An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St. Helens, Lancashire

Part 27 (of 80 parts) - The History of Industry in Sutton Part 1

An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St.Helens
Part 27 (of 80 parts) - History of Industry in Sutton Part 1

a) Clay, Pottery and Brickworks in Sutton

Sutton clay provided employment for countless workers over hundreds of years, with pottery-making traced as far back as the 12th century. The Old Teapot Brick Works, Ravenhead Brick Co., the Sutton Drain, Tile & Garden Pot Works and Roughdales, are just some of the more recent pottery and brick-making employers in the Sutton district that are now long-gone.

In the Liverpool Mercury of June 29th 1860, a house, cottage and three acres of land in Chester Lane were advertised for auction. It was claimed that the land contained 'a bed of most valuable potters and firebrick clay, of great thickness'. Eight years later the
Roughdales Fireclay Company Ltd. (later Roughdales Brick & Coal Co.) began their operations off Chester Lane. The company was registered in June 1868 with a capital of £20,000.

The branch line from the company's works to the main railway line at Lea Green - which had a length of 587 yards - was formally opened at 2pm on July 14th 1870 at Lea Green Station. The chairman of the company
Isaac Dixon and its directors, officers and shareholders then commuted on their new line to their works, where speeches and celebrations took place. The latter included dancing to a local band and a footrace.

Roughdales Fire Clay Company in Chester Lane, Sutton, St.Helens
The Roughdales Fire Clay Company works in 1890 which were located in Chester Lane, Sutton

Roughdales brickworks in Sutton, St.Helens
Roughdales in 1963 - contributed by Jim Lamb
In the picture above, clay was hauled up rails (bottom right), then pushed in tubs along an overhead track bridging the site. It was then prepared for the round-topped kilns which, along with their chimneys, stand at the left of the picture. In the foreground by the railway line, bricks and pipeware await collection.

In another Liverpool Mercury advertisement of December 15th 1886, Roughdales described their business as 'Manufacturers and Exporters of BLUE VITRIFIED FACING BRICKS, brindled and hard-burnt Building Bricks, Terra Metallic Pavements (plain and chequered), Adamant Pavings for Stables, superior glazed Sanitary Pipes and Gullies, Chimney Pots of all kinds. Chemical Pipes specially prepared for withstanding acids and gases.'  The Roughdales Brass Band was renowned throughout the region and played at countless celebratory events such as walking days, as well as some funeral processions.

Early in the 20th century, Roughdales was acquired by the Sutton Heath and Lea Green Collieries Co., who also owned a brickworks in Sutton Heath that had been erected in 1912. In 1920 they became a limited company and in their prospectus claimed a pre-war output of 14.7 million bricks per year. They stated that their intention was to develop their two Sutton works and output 25 million bricks per annum.

Ibstock quarry in 1990
Ibstock quarry in 1990 - note bricks on left and Sutton Manor Colliery in the distance - Contributed by Jim Lamb

Roughdales sourced their clay locally and there was one clayhole on the opposite side of Chester Lane, near where the smaller Brickfields woodlands site now stands. A tunnel, approximately six to seven feet high, connected it with the factory and bogies (wheeled wagons) loaded with clay ran through the tunnel on metal lines, pulled along by a steel rope. During the second world war the tunnel was used as an air raid shelter, mainly by women and children from Marshalls Cross.

Ibstock Brickworks Roughdales plant
Ibstock Brickworks Roughdales plant pictured February 2007, closed December 2008 and demolished June 2011

Ibstock Brickworks continued operations on the site until the end of 2008, still using the Roughdales name for much of their ownership of the plant. Antony Gormley used Ibstock clay to make his renowned 'Field' sculpture. This Turner Prize-winning artwork is made up of 40,000 terracotta figures and was created by Sutton Manor primary and Sutton High schoolchildren in 1993. During its last few years, the Ibstock works used methane gas from the adjacent landfills to power its ‘firing’ operations. The closure of the plant with 56 redundancies brought to a close a lengthy heritage of clay and brickworks in the district. The factory was flattened in June 2011 and the sign at the entrance is all that remains. In March 2014 a planning application was submitted to St.Helens Council to build 250 homes on the site.

Ravenhead Sanitary Pipe & Brick Co.
Advert in Homes and Gardens magazine for Ravenhead Sanitary Pipe & Brick Co.

The Ravenhead Sanitary Pipe and Brick Co. was located alongside Burtonhead Road in between Ravenhead Colliery's nos. 7 and 8 pits and nos. 9, 10 and 11 pits. It had been established around 1850 by W. Edwards, David Horn and John William Kelly, trading as Lavender and Co. with premises at Ravenhead Pottery and in Liverpool. In May 1857 Edwards left the partnership and the firm became Horn and Kelly and later the Ravenhead Sanitary Brick Company.

In May 1874 the duo's partnership was dissolved and David Horn appears to have taken over the business and in 1875 it was registered as the Ravenhead Sanitary Pipe and Brick Co. Ltd. Pipe manufacturing ceased around 1880 to concentrate on brick making. Their clay was sourced from opencast workings on the opposite side of Burtonhead Road, covering an area of 12 acres. In 1914 the company advertised for men to work in their clayhole offering wages of 6d. per hour 'for good steady men'. A dreadful tragedy occurred at the brickworks on Christmas Eve 1931 when 6-years-old
Annie Dawson of Essex Street fell into a well of boiling water. She was rescued by fitter Alfred Gleave but died two hours later in St.Helens Hospital. Gleave was badly scalded and was later rewarded by the Carnegie Hero Fund with a £15 award. In 1960 Roughdales took over the plant and closed it a few years later.

Old Teapot Brickworks would have won an award for the best named clay and brick works in Sutton! Located just south of Phoenix Colliery, it dated back to 1880 when it began as the St.Helens Brick and Tile Works. The plant had a number of name changes until, as the Liverpool and St.Helens Brick Co., it was purchased by Wood and Co. around the turn of the century.

During the 1920s,
J. J. Bate acquired the company and they rebranded their plant 'The Old Teapot Brickworks'. It did make teapots as part of their pottery operations as well as fireplace tiles and vases. However its main production was bricks, of which it made many different types, some of which were supplied to Liverpool Cathedral. The works had their own small scale mine, which had been worked intermittently since the 1880s, and which ceased operations in 1944. Production was greatly reduced during the 1950s at the Old Teapot Brickworks and it finally closed about 1967. Their clay pits were filled in 1974 and Pilkingtons Greengate Works took it over.

Advert for J. J. Bate at the Old Teapot Brickworks
Left: Advert in the Liverpool Mercury of June 28th 1878; Right: Advert for J. J. Bate at the Old Teapot Brickworks

Other similar works were the Sutton Oak Brick Works off Baxters Lane near Dutch Barn bridge. They took a lease in December 1926 with Michael Hughes, so were probably established then. Providence Brickworks was situated adjacent to Sutton Oak Railway Station and North Western Estates Development Ltd., a Liverpool firm, used its works in the late 1930s. Its engine shed was damaged by fire in February 1939. There was also the Metallic Brickworks off Sutton Road and the Sutton Brick Works, which was actually in Parr, located near Gaskell Street. Pottery works included the Marshalls Cross Pottery Co. (close to where Sutton Academy is now) and the Sutton Drain, Tile & Garden Pot Works in Moss Nook. The latter appears to have been started by John Woods and then run by William and Ann Woods until its closure on November 1st 1898. Richard Holmes Twist had a pottery works in partnership with A. Wood in Mill Lane, Sutton Heath, which on November 8th 1900 suffered a huge explosion. A boiler blew up and flew 30 yards over workers' cottages into the roadway and bricks were recovered 200 yards away. Miraculously no one was hurt. A Board of Trade inquiry was held on December 12th 1900 and Twist was found guilty of negligence and fined £30. The pottery boss was treated leniently as he explained that he had been suffering from ill health and the explosion had cost him £800. Twist and Wood dissolved their partnership in August 1903. There was also the Brick & Tile Works in Bold, situated a mile from Bold Hall and close to Bold Copper works, which was put up for sale in 1864.

There used to be a street in Sutton called Swaine Street which seems to have been named after the family who founded the original
Sutton Heath Pottery early in the 19th century. In August 1872 the Swaines leased their business to brothers' Thomas and Francis Grace who had their own pottery firm in Marshalls Cross, begun by their father James. By 1861 Isaac Grace had succeeded his father and in his census return for that year described himself as a 'Potter Employing 11 Men, 9 Girls And 6 Boys'. Isaac was made bankrupt in 1862 with debts of £2300 and sent to Walton prison. The family seem to have overcome this setback with Thomas and Francis taking over the reigns. The founder of the St.Helens Newspaper, Bernard Dromgoole, had previously worked at Grace's Pottery and had married the boss's daughter.

The Davies family owned the second
Sutton Heath Pottery, which had originally been known as Yates & Co. It had been run by an Arthur Daly and went bust in 1878. Richard Davies was the manager at Yates and he took over the lease and renamed the company. In a 1951 advertisement the company (trading as Richard Davies & Sons at Sutton Heath Pottery) claimed to have been established in 1870, which was probably when Yates was founded. Richard Davies was succeeded by his son Albert, followed by his son John who died in 1955.

b) Glassmaking In Sutton

It is thought that a French Huguenot family began the first glassmaking in Sutton. The Protestant Huguenots were driven out of France from 1685 and in 1688 records reveal John Leaf Snr. paying the Eltonheads £50 for a lease of 2½ acres of Sutton's Lower Hey. The Leafs real surname was probably Lefèvre and they sourced sand, coal and fireclay from the site with only alkali having to be imported.

Casting glass at the British Cast Plate Glass Company in Ravenhead
Casting glass at the British Cast Plate Glass Company in Ravenhead

On June 2nd 1772, the Leeds Intelligencer reported how some men had been 'enticed from the hazard of their lives' in order to pass on the 'profound secret' of French glassmaking. The article described how a 'great manufactory' was being established at Ravenhead and in 1773 the British Cast Plate Glass Company was incorporated by Act of Parliament. The first plate glass in this country was cast at the site which covered about 25 acres. However the company got into financial difficulties and in 1798 the British Plate Glass Company took over the business. Under the new management, the Ravenhead plant became very successful and early in the 19th century (pre-1811), it received a visit from the Duke of Wellington and the Prince of Wales (later George IV). In later years Princess Alexandra, the Queen of the Netherlands and Richard Seddon, the New Zealand Prime Minister, paid separate visits to the works.

Leeds Intelligencer October 19th 1795
Leeds Intelligencer October 19th 1795
On October 4th 1834, the Leeds Intelligencer described the production process at Ravenhead. This was centred around a room that was claimed to be the largest under one roof that had ever been built in England, bigger even than Westminster Hall. It measured 339 feet long by 155 feet wide and inside was a giant iron casting table measuring 15 feet long, 9 feet wide and 6 inches thick. Melting furnaces were ranged down the middle of the room, occupying a third of its space, with cooling ovens in two rows along the side walls.

The article described how a 'vast body of melted glass' was poured from an 'immense crucible' upon the perfectly level casting table and then a large copper roller was passed over it, spreading the glass out into a 'sheet of uniform breadth and thickness', with its smooth surface exhibiting a variety of colours. Each of the cooling ovens measured 16 feet wide and 40 feet deep and their floors were level with the top of the casting table. This was on castors, so it could be moved to the mouth of an oven and a plate of glass slipped in, so it can be gradually cooled over a period of two weeks. The plate is then ground to a more exact level with sand and it's then polished with emery, tripoli and putty.

In 1836 a second plant was built at Sutton Oak by the
Manchester and Liverpool Plate Glass Company. However, it closed just five years later through the depression of the early 'forties. In 1845 the London and Manchester Plate Glass Company bought the plant, paying less than half the original cost of the works. Under experienced manager George Wadsworth, the Sutton Glass Works slowly became successful. The removal of the Window Tax in 1851 boosted their order book and then the astute management of William Blinkhorn extended operations. By 1855 it was the largest plate glass works in the country with 1500 men employed. Then in 1868 the plant was further expanded and the addition of the 'extension works', as it was known, led to the site covering both sides of Lancots Lane.

British Cast Plate Glass Company illustration
The British Cast Plate Glass Company's plant in Ravenhead which was then part of Sutton township

The glassmakers were a highly-skilled, mobile workforce who were very well paid. Some of the best workers were French, who could be secretive over their glass-making methods. So Suttoners committed industrial espionage to discover their techniques! Workers hid in the roof of the glassworks and observed the French experts through holes they'd cut in the ceiling. However most of the workforce were unskilled staff, with many of manual labourers. Workers could expect jobs for life and when Henry Mather died on September 30th 1854 aged 81, he'd almost completed 70 years of employment at Ravenhead.

On August 25th 1855 the Liverpool Mercury told how 500 of the Sutton glassworkers had been treated to their annual excursion by their employers. They'd travelled by boat to Bangor 'animated by a band of music' with the day spent in 'rational and healthy recreation'. However on the same day that some staff enjoyed an outing,
James Tickle's inquest took place. The glassworks stoker lost his life when he was crushed between the buffers of two wagons. In 1858 there was an investment in new technology at the Sutton works with glass polishing machines purchased. It was intended that their use would reduce the need for women to polish glass manually by moving it back and forth on large, smooth stones. However machines needed operators and 24-years-old Louisa Eden lost her life on February 8th 1858 when her dress was drawn between the wheels of a polishing machine by a draught of air. Louisa, who'd travelled from London to operate the machine, was immediately whirled round its main shaft. Her screams brought help but it was some time before she could be extricated from the machine and was soon dead. On May 2nd 1861 further improvements to the works led to eight workmen being seriously injured. The bricklayers and labourers were erecting three large furnaces for annealing glass when the building collapsed on them.

The casting hall of the Ravenhead glass works which when built was 113 yards long and at least 50 yards wide
The casting hall of the Ravenhead glass works which when built was 113 yards long and at least 50 yards wide

Although the British Plate Glass Company's Ravenhead plant had been highly successful, especially during the 1830s and '40s under manager Frederick Fincham, it was now experiencing tough times and in 1868, the London and Manchester Plate Glass Company took over the lease from proprietors Sir Edward Sullivan (1826 - 1899), James Sivewright and John Crossley. The size of glass capable of being produced had increased considerably since the Ravenhead plant first began in the 1770s. Then the largest size of glass was 3 feet in length by 2 feet wide but by 1820 it was 142 inches by 6 feet. By the 1860s, sizes of plate glass up to 17 feet by 10 feet were being produced at the works.

An aerial view of the Ravenhead glassmaking plant during the 20th century when owned by Pilkingtons
An aerial view of the Ravenhead plant during the twentieth century when owned by Pilkington's Glass

The London and Manchester Plate Glass Company became the biggest producer of plate glass in the United Kingdom and the second largest in the world. It was only exceeded by the St. Gobain Plate Glass Co. in France. In March 1876 it advertised for tenders for the erection of 18 cottages in Sutton for its workers. However glassmaking was expensive and by the 1880s, with increasing competition from Belgian and French glass plants and locally from Pilkington's and the Union Plate Glass Co. in Parr, the company began to encounter financial difficulties. The price of glass in 1887 was 45% less than it had been in 1876 and then there were further drops in the early '90s.

A strike at the beginning of 1889, when workers demanded a rise of 10% in their wages, virtually closed the Sutton plant and further damaged its economic standing. Somewhat belatedly, a £200,000 investment in new equipment for both of the London and Manchester Co's plants was proposed in December 1891, which would take several years to complete. All three of St.Helens' plate glass producers had for some time been complacent against the threat of foreign competition. While local firms had relied upon the quality of their product and pre-eminent position within the glass-making world, the Belgians had been investing in new plate glass plants and improved processes.

All three companies were now furiously engaged in a race to re-equip their plants and create more efficient means of working. For example, the processes of grinding, smoothing and polishing had been carried out in different departments using separate machinery over several days. Consequently large sheets of glass up to 15 feet long had to be conveyed from room to room and onto railway wagons leading to breakages and even deaths. In October 1891 glass labourers John Twist and 19-years-old David Lunt died in hospital from the severe injuries they'd received when plate glass fell off a wagon onto them. The accident at Sutton Glass Works broke 19-years-old Lunt's spine and an iron lever penetrated right through 22-years-old Twist's body. When the improvements had been implemented, all processes would be carried out by a single machine within a single day in the same place, reducing the cost of production and improving safety.

Efficiencies meant job losses and 200 women were discharged from the Sutton and Ravenhead plants early in 1892. They also closed the work's school at Ravenhead that year as the building, where 500 pupils were being educated, was required to extend the works. Although production costs were reduced by about 30%, by June 1893 the price of glass was 40% less than it was in 1891 and things went from bad to worse. On August 15th 1894 a notice was posted at both the London and Manchester Co's plants:
 Owing to the great depression in their trade, the directors have to intimate that on and after Thursday next, the 23rd inst., all persons employed by the company will be retained from day to day only until further notice. 
Memories of old Sand Hole
Whalley’s World, St.Helens Star, August 18th 1983
This meant that the company could sack any of their 1100 staff at a moment's notice. The company was in crisis and its own chairman, Mr. Hawkins, admitted it was "without either cash or credit." An article in the Liverpool Mercury from August 23rd 1894 put the blame on the workers who had struck for more wages five years earlier, despite the financial difficulty that the company was in. This they claimed had significantly contributed to the £140,000 loss that the company had made over the previous three years.

The London and Manchester Plate Glass Company went into liquidation later in 1894 and a wave of depression affected many Sutton families. The St.Helens Newspaper commented that 'destitution is developing in our midst at a rapid rate' {15/9/1894}. The annual meeting of subscribers to the St.Helens Charity Organisation held on October 29th 1895 revealed the scale of the suffering. In the ten months prior to November 20th 1894, the society had received 363 applications for assistance of which 235 had been granted and £41 paid out. While from November 20th to December 31st 1894 with many men thrown out of work, 1303 applications for assistance were received of which 1157 were accepted and payments totalling £276 awarded. In total during the year, 534 glassworkers requested financial assistance for their families. A special relief fund had been opened by the Mayor Cllr. Henry Martin which raised £1150 in cash and £146 in kind.

In June 1896 a consortium purchased both plants for £150,000 and the London and Manchester Plate Glass Company Ltd. arose from its predecessor's ashes. The glass works eventually went back into production and the Sutton community breathed a sigh of relief. In December a special service of thanksgiving was held at All Saints church, which was said to have been crowded. However the plant's revival under manager Hudson A. Binney was short-lived. It had lost clients through the 26 months of closure and it closed for good in 1903, with Pilkington's having purchased the Ravenhead works in 1901.

The Sutton Glass Works on Lancots Lane in Sutton Oak had been an enormous enterprise. The works occupied 47 acres, which were enclosed by a ten feet high wall. However the site covered 210 acres in total, including five reservoirs that were capable of holding 18 million gallons of water. It had been connected with the railway network by four sidings and it took two years after the glass works’ closure to clear up the plant. In fact it wasn’t until September 1905 that the last men were laid off. During the previous month Pilkington's had acquired the works, which raised hopes of glass production resuming. However the St.Helens glassmaker’s only used the site for warehousing purposes.

The various glassworks sourced red sand from a huge pit at the bottom of Leach Lane, where Carole Close now stands. In a Whalley's World article in the St.Helens Star on August 18th 1983,
Edith Carter recalled its operations:
 The sand hole covered a large area and it was fascinating to see the trucks coming up the narrow rail-lines laden with red sand, while at the same time others went down empty to be re-filled. 
Edith thought this was operated by a steel-rope haulage system and said it was managed by two men named Meadows and Whittaker. She recalled Meadows falling down the sand hole and breaking a leg. The sand pit was filled in by railwaymen using ballast in the mid-1920s.

From around 1870 there was a major expansion in bottle-making within the Ravenhead / Sutton district of St.Helens.
Francis Dixon got into the business c.1842 when he and his brother-in-law John Merson acquired the Thatto Heath Bottle Works at the age of just 22. About three years later the pair bought the Ravenhead Bottle Works on the old canal bank. This was on Grove Street on land leased from John Haddock, the owner of Ravenhead Colliery, who supplied them with coal.

Francis Dixon's great-uncle was
Jonas Nuttall, a wealthy printer and publisher, who had retired to the newly-built Nutgrove Hall in 1810 and died there in 1837. Nuttall's estate was left to his nephew Thomas Nuttall, a distinguished botanist, who had emigrated to America. Provision was made in Jonas's will that if Thomas died childless, then Francis Dixon would inherit his estate. This occurred in 1859, five years after Merson had left the partnership, and it led to Francis changing his surname to Dixon-Nuttall. This was through a condition of inheritance, as laid down by Jonas, that 'Nuttall' had to be part of the family name.

Francis Dixon-Nuttall and Nuttall's glass jar lid
a) Francis Dixon-Nuttall (1819 - 1915) founder of Nuttall & Co; b) Nuttall's glass jar lid; c) Cannington Shaw bottle

Dixon-Nuttall seems to have sold his Ravenhead Bottle Works to Pilkingtons in 1859 and gone into retirement. He returned to the bottlemaking business under the name of Nuttall & Co. on March 2nd 1873, when the first sod was cut on his new works. This was on a site just south of Ravenhead Colliery by the side of the recently-opened St.Helens-Huyton railway. Dixon-Nuttall lived at Nutgrove Hall where he died aged 95 on February 18th 1915, the oldest man in St.Helens. By then his son Frederick Dixon-Nuttall had long since run the business. Twice Mayor of St.Helens, Frederick had been a Liberal councillor for West Sutton during the early 1890s.

Sherdley Glass Works

By 1889 Nuttall & Co. were employing 450 people at their Ravenhead bottlemaking plant, Lyon Brothers Peasley Glass Works had 200 workers and Cannington Shaw's Sherdley Glass Works employed 870. Cannington Shaw took over the Peasley Glass Works in December 1890 as a result of Lyon Bros. going into bankruptcy. Just four years earlier the Lyons had become a limited company but their attempt at cutting wages by importing foreign labour led to damaging strikes and the company never recovered. Their Swedish bottle-hands even had to have a police escort when returning home from the works. On February 10th 1887, William Roberts was charged in court with assaulting Jacob Hanser and attempting to kick a Swedish woman. He'd thrown a missile at a group of Swedes as they were leaving the Peasley Glass Works accompanied by police.

By 1892 Cannington Shaw was said to have the largest works of its kind in the world with 1,188 workers and they suffered pilfering on an industrial scale. Sixteen-years-old
Ralph Jackson appeared before magistrates on November 2nd 1895 charged with stealing two bottles from Cannington Shaw. Works manager Mr. Chadwick demanded that an example be made of the boy, claiming in court that around 100 dozen gross bottles had been stolen by lads and men who'd sold them onto publicans and dealers. That's 172,800 bottles! Young Jackson received a week in prison for his two bottle contribution to the company's larceny problem. On September 22nd 1898 the bottle works had a major fire with their huge warehouse burnt to the ground and 430,000 bottles were destroyed.

Cannington Shaw Jar Lid
A Cannington Shaw jar lid which may have stored sweets or pharmaceutical supplies - Contributed by 8-years-old Alfie Atkins who found it in 2012 while treasure hunting in the River Kenwyn in Coosevean woods in Truro, Cornwall

It was dangerous to work at Cannington Shaw with few concessions for youth. William Clarke from 2 Greenough Street was only thirteen when he was severely burnt about his face and left eye. The accident happened on June 10th 1898 when molten lead fell onto the lad. The company employed large numbers of boys with many sourced from reformatories and workhouses. They were summoned to appear in St.Helens Police Court on at least two occasions for breaching child labour regulations. These mainly concerned the night-time labour of boys under the age of fourteen.

James Prescott (left) with Bob Bridge of Cannington & Shaw with their steam wagon
James Prescott (left) with Bob Bridge of Cannington Shaw with their steam wagon - Contributed by James Prescott

In 1897 new regulations forbade such employment at night which caused immense problems for Cannington Shaw. In one court case on January 12th 1900, the company claimed that they'd been forced to close one of their shops because of insufficient boys for night-time shifts. This closure they said had led to fifty men being thrown out of work. In a report in January 1902, it was stated that that the bottlemaking firm had 'eighty or ninety' lads on their books. In September of that year Cannington Shaw suffered two serious fires within the space of three weeks, in which two warehouses were destroyed. In 1913 the company merged with Nuttalls (and four other manufacturers) to form United Glass Bottle Manufacturers Ltd., although their individual brand names continued. In the above photo from the early 1930s, Cannington Shaw driver James Prescott is pictured on the left. Born in Knobstick Hall in 1892, he lived in Waterdale Crescent upon marrying and then Irwin Road. With him is believed to be Bob Bridge from Sutton.

Sherdley glass engraving of a mould body by lathe, fire polishing of glassware and acid etching of tumblers
Left: Engraving a mould body at Sherdley by lