, Lincoln at ICI Billingham c1930s

ICI Billingham in the early 1930’s as the factory was being expanded at a huge pace. I originally thought that this was Oil Works in the south west corner of the site and very close to the area bounded by New Road and Mill Lane,
the tank farm was in that area although what looks to be the twin towers of Newport Bridge in the distance now makes me less certain?
The columns were built by Ruston of Lincoln, a long established heavy engineering company whose factory stood for over 100 years before being demolished earlier this year and the site cleared for new housing. The gable wall carrying the company name became something of a local feature but a local campaign to keep and preserve it failed and it too was demolished.
The name of Kellogg Coy on the column refers to the American engineering and construction company who were still associated with ICI in the 1970’s and built their pioneering and then world leading ammonia production plants.

Details courtesy of David Thompson. Photo credits to the ICI Archives and Kevin Turner.

Any memories or accounts of people working on the telescope at Jodrell Bank?

This is the Mark II radio telescope under construction by Head Wrightson in 1963.  When completed it was transported to its home at the Jodrell Bank Observatory, Cheshire.  Jodrell Bank (www.jodrellbank.net) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  In 2017 the Mark II was designated as a Grade I listed building, the highest grading awarded to buildings of “exceptional interest”.

The Mark II is part of the MERLIN array of radio telescopes.  (That’s Multi-Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network in case it comes up as a pub quiz question and you want to impress your team mates). The array consists of up to seven radio telescopes observing phenomena such as galaxies, quasars and interstellar gas clouds.  We knew Head Wrightson’s work went around the world, but we can see it also reached far out into the universe…

If you worked on the telescope or knew people who did please let us know!

Power Gas Letter from Company Metallurgist

Gordon Harnby was the company metallurgist for Power Gas, who at that time were the leaders in constructing steam reformers for the manufacture of town gas. The actual process had been developed by ICI Billingham. Their big innovation was that the process could use naphtha (cheap petrol). It was the technology that saved the British Gas Industry, greatly reducing the cost of gas. Furthermore, because the gas was supplied at high pressure, it could be piped over a wide area. Much of Teesside was supplied from a steam reforming plant at Hartlepool. The letter heading shows that by 1967 the company had been absorbed by Davy United.

However, the reformed gas boilers on these plants suffered from a serious corrosion problem, and Power Gas was cooperating with the R&D people in British Gas at London Research Station to find a solution. I eventually took over this job and met Gordon on a couple of occasions. Once at Bowesfield Lane. The letter from Gordon is to my predecessor, Peter Neufeld, and is full of good advice about the materials we should use in constructing a “side stream test rig” for testing more resistant boiler tubes.

The other picture reveals the cause of the corrosion. You are looking at the tube plate of a fire-tube type boiler. White potassium carbonate, carried over from the reformer, has deposited on the entrance of the tubes. When the boiler is operating, the deposit formed a sticky sludge which was highly corrosive, resulting in burst boiler tubes.

Images and details courtesy of Fred Starr.

Michaelson Road Bridge built by Head Wrightson

The Michaelson Road Bridge in Barrow-in-Furness was built in two stages to replace the old Lift and Roll bridge by Head Wrightson c1960s. Due to submarines being built in the same area, the bridge was constructed in a vertical position and once complete it was maneuvered into its horizontal position.

Photograph and details courtesy of Tony Campbell.

ICI heritage event, Sunday 14 October 2018

A ‘Memories of ICI’ event was held in the High Grange Community Centre in Billingham on Sunday 14 October 2018 which was organised by Billingham North Ward councillors Chris Barlow and Lauriane Povey and supported by the Billingham Legacy Foundation . Together they had managed to loan some of the Teesside Archives collection relating to the three local ICI sites at Billingham, North Tees and Wilton and had on display bound copies of the various ICI in-house newspapers and magazines such as the ‘Billingham Post’ as well as a vast collection of photographs, training manuals and technical drawings. There were also several loaned items from retired company workers including both long service medals and watches.

Because of the success of this first event another one is taking place at the same venue on Sunday 10 March, 10am to 4pm with free tea, coffee and cake too – a must for any former ICI employee or anyone interested in local history. Highly recommended!
For more details contact Cllr Chris Barlow; chris.barlow@stockton.gov.uk

Photographs and details courtesy of David Thompson.

Volunteers needed for exciting heritage project!

We’re looking to recruit a team of volunteers to conserve, catalogue and digitise an important collection of over 16,000 photographic negatives.  The photos detail the work carried out by Head Wrightson, the major industrial company based in Thornaby-on-Tees, from 1958-1978.  The collection was donated to Stockton Library Service by Company Photographer Alan Simpson in 2012 and contains hundreds of images of employees and social events, providing a fascinating visual insight into the culture of the company and of the time.

Thanks to a National Lottery grant this unique archive can now be conserved and made available online.  Training will be provided by Teesside Archives and Stockton Library service.  We do not require volunteers to have special skills or experience, but the role would suit someone who is literate and numerate and comfortable with using IT.

If you’d like to play a part in the preservation of our area’s industrial heritage please contact Stockton Reference Library on 01642 528079 email: reference.library@stockton.gov.uk

Venator Site Under Construction

This was taken from the Hartlepool to Port Clarence road, the same day as I took the picture of the first of the Hartlepool reactors being built. This can be made out in the far distance. I believe that the photograph shows the initial stages of construction at the Venator site. It would have been one of the first chemical plants to be built in this area, which was nothing more than a desolate, swampy, windswept and totally uninteresting section of land that was being reclaimed from the Tees estuary.

Photograph and details courtesy of Fred Starr.

Construction of Hartlepool AGR Nuclear Reactor, 1969

These two pictures show the first of the two Hartlepool Advanced Gas Cooled Reactors, under construction around 1969. But I understand that it took until 1984 before the reactors went into service. This was typical of the building time of the AGRs, and was one reason why this British approach to nuclear energy fell out of favour. Since then the nuclear programme in Britain has been rudderless. Nevertheless the reactors at Hartlepool have been given a life extension until the mid 2020s.

The AGRs were the most efficient type of nuclear plant, turning more than 40% of the energy in nuclear fuel into electricity. But this required them to run at over 600 deg centigrade and resulted in a new form of high temperature corrosion. This was the second reason for the AGR programme being chopped.

Photographs and details courtesy of Fred Starr.

Cargo Fleet Works, 1st January 1987

Last of CRW (Wed 28.1.87), burning of the last beam… starting to go… just about gone… on the ground… and after the dust has settled. Thursday 1st January 1987.

Photographs and details courtesy of Robert Greenwell.