In 1964 Power Gas Ltd and ICI Led the World

This is an advert stating that Power Gas Ltd, in Bowesfield Lane, were the leaders in designing and building a new type of steam reformer which could be made to produce either hydrogen or town gas. The basic process had been developed by ICI Billingham, using naphtha, a kind of cheap low grade petrol. ICI had needed to invent a new catalyst to cope with naphtha as steam reformers, up to that time, had used natural gas as a feedstock. Indeed, before the discovery of North Sea Gas, ICI were going downhill as they had had to rely on coal to make hydrogen. Billingham, in a sense, was a glorified gas works with all that this implies in terms of filth and expense.

Being in the same area there was a close relationship between ICI Billingham and Power Gas, so it was an obvious step to get Power Gas building the new type of steam reformer. Steam reforming using naphtha saved the ICI and also saved British Gas. The advert shows that Power Gas was the first to build steam reformers in a number of places and countries. One picture shows the overall advert, the other picture, plants that Power Gas had built.

Pictures and details courtesy of Fred Starr.

ICI Salt Division Roll Of Honour, 1939 – 1945

This ICI Roll Of Honour was reported to have been recently found dumped in Saltburn but fortunately saved from the scrapman or worse and is now being held in safe keeping pending its future. The Salt Union at Port Clarence was taken over by ICI in 1937 and the Clarence Salt Works were closed by ICI in 1952 followed by the Tennants Works in 1956 . The salt or brine fields extended from Port Clarence across to Greatham were the Cerebos Salt Factory was and between the two was the aptly named Saltholme Farm now a thriving nature reserve but once an active ICI farm .
It would be appropriate and fitting if the plaque could be placed alongside the ICI War Memorial in Memorial Park on Station Road in Billingham which was itself moved from its site outside of the former ICI Headquarters in Chilton Avenue in 1996.

Photograph and details courtesy of David Thompson.

Women Workers at Furness Shipyard

The first photograph from 1918 shows a group of women laying a rail track, I think this may be the track that ran from near to the fitting out basin along the river bank toward the perimeter fence near to the Transporter Bridge. The second is a photograph of that track with a steam crane on it, I remember seeing the same crane on the same track in the late 1960s, it was still working even then.

This photograph is from a newspaper cutting in my late fathers belongings, the text under the photo says “Dinah Carline and some of her mates, Furness Shipyard 1953”, unfortunately the article itself has been cut off. It may be possible that somebody will know Dinah Carline or even spot their mother, grandmother or great grandmother in this photograph. My father was a riveter and my mother was a burner in the Furness yard during the Second World War, my father never talked about his work but it must have had a great influence on his life as we found a number of books and photographs about the Furness Shipyard amongst his belongings.

Images and details courtesy Bruce Coleman.

Working Offshore on the Brent Delta

In 1977 I had a year offshore working as a materials controller on the Brent Delta oil rig. The company I worked for was called Vauldale Engineers based at Portrack in Stockton. They had the contract to supply the Electrical installations for the oil rig. Many of the chaps I worked with came from the Stockton area.

Turn the clock forward 40 years and the now redundant Brent Delta was towed to Hartlepool to be scrapped at the Able Wharf facility. All 24000 tons of it. They were saying there would be a 97% recycling rate for this tonnage. These two pictures show the rig in position in the North Sea. Moored next to it was the accommodation barge the Nortrym. Normally attached to the Brent Delta by the clearly seen bridge the Nortrym only moved away during stormy weather. I recall spending a night or two sleeping on the floor of the Brent Delta. You had to use your boots as a pillow or they could ”walk” during the night.

Photographs and details courtesy of Martin Birtle.

Harkers Engineering, Church Road, Stockton

The sad demise of a once long standing family company in Stockton-on-Tees. These are some of the last known images of Harkers Engineering taken around 2006, when the machines were being dismantled prior to being shipped to new owners. I worked there from 1987 until 2006. Excellent company to work for during the 80’s and 90’s.

Photograph and details courtesy of Derek Proctor.

ICI Housing and Silo

These two images are taken from a 1929 ICI publication entitled A Short Account Of The Activities Of The Company, a hardback limited edition book.

The first is of some of the ICI housing built for the factory workforce with this particular location being at the junction of Mill Lane and New Road and a scene little altered in 70 years.

The second image is of one of the storage silos showing the conveyor system along its roof and then down into the rail cars below. Only one of the many silos built now remains and that can be seen to the east of Haverton Hill Road but this particular silo could well be 5 Silo which stood on Nitrates Avenue close to the fire station?

Details courtesy of David Thompson.

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 ( 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.