Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Read Holliday and Sons

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May 1896.

of Upperhead Row, Huddersfield

1830 Read Holliday started in business refining products from the local gas-works, initially extracting ammonia.

He then developed uses for the gas company's unwanted tar, distilling naphtha (for lamps) and creosote (for the protection of timber).

1856 After Perkin's development of the first artificial dyestuff, it was a natural step to extract benzene and other intermediates from coal-tar, and thence to move directly into dyestuffs production.

1860 The firm entered the colour field with production of magenta, successfully defending themselves in a consequent suit for patent infringement brought by Simpson, Maule and Nicholson.

1864 Thomas Holliday set up the first of several American branches with an aniline-oil plant at Brooklyn.

c.1868 Two of Read's sons, Thomas and Robert (d. 1901), joined the firm, and they developed a new series of vat dyes.

1868 When Read Holliday retired his company was England’s leading chemical manufacturer and the first international manufacturer of synthetic dyes. He turned the business over to his very capable sons Thomas, Charles and Edgar. The firm was now called Read Holliday and Sons.

1880 Robert Holliday (Read's son) patented a new dyeing process, known as azoic, which laid the foundation of the 20th century dyeing/printing industry, but the firm failed to develop this product range and leadership in the fast growing azoic field eventually went to the Germans.

1890 The year after the death of Read Holliday, Read Holliday and Sons was converted into a private limited company. The company was registered on 24 March, to take over a business of the same name, manufacturing chemists, dye and colour manufacturers of Huddersfield and Brooklyn, U.S.A. [1]. Thomas Holliday was Chairman and Managing Director. The American business was also incorporated in the same year with Edgar Holliday as President.

1891 Edgar died.

The company's operations had been extended to the manufacture of nitric acid needed for nitration of benzene etc. It also had a research laboratory with four or five chemists, one of the first industrial research laboratories in Britain.

1897 Thomas died. Robert Holliday became Chairman.

By 1899 the firm was near bankruptcy because of competition from lower priced German dye manufacturers. Profits in the New York branch were also falling. However, in the same year the Boer War started and the War Office granted a large contract to the firm in order to make picric acid for explosives - the process being one of the firm's more remarkable achievements. The picric acid plant was built on the far side of the River Colne away from the rest of the Turnbridge works.

In 1900 there was a huge explosion and fire at the new plant.

The company also made dynamos, acetylene-gas equipment, and calcium carbide until c.1901, when such diversification was abandoned in order to concentrate on dyestuffs.

1901 Lionel Brook Holliday, son of Thomas Holliday, joined the Board of Directors.

1904-05, sales of dyes for Japanese Army blankets were very profitable. Sodium thiosulphate was sold to German customers under the trade name Fastogene for making certain direct dyes retain light-fastness when the cotton fabric was washed.

WWI: Read Holliday and Sons had to concentrate on explosives manufacture. By 1915 the shortage of explosives in Britain was a matter of grave concern. Lionel B. Holliday was recalled from France, where he was a Major in the Army. He was one of the few British technical men with knowledge of picric acid manufacture. On his return, he became responsible for a Government plant producing picric acid at Bradley. By the end of 1915 the plant was producing 100 tons of picric acid a week.

WW1: Meanwhile British Dyes was formed by the takeover by the Government, in 1915, of Read Holliday and Sons. The research staff in Huddersfield grew to 100 chemists to support the range of acid, basic, mordant, sulphur and vat dyes. The Turnbridge works also produced TNT (11 million pounds), detonator compounds and picric acid during World War I. A large new factory was begun at Dalton, near Huddersfield.

1916 Major Lionel B. Holliday was not asked to join British Dyes but his share of the money from the takeover was £10,000 with which he bought some land in Deighton, next door to the picric acid works he was running at Bradley. On this 30-acre site, which was the former Huddersfield racecourse, he started to manufacture dyes under the name of L. B. Holliday and Co Ltd.

1919 British Dyes was brought together with its great rival Levinsteins as British Dyestuffs Corporation.

1926 British Dyestuffs Corporation became part of ICI.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  • [1] Colorants History
  • 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.