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 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.


From Graces Guide
May 1933.
August 1933. Degreasing Plant.
February 1937.
July 1938.
January 1944.
February 1944.
March 1944.
March 1944.
March 1944.
April 1944.
April 1944.
May 1944.
Jan 1945. Paints Division.
November 1946.
May 1947.
November 1947.
January 1948.
February 1948.
March 1948.
April 1948.
May 1948.
June 1948.
August 1948.
August 1948.
1948. Non-Ferrous Metals.
June 1949.
October 1949.


July 1949.
Sept 1949.
November 1950.
November 1950. Cassel.
December 1950.
April 1951.
October 1951.
October 1951.
February 1952.
April 1952.
June 1952.
August 1952.
1953. Advert: left hand page.
1953. Advert: right hand page.
April 1953.
April 1953.
December 1953.
May 1954.
July 1954.
September 1954.
October 1954.
February 1955.
May 1955.
May 1955.
1955. ICI Anhydrite mine at Billingham-On-Tees.[1]
1955. Billingham-On-Tees.[2]


Oct 1956.
Oct 1956.
December 1956.
1957. Alkathene.
January 1957. Fluon.
1958. Alfloc.
July 1958.
August 1958. Flypel.
November 1958.
February 1959. Liquid Carbon Dioxide.
Oct 1960.
May 1961.
July 1961.
Oct 1962.
Sept 1963.
November 1963.
1964. New offices at Runcorn Heath, Cheshire.
Oct 1966.
November 1990. ICI Homecare. Soda Crystals.

Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd of Imperial Chemical House, Millbank, London, SW1. Telephone: Victoria 4444. Cables: "Impkemix, London". (1929)

Ditto Address and Telephone: Telegraphic Address: "Impkemix, Telex, London". As Imperial Chemical Industries. (1937)

of Nobel House, 2 Buckingham Gate, London, SW1. Ditto Telephone and Cables. As Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd. (1947)

of Huddersfield, Manchester, Grangemouth and Birmingham


1925 The formation in Germany, in the autumn of 1925, of IG Farbenindustrie threatened to overwhelm the British chemical industry; Harry McGowan, prodded by Reginald McKenna, proposed a defensive merger between the four largest British chemical businesses[3].

McGowan had earlier managed the agglomeration of the British explosives companies into Nobel Industries and subsequently had been involved in a similar concentration of dye companies into the British Dyestuffs Corporation. Nobel Industries extended its interests in the manufacture of artificial leather by acquiring a very substantial interest in the British Leather Cloth Manufacturing Co[4]

1926 4th December: The Imperial Chemical Industries company was incorporated as a Public company, formed from the merger of four companies:

The new company was divided into main product areas for alkalis, dyestuffs, explosives, general chemicals (including chlorine, acids, and synthetic ammonia), and metals. It also concentrated on producing cellulose products, fertilizers, lime, and a rubberized fabric known as "leathercloth"[5]. ICI began business on January 1, 1927, with 33,000 employees. In its first year turnover was £27m.

1927 The ICI combine took over Cassel Cyanide Co by exchange of shares[6]. Also acquired Union Acid Co Ltd, Oliver Wilkins and Co Ltd, Casebourne and Co (1926) Ltd for which purchases extra shares were issued[7].

By 1928, staff had occupied the newly built, monumental headquarters on Millbank in London.

1928 ICI had controlling interests in 40 manufacturing and trading concerns and a large measure of control of 30 others[8]. The main "branches of industry served" by ICI were:

  • Heavy chemicals
  • Explosives
  • Dyestuffs
  • Metals
  • Cellulose products, such as leather cloth, varnishes, etc.

