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British Industrial History

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Oldbury Alkali Co

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Oldbury Alkali Company Ltd, chemical and cement manufacturers of Oldbury

1835 The business was founded when Chance and Hartley of Smethwick 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 to Oldbury. Making chemicals in bulk was a venture which was to become important, with Oldbury Chemical Works becoming the largest chemical works in the Midlands.

1836 the Hartley brothers left Chance and Hartley which then became Chance Brothers and Co.

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 had been transferred from Smethwick to Oldbury.

1845 Advert: Ward's Patent Washing and Cleaning Powder, superior subsititute for soda, was manufactured at and available wholesale from Oldbury Alkali Works[1].

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 as Managing Director, the Oldbury Works began a long period of prosperity. He was 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.

1881 Established an accident fund for its employees, many years ahead of the national scheme[2].

1887 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. It was this waste which produced a foul "rotten-egg" smell wherever it was tipped; for years chemists had been seeking a means of recovering the sulphur from it - for economic reasons as well as to eliminate the smell problem. The Chances's discovery helped the ailing economics of Leblanc ash production, by then in competition with the more elegant, clean and economic ammonia soda process used at Winnington by Brunner, Mond and Co. Soon practically all the many Leblanc alkali works in Britain and Europe were using it.

1889 Chance Brothers became a private limited liability company

1890 the chemical business at Oldbury was made a separate company, the Oldbury Alkali Co. Ltd.

1894 Set up an important subsidiary to manufacture sodium cyanide, the British Cyanides Co., also at Oldbury.

1898 Oldbury Alkali Co amalgamated with a similar firm of long standing, W. Hunt and Sons, chemical manufacturers of Leabrook, Wednesbury, to become Chance and Hunt, under Alexander M. Chance's chairmanship. The public company was registered on 23 March, to take over the businesses of the Oldbury Alkali Co, and W. Hunt and Sons, with works at Oldbury, in Worcestershire and Wednesbury in Staffordshire. [3]


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Times, 30 September 1845
  2. The Times, 12 February 1894
  3. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908