Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 162,869 pages of information and 245,382 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Chance and Hunt

From Graces Guide
February 1914.

of Oldbury


1835 The business was founded when Chance and Hartley of Smethwick, soon to become the famous glassmakers Chance Brothers, bought land in Oldbury, Worcestershire for making saltcake. They had begun chemical manufacture at Smethwick when analyst Richard Phillips invented a new method of making saltcake. To develop the process and to give more space at Smethwick for glassmaking, chemical manufacture was moved over to Oldbury. The works, in Park House Lane, Oldbury, were established by R. L. Chance's sons, W. E. and Alexander Chance. Making chemicals in bulk was to become an important venture, with Oldbury Chemical Works becoming the largest chemical works in the Midlands.

For some 80 years the business was linked with Chance Brothers, whose glassworks at Smethwick was for many years the largest in Britain. They made the glass for the Crystal Palace erected in Hyde Park in 1851; they introduced into UK the manufacture of sheet glass and optical glass and achieved world fame through their design and construction of lighthouses.

In the early years of Oldbury Works, profits were poor but the works grew and the range of products grew too - sulphuric acid (by the chamber process), saltcake, hydrochloric acid and, amongst others, soda ash by the notorious and widely used Leblanc process. At first, the hydrogen chloride evolved was simply put up chimneys but it caused havoc with the surrounding countryside and people, and soon ash makers had to absorb the gas in water - the first trials were done by putting the gas up a disused windmill filled with brushwood down which water trickled.

By 1845 all chemical manufacture was transferred from Smethwick to Oldbury.

By 1852 sal ammoniac and ammonium carbonate were on the product list - the latter being a good seller for years, and claiming in its advertisements to be "world famous".

1868 With the appointment of Alexander Macomb Chance (nephew of Robert Lucas Chance) as Managing Director, the Oldbury Works began a long period of prosperity. He was undoubtedly "the true founder of the business". He has always been held in the highest esteem for his generosity and sincerity and for his many benefactions, no less than for his ability and energy and for his guidance of the technicalities of business. He was responsible for many initiatives of a humanitarian kind in the lives of employees and others in the Oldbury area; schools, libraries and houses for workpeople were built, and also a Working Men's Club and premises for church work. He headed the business for 44 years.

c.1880 The development of the MacArthur-Forrest process for extracting gold from low-grade ore and mine tailings using cyanide excited the interest of a number of companies including Chance Brothers and Co

1887 Alexander Chance's greatest contribution to chemical technology was as a co-patentee, with J. F. Chance, of a process for recovering sulphur from the "vat waste" of the Leblanc process. This helped the economics of the Leblanc process, by then in competition with the more elegant, clean and economic ammonia-soda process used by Brunner, Mond and Co. Soon practically all the many Leblanc alkali works in Britain and Europe were using the Chance process.

1889 Chance Brothers became a private limited liability company

1890 The Oldbury section of Chance Brothers was converted into a separate private limited liability company in the name of The Oldbury Alkali Company Limited.

1894 Albright and Wilson and Chance Brothers and Co, neighbours in Oldbury, were both engaged in the production of cyanide and decided to join forces. A small subsidiary, British Cyanides Co Ltd, was formed under the chairmanship of Alexander Chance, and a plant was constructed on a piece of land adjacent to both companies. They experienced difficulties in converting sulpho-cyanide into cyanide. When the South African War broke out in 1900, the largest market for cyanide disappeared and all but 2 of the British suppliers left the business, one of the survivors being British Cyanides Co.

1898 Oldbury Alkali Co amalgamated with another similar firm of long standing, W. Hunt and Sons of Wednesbury, to become Chance and Hunt, under Alexander M. Chance's chairmanship. The company was registered on 23 March, to take over the 2 businesses with works at Oldbury, in Worcestershire, and Wednesbury in Staffordshire. [1]

Oldbury and Wednesbury worked together for many years producing acids, saltcake, caustic soda, soda ash, ammonia compounds, etc., and later on, Oldbury added copper, zinc and cadmium compounds and cement to its list.

1907 Bought the Tillington salt-works near Stafford

Acquired several other chemical works (including James Gibbs and Finch of Cwmbran).

1910 An office was opened in London for handling the sale of the firm's products in Southern England and for merchanting chemicals in general. The office was at first in Fenchurch Street.

1911 Acquired Peyton and Son

1912 Ceased production of soda

WWI. Manufactured TNT and ammonium nitrate; the speed with which the TNT plant was built was a source of pride in Chance and Hunt - one million bricks were laid in 19 days and TNT was being despatched 14 weeks after the first sod was cut.

1916 The London office moved to Gracechurch Street.

1917 Brunner, Mond and Co acquired a controlling interest in Chance and Hunt; the Leblanc process was shut down.

1920 Kenneth Chance of Chance and Hunt was prominent among a number of chemical investigators in deducing, by experiments, the efficacy of salt in promoting volatilisation.[2]

1923 The London office moved to St. Helen's Place.

1923 Ceased production of caustic soda

1926 On the formation of ICI, Oldbury Works became part of the General Chemicals Group, as also did Wednesbury Works. The sale of products made at Oldbury was switched to ICI Sales Offices, but the London office of Chance and Hunt was allowed to continue a separate existence as a merchanting house dealing in materials not made in ICI. It stayed at St. Helen's Place from 1923 to 1975 when it moved to Rutland House in Runcorn.

1928 A Heat Treatment Department was added to Oldbury, to exploit the case-hardening of metals by immersion in molten cyanide baths.

1939 Chance and Hunt became a department of (what would become) ICI Mond Division and lost the "Limited" tag.

1962 Wednesbury works was closed

1964 Chemical manufacture practically came to an end when most of the site was requisitioned for the building of the M5 motorway. The remainder of the site became the Oldbury Depot, acting as a packing, formulation and distribution centre. Meanwhile Chance Brothers of Smethwick, glassmakers, which had spawned Chance and Hunt, passed into the ownership of Pilkington of St. Helens.

1985 Chance and Hunt moved into its own building in Runcorn, aptly named Alexander House, in honour of its most distinguished leader.

1999 In April, Chance and Hunt once again became Chance and Hunt Limited, following a management buy-out from ICI,

2002 July: joined the pan-European Azelis group of companies. [3]

Leblanc Process

The Leblanc process prepared soda (sodium carbonate) by heating salt (sodium chloride) with sulphuric acid to make salt-cake (sodium sulphate) and hydrochloric acid gas. The salt-cake was then converted into soda by heating it with coal and limestone in large revolving furnaces. Unfortunately, impure calcium sulphide was a major by-product of this second step, and Leblanc works were surrounded by mounds of evil-smelling "vat waste" called "galligu". Chemists had been seeking a means of recovering the sulphur from this waste for years, for economic reasons as well as to eliminate the smell problem.

In the 1880s Chance developed a method of pumping carbon dioxide gas through tanks of a slurry of galligu and water. The hydrogen sulphide gas thereby freed from calcium sulphide was burned to produce elemental sulphur, which was used to make sulphuric acid.

The Leblanc process gradually became obsolete after the development of the Solvay process.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  2. The Engineer 1921/01/07, p 3.
  3. [1] A Short History of Chance and Hunt (from the C and H Website)
  • Archives of the British chemical industry, 1750-1914: a handlist. By Peter J. T. Morris and Colin A. Russell. Edited by John Graham Smith. 1988.