1929 ICI played a key role in the development of new products.

1929 Listed Exhibitor British Industries Fair. Manufacturers of Acids, Alkalis and all Heavy Chemicals; Artificial Leathers; Cellulose Lacquers; Cellulose Preparations for various trades; Commercial and other Explosives and Accessories; Fertilizers; Non-ferrous Metals; Photographic and Pharmaceutical Preparations; Synthetic Dyestuffs. (Stand Nos. K.105, K.117 and K.118) [9]

1929 ICI decided to close the Wallsend works (ex-Castner Kellner Co) and amalgamate it with the United Alkali Co's Allhusen Works at Gateshead and the Cassel Cyanide Co of Glasgow; the 3 works were concentrated at Billingham South, called Cassel Works which became one of the principal factories of ICI's General Chemicals Division[10].

1930 McGowan became chairman and sole managing director.

1930 Acquired full control of Elliotts Metal Co and Lighting Trades Ltd[11]

1930 Work on developing an oil-from-coal process was announced.

The Dyestuffs Group, as well as developing new classes of dyes, diversified into pharmaceuticals, resins and rubber chemicals, and these non-dye activities would become increasingly important as time went on. The Group also supported other ICI divisions making polymers, paints and artificial fibres.

1931 Progress in reducing costs of the oil-from-coal process[12].

1932 Introduced the acrylic plastic Perspex.

1932 Formation of ICI (Explosives) which would include 11 companies controlled by ICI.

1932 Introduced Dulux paints (co-developed with Du Pont).

1933 British Titan Products Ltd was formed to make titanium dioxide pigments[13]. It was jointly owned by ICI, Imperial Smelting Corporation, Goodlass, Wall and Lead Industries and National Lead Co of America. Acquired land from ICI at Billingham to erect a plant.

1933 Offered Chloros, a disinfectant and deodorant for Water Sterilisation.[14]

1934 The General Chemicals Division at Billingham was assigned the development and production of the new product called Perspex.

1935 The coal hydrogenation plant was completed at Billingham; petrol production began mid-year.[15]

1937 the newly formed Plastics Division took over polyethylene as a moulding compound; Dyestuffs Division would lead on textile uses; Alkali Division, which been responsible for its discovery, would lead on electrical and other uses.

Disposed of the Sunbeam motorcycle business which had come to ICI with Nobel Industries.

1937 Listed Exhibitor - British Industries Fair (Cassel Cyanide). Cassel Salt Bath Processes. Furnaces and Salts for Case-hardening and Heat Treatment of Metals, including Heat Treatment of High Speed Steel and of Cast Iron. (Stand No. D.306)

1937 Listed Exhibitor - British Industries Fair (Degreasing). Stationary and continuous Plant for Removing Oils, Grease, Swarf, Polishing Compound, from metal parts before overhaul. Enamelling, Electro-plating, Painting, Lacquering, rust-proofing, etc. Extraction Plants for recovery of Gums, Oils, etc. (Stand No. D.405) [16].

1937 Chemicals. "Trichlorethylene" Non-flammable solvent for degreasing. [17]

1939 First commercial production of polyethylene in UK.

1939 See Aircraft Industry Suppliers

1940 The polymer for the new fibre, Nylon, would be produced at the Huddersfield plant of ICI Dyestuffs[18]

1941 Acquired Albert Products, maker of phenolic resins[19]

1945 ICI bought land on Teesside where the Wilton Works was built

1947 British Industries Advert. Invitation to visit its Exhibits. (Chemicals, etc. Section - Olympia and Earls Court) [20]. Three catalogue entries:-

1947 British Industries Advert. Invitation to visit its Exhibits. (Chemicals, etc. Section - Olympia and Earls Court) [21]

  • ICI of Nobel House. Manufacturers of Heavy Chemicals, Acids, Alkalis, Dyestuffs, Auxiliary Products, Rubber Chemicals, Plastics, Paints, Metals, Explosives, Limes, Fertilizers, Pharmaceuticals including "Paludrine" Antimalarial drug, Insecticides including "Gamexane", "Methoxone" Selective Weed Killer, "Polythene" new Plastic. (Olympia, Ground Floor, Stand No. A.1023)

1950 ICI employed about 100,000 people nationally with 23,000 of these in the predecessors of Mond Division alone.[22]

1952 Opening of the huge chemical complex at Wilton, which included a 4,000-ton nylon polymer unit, as well as ammonia and hydrogen plants, and production facilities for phenol and organic chemicals.

