Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,128 pages of information and 245,598 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.

Distillers Co

From Graces Guide
Advertising sign for 'King George IV' whisky.
January 1899.
October 1908.
1949. Biochemicals.
1951. LHS.
1951. RHS.
1965. Chemicals and Plastics Group. Carbon Dioxide Division.

of 21 St. James's Square, London, SW1. Telephone: Whitehall 1040. Cables: "Fermenter, London". (1947)

1877 The Distillers Company Limited was a public company formed by a combination of six Scotch whisky distilleries, bringing together all the principal grain distilleries, with the exception of that of Menzies and Co. Some of these had been established for over a century as Malt Distilleries, and needed conversion into Patent Still Distilleries, to meet the requirements of the trade at that time.

1878 the Pot Still Distillery of the Chapelizod Co., Dublin, was acquired, and was later fitted with a Patent Still to suit the altered taste of the public.

c.1885 Began a policy of diversification to spread risks of failure in any one part of the business[1].

The Caledonian Distillery, Edinburgh, and the Gin Distillery, Tooley Street, London, were absorbed.

1892 the Knockdhu Distillery was established for the supply of Highland Malt Whisky.

1902 the Distilleries of Messrs. C. and D. Gray, Adelphi, Glasgow, and of the Ardgowan Distillery Co., Ltd., Greenock, were acquired.

1908 the Company acquired the Vauxhall Distillery, Liverpool, from Messrs. Archibald Walker and Co

1910 Controlled 10 distilleries in Scotland, five in Ireland and one in Liverpool[2].

1915 The yeast business was sending weekly supplies to the forces in France[3]. Industrial alcohol was in great demand for the manufacture of explosives; this was important to the company even though the price was not as good as for potable spirit; the directors were alive to the potential for using alcohol for making other products.

1922 Production of "Discol", motor fuel made from alcohol which although expensive might help to alleviate shortage of petrol[4].

1922 Acquired the gin business of Tanqueray, Gordon and Co[5].

1924 In order to find a cheaper feedstock than molasses for making Discol, the company acquired 2 "Continental" processes that were amalgamated in a new company International Sugar and Alcohol Co, in which Distillers had the controlling vote[6].

1924 Formed a subsidiary Distillers Agency, coordinating the blended whisky subsidiaries, namely the Highland Distillery at Knockdhu and the South Queensferry distillery.[7]

1925 Acquired the Salt End distillery at Hull (built by Herbert Green and Co in 1924)

1925 Acquired Buchanan-Dewar and John Walker and Sons[8]

1925 Acquired Scottish Malt Distillers in a move to tackle over production of malt whisky[9]

1928 Turner and Newall and Distillers Co jointly formed the Carbon Dioxide Co Ltd to handle sales of the gas produced by some of their works[10].

1930 Arrangement with United Molasses Co for exchange of shares[11]. Formation of British Industrial Solvents Ltd to make acids and other solvents from industrial alcohol[12].

1932 The value of the vinegar works at Hull were taken out of the property accounts and set against value of shares in the new British Vinegars company[13]

1933 Gyproc Products Ltd, controlled by Distillers Co, was formed at Rochester and subsequently at Glasgow.

1934 Distillers Co gave Cleveland Petroleum Products Co the rights to use the trademark Discol in exchange for an undertaking to buy the alcohol needed from Distillers[14].

1936 Advert: Cleveland Discol fuel[15].

1937 Acquired Booths Distilleries Ltd[16].

1937 The Distillers Co purchased a small company, British Resin Products Ltd (BRP), manufacturers of paint and other thermosetting resins in Tonbridge, Kent.

1937 United Glass Bottle Manufacturers acquired British Bottles Ltd, the bottle manufacturing subsidiary of the Distillers Co which thereby acquired a majority holding in the UGBM company[17].

1937 With Crosse and Blackwell, the Distillers Co held a controlling interest in the British Vinegar Co[18].

1937 AGM told that the company recognised that may be necessary to explore 2 or 3 new lines of business arising from chemical developments in the laboratory in order to find a successful extension to the business. Extension of Gyproc business in Scotland, and Carbonic Acid (dry ice) business at Bankhall and Hammersmith[19].

1939 Acquired majority holding in Commercial Solvents Ltd of Bromborough, Cheshire, which made industrial alcohol and solvents by fermentation[20].

1939 Distillers Co, being a supplier of raw materials for plastics and having conducted research in plastics, negotiated a 50% interest in B. X. Plastics[21].

1941 Acquired shareholding of 48% in F. A. Hughes and Co Ltd.

1944 Sold Gyproc Products Ltd to British Plaster Board Ltd in exchange for shares in that company[22].

WWII: The company was able to produce less than one year's normal output of whisky during the whole war. Fortunately it was able to draw on stocks to maintain limited sales. Production of various chemicals was a major contribution to the war effort and the largest penicillin plant was under construction at the end of the war[23].

1945 Purchased outstanding 52% of F. A. Hughes and Co Ltd involved in plastics and moulding[24].

1947 Investment by Distillers in the works of British Industrial Solvents at Salt End, Hull to increase production of solvents, plasticisers, acetic acid, etc[25]. Reorganisation and centralisation of plastics production at Barry. Purchase of the penicillin factory at Speke that the company had been operating for the government. Plans to develop large petrochemical plant at Grangemouth in conjunction with Anglo Iranian Oil, adjacent to the latter company's refinery. New plant would be built by British Geon Ltd to make PVC in association with the B. F. Goodrich Chemical Co; British Resin Products would also build new plant[26].

1947 British Industries Fair Advert as Producers of Industrial Alcohol, Solvents, Plasticisers and a wide range of chemicals including Carbon Dioxide, Methylated Spirit, Acetone, Butanol, Acetic Acid, Anhydride and their derivatives. (Chemicals etc. Section - Olympia, Ground Floor, Stand No. A.1024) [27]

1950 Project at Grangemouth of British Petroleum Chemicals Ltd (a joint venture with Anglo Iranian Oil) will produce synthetic ethanol which would alleviate the supply problems with molasses. Grangemouth would also be the location for a new plant to make styrene monomer by a new company, Forth Chemicals Ltd, which was owned two-thirds by Anglo Iranian Oil and one third by Monsanto Chemicals Ltd - this was part of a plan to make derivatives from the petrochemicals made by the main plant at Grangemouth. Acquired majority interest in Magnesium Elektron Ltd[28].

1951 Acquired the remainder of the shares in Magnesium Elektron Ltd from ICI[29].

1953 The main product lines:

  • Manufacturers Of Industrial Alcohol, Methylated Spirits
  • Solvents, Plasticisers, Intermediates, Carbon Dioxide
  • Plastics Raw Materials
  • Magnesium and Magnesium Alloys
  • Yeast and Malt Products
  • Antibiotics and Other Biochemicals
  • Distillers, Blenders and Bottlers Of Finest Scotch Whiskies.

1954 Distillers Co and Fisons would jointly acquire Murgatroyds Salt and Chemical Co. Ltd[30] in order to safeguard their supplies of feedstocks important to their plastics businesses.

1954 In conjunction with the Oronite Chemical Co of California, Distillers Co formed Orobis Ltd[31] to manufacture a range of Oronite's lub. oil additives in the UK.

1955 New plant to make vinyl acetate would be built at Salt End, Hull; it would be owned by a new company Hedon Chemicals Ltd jointly owned by Distillers Co and Shawinigan Chemicals of Montreal. Sales would be handled by Shawinigan and British Industrial Solvents[32].

1956 British Petroleum Chemicals Ltd was renamed British Hydrocarbon Chemicals[33].

1958 Licenced UK rights to thalidomide.

1959 Wound up Commercial Solvents as the products of molasses fermentation were no longer competitive. The Chemicals division was constructing a new plasticisers plant at Hull. It had 3 associate companies:[34]

1961 Parent of 63 subsidiaries. 22,800 group employees. [35]

1961 Distillers Co bought the entire British Xylonite Group.

1962 Withdrew thalidomide from the market on news of adverse side effects[36]. Distillers Co and Union Carbide agreed to transfer the majority holding in Bakelite into a jointly owned company (plus an offer to acquire the remaining shares), as well as Union Carbide's low density polyethylene activities at Grangemouth and the whole of British Xylonite Co [37]. The new company would be called Bakelite Xylonite Ltd. This would include plants at Birmingham, Aycliffe and Grangemouth. Distillers sold its biochemical division to Eli Lilly of USA[38].

1963 Component parts of the Distillers Company were:

1964 New acetic acid plant would be built at Hull using a process developed by Distillers. The calcium carbide plant at Kenfig would be closed.[40].

1965 Purchased the share in Hedon Chemicals owned by Shawinigan Chemicals. Planned to construct vinyl actetate plant at Hull in conjunction with British Celanese[41].

1966 Border Chemicals would establish a plant, based on Distillers' process for manufacturing acrylate, at Wilton; Distillers also licensed the process to Union Carbide who would build a plant 6 times as large in USA[42].

1967 Distillers Co sold its chemicals and plastics business to BP because the division did not have the scale of its major competitors in USA. This included the distillery at Salt End, Hull. Negotiation about some of the JVs took months - by mid-year BP had acquired 5 of the joint ventures: National Chemical Products (of South Africa), Murgatroyd's Salt and Chemical Co. Ltd, Orobis Ltd., Synthite and British Hydrocarbon Chemicals Ltd. Union Carbide vetoed the sale of the 50% share in Bakelite Xylonite. 9 other joint ventures were the subject of ongoing negotiation[43].

1973 Distillers Co sold its 50% stake in Bakelite Xylonite to Union Carbide[44].

A list of 41 subsidiaries of the Distillers Company as of 22 July 1980:

1980 Price rises applied to many Distillers' whiskies including:[45]

1986 Distillers was acquired by Guinness. To avoid having the bid referred to the MMC, five of the combined group's Scotch Whisky brands were to be sold (including Buchanan and Haig); Lonrho acquired them adding to its existing Whyte and Mackay business[46]

1987 United Distillers was formed from combining the businesses of Distillers Co and Arthur Bell and Sons, both owned by Guinness.

1997 Became part of Diageo.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Times, 17 July 1915
  2. The Times 11 April 1910
  3. The Times, 17 July 1915
  4. The Times, 17 July 1922
  5. The Times, 20 September 1967
  6. The Times, 24 July 1924
  7. The Times July 24, 1924
  8. Aberdeen Press and Journal 22 April 1925
  9. The Times July 20, 1925
  10. The Times, 15 December 1928
  11. The Times, 23 September 1930
  12. The Times, 24 July 1945
  13. The Times July 2, 1932
  14. The Times, 23 July 1934
  15. The Times, 26 June 1936
  16. The Times, 20 September 1967
  17. The Times Mar. 16, 1937
  18. The Times, 28 May 1937
  19. The Times, 19 July 1937
  20. The Times, 24 July 1939
  21. The Times, 23 August 1939
  22. The Times, 26 July 1944
  23. The Times, 24 July 1945
  24. The Times, 24 July 1945
  25. The Times, 12 April 1947
  26. The Times, 17 October 1947
  27. 1947 British Industries Fair Advert 263; and p84
  28. The Times, 16 September 1950
  29. The Times, 17 September 1951
  30. The Times, 28 September 1954
  31. The Times, 19 August 1954
  32. The Times, 29 April 1955
  33. The Times, 23 August 1956
  34. The Times Aug. 20, 1959
  35. 1961 Guide to Key British Enterprises
  36. The Times, 23 August 1962
  37. The Times, 5 October 1962
  38. The Times, 19 October 1962
  39. The Times, 21 August 1963
  40. The Times, 21 August 1964
  41. The Times, 20 August 1965
  42. The Times, 3 March 1966
  43. The Times, 3 June 1967
  44. The Times, 25 May 1973
  45. The Times Jan. 9, 1980
  46. The Times Mar. 21, 1986
  • [1] Wikipedia
  • [2] National Archives: British Xylonite