There were also separate divisions providing Lime (headquartered in Buxton) and Salt (headquartered in Winsford).

For a short period during the 1950s, ICI marketed a colour film for use by professional photographers. At this time ICI took some preliminary steps towards entering the amateur photography market.

1957 Because of success in pharmaceuticals, ICI formed ICI Pharmaceuticals.

1958 ICI acquired 32 percent of Ilford's shares and an agreement was concluded which gave Ilford access to ICI's colour film research and provided for further research on colour photographic products and processes to be undertaken by ICI on behalf of Ilford.

1961 Products include alkalis, heavy and fine chemicals, solvents, fertilizers, pest control products, salt, dyestuffs and pigments, textile auxiliaries, emulsifying agents, detergents, rubber chemicals, synthetic resins, plastics, synthetic fibres, paints, enamels and lacquers, leathercloth, pharmaceuticals, explosives and blasting equipment, non-ferrous wrought metals and alloys (copper, titanium, zirconium etc), semi-fabricated metal products, shotgun and metallic ammunition. [23]

1961 ICI made (what was then) Britain's largest take-over bid for Courtaulds in order to bring together the various fibre operations[24] but the bid was not accepted by sufficient Courtaulds' shareholders[25]

1962 ICI and Courtaulds both had major interests connected with textiles and considered various mergers and take-overs. In 1964 the companies broke apart; ICI acquired British Nylon Spinners and Courtaulds carried on with another nylon range.[26]

1964 Formation of ICI Fibres, to take over the ICI interests in textile and fibres and British Nylon Spinners; this would be the third largest fibre group in the world[27]

1965 ICI began building major new plant, including an ethylene cracker in Britain, fibre spinning operations in Germany, and a huge PVC plant at Bayonne, New Jersey, USA. This permitted ICI to produce chemicals at a more competitive price.

1966 With Ciba, acquired all the outstanding shares in Ilford

1969 Sold all the shares owned in Ilford to Ciba

1969 ICI reversed its policy of non-involvement in textiles and announced a bid for Viyella and plan to merge it with Carrington and Dewhurst[28]

1970 ICI acquired Viyella and later in the year Carrington and Dewhurst, forming Carrington Viyella of which ICI owned 64 percent[29].

1971 ICI acquired 4 of the 10 companies licensed to spin Crimplene in order to form a strong yarn processing unit[30]; these were Qualitex, and 3 subsidiaries of Carrington Viyella: William Tatton, Aycliffe Textiles and Cheslene and Crepes[31]

1971 Incorporated Nobel's Explosives Co Ltd as a subsidiary.

From 1971 to 1988 ICI operated a small General Atomics TRIGA Mark I nuclear reactor at its Billingham site.

1970s The Dyestuffs Division continued to perform well, in contrast to the heavy chemicals and plastics operations.

1974 Mr. Frank Whiteley, operations director of ICI Agricultural Division, was seconded to the company's head office as technical adviser to the main board. His duties included the responsibilities of engineering adviser and head of engineering services, which he took over from Dr. K. A. G. Miller.[32]

By 1975 ICI controlled over half of the British market in ammonium nitrate fertilizer.

1977 ICI decided to sell the remaining 62.8 percent of IMI because continued holding did not fit with the direction of the group as whole[33]

1982 John Harvey-Jones became chairman

1982 Strategic shift to higher margin products such as drugs and specialty chemicals, such as food and fragrance chemicals, as well as paints, reducing importance of polyethylene. Profits doubled in 1983.

1982 Acquired Arthur Holden and Sons, paint makers to extend the can-coating activities in Europe[34]

1985 A joint venture between RHM and Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) to develop and market the mycoprotein-based food Quorn was launched, called Marlow Foods

1986 ICI undertook a major reorganisation; as part of this the bulk chemical businesses (agriculture, fibres, petrochemicals and plastics, and Mond general chemicals) were brought together into one Europe-wide group called Chemicals and Polymers; this demonstrated a commitment to bulk chemicals at the same time as the speciality businesses were talked about as the future of the group[35]

1986 Major acquisitions, especially in North America, including purchase of Beatrice Chemicals and of Glidden Paint.

1986 ICI merged its oil and gas interests, including ICI Petroleum, into Enterprise Oil in exchange for shares in Enterprise.

1988 Formation of ICI Chemicals and Polymers as a subsidiary company to hold a number of the existing divisions: Agriculture, Fibres, Mond and Chemicals and Polymers.

1990s The company moved away from bulk and industrial chemicals towards speciality chemicals in the hope of making its income less dependent on the business cycle, earning higher profit margins, and developing businesses with long term growth potential. However its financial performance in the 21st century was erratic.

1990 The company spent the year planning for major change including acquisition and divestments and assessing the capability for change in the company's infrastructure[36]

1991 The Hanson conglomerate acquired a stake in the company but after much speculation did not bid for ICI[37]

1991 The company consisted of 7 (sic) divisions[38]:[39]

1991 Brunner Mond Holdings Limited was formed by separating the UK and Kenyan soda ash businesses from ICI.

1993 The company decided to demerge its chemical business from the pharmaceutical bioscience divisions. Pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, specialities, seeds and biological products were placed into a new and independent company called Zeneca Group.

1993 Sold the Advanced materials business.

1997 ICI made its biggest acquisition to date with the purchase of four businesses from Unilever: National Starch, Quest, Unichema, and Crosfield

1997 ICI sold its Australian subsidiary, ICI Australia, and the following year the former subsidiary changed its name to Orica.

Between 1997 and 2001, ICI sold the polyester businesses mainly to Du Pont, acrylics to Ineos, and other product lines and holdings to PPG and Huntsman. It also acquired catalyst science company Systenix.

1998 Acquired US company Acheson, a speciality materials group, which was merged with National Starch, the home improvement product operations of Williams Holdings[40]

1999 Zeneca merged with Astra AB to form AstraZeneca, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

2000 Having sold the acrylics operations to Ineos, ICI sold the last of its industrial chemicals to Ineos, involving the chlorine, fluorine and silicates businesses[41]

By 2002 As a result of the programme of divestments, ICI Chemicals and Polymers Ltd was no longer involved in manufacturing chemicals.

2003 The company had disposed of much of its original core businesses and was concentrated on 4 divisions[42]:

  • Paints
  • National Starch, adhesives, sealants, starch
  • Quest, flavours and fragrances
  • Speciality Products, including Uniqema skin care products

but needed to reduce debt and generate more business.

2006 Sold Uniqema to Croda

2006 Sold the Quest business to a Swiss trade buyer[43]

2007 Akzo Nobel acquired ICI[44]

Alkali Division

Cellulose Products



1926 Merger of Nobel Industries with three other companies to form Imperial Chemical Industries; Nobel Industries continued as the ICI Nobel division of the company.

1932 Formation of ICI (Explosives) Ltd which included 11 companies already controlled by ICI including Nobel Explosives, Curtis's and Harvey, Bickford, Smith and Co, W. H. Wakefield and Co, Alexander Walker and Co, Sedgwick Gunpowder Co, Liverpool Magazines Co, British Westfalite, R. and T. Jack and Co, Patent Electric Shot Firing Co, Roburite and Ammonal, Lancashire Explosives Co[45].

2002 The division, now named Nobel Enterprises, was sold to Inabata UK.

Fertilizers and Agriculture

1920 Brunner Mond, by arrangement with the Government, had formed Synthetic Ammonia and Nitrates Ltd. to build and operate a factory to extract nitrogen from the air to make ammonia, principally to provide a key feedstock for explosives but also to make ammonium sulphate fertiliser; the plant was at Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees, Durham which was acquired from the Ministry of Munitions. [46] This later became the Billingham Division of ICI.

1920s Fertilizers were manufactured at Billingham (and later at Wilton). Fertilizers were expected to be the main growth area for the new company so much of its capital expenditure was focused on the fertilizer plant at Billingham. By 1929, the onset of the Depression reduced demand for fertilizer and home demand was not enough to support the huge plant.

1928 Acquired a majority of shares in Scottish Agricultural Industries

1928 Work began at the Agricultural Research Station at Jealott's Hill near Bracknell.

1937 With Cooper, McDougall and Robertson Ltd formed a joint company Plant Protection Ltd

1957 The Billingham Division was split into the ICI Heavy Organic Chemicals Division and ICI Agricultural Division.


General Chemicals

1964 ICI General Chemicals and Alkali Divisions merged to become ICI Mond Division.[47]

1974 Always innovative, ICI Mond Division created its Works Record System, a robust general-purpose tool implemented under CICS. It successfully monitored the numerous chemical production plants within the scope of the company. The system was highly successful and remained operational for 27 years without a change to the underlying software, which was intentionally designed to allow the plant operators to make updates and create new applications with no knowledge of computer programming.

1982 ICI Mond Division closed nearly half the soda ash capacity at the Wallerscote works in Cheshire resulting in the loss of approximately 150 jobs.[48]

1986 Became part of the new Chemicals and Polymers group[49]

1988 ICI Chemicals and Polymers Ltd started trading; it acquired the business and assets of the Chemicals and Polymers Group and its subsidiaries from ICI; it continued the businesses of the previous Agricultural, Fibres, Mond and Petrochemicals and Plastics Divisions of ICI[50]

Also see ICI Petrochemicals




Pharmaceuticals and Insecticides



See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Oxford Junior Encyclopaedia. Volume VIII. Engineering. Oxford University Press, 1955.
  2. Oxford Junior Encyclopaedia. Volume VIII. Engineering. Oxford University Press, 1955.
  3. Biography of Harry Duncan McGowan, by W. J. Reader, ODNB [1]
  4. The Times, Sep 18, 1926
  5. ICI [2]
  6. The Times, 1 July 1927
  7. The Times, 30 December 1927
  8. The Times, 1 June 1928
  9. 1929 British Industries Fair p86
  10. The Times, 7 August 1968
  11. The Times, 1 December 1930
  12. The Times, 1 April 1931
  13. The Times, 11 May 1933
  14. 1933 Advert.
  15. The Times, Apr 17, 1936
  16. 1937 British Industries Fair p378
  17. 1937 The Aeroplane Directory of the Aviation and Allied Industries
  18. The Times, Mar 21, 1940
  19. [3] Archives hub
  20. 1947 British Industries Fair Advert 266
  21. 1947 British Industries Fair Advert 266
  22. [4] Catalyst
  23. 1961 Dun and Bradstreet KBE
  24. The Times, December 19, 1961
  25. The Times , March 10, 1962
  27. The Times, Dec 02, 1964
  28. The Times, Dec 24, 1969
  29. The Times Aug 08, 1970
  30. The Times Jul 31, 1971
  31. The Times, Jul 30, 1971
  32. The Engineer 1974/05/30
  33. The Times, Oct 20, 1977
  34. The Times, Sep 28, 1982
  35. The Times, September 19, 1986
  36. The Times, July 25, 1991
  37. The Times, January 29, 1992
  38. The Times, July 25, 1991
  39. 1991 Annual Report
  40. The Times March 31, 1998
  41. The Times Oct. 30, 2000
  42. The Times, January 20, 2003
  43. The Times November 23, 2006
  44. The Times, August 14, 2007
  45. The Times, 7 April 1932
  46. The Engineer 19200625, p 664
  47. [5] Blackpool Gazette
  48. The Engineer 1982/04/01
  49. The Times, September 19, 1986
  50. 1988 Annual report
  • [6] Wikipedia
  • History of Plastics [7]
  • ICI [8] based on ICI: The Company That Changed Our Lives
  • ICI 1955 UK Works Map: [9]]
  • History of the formation of ICI [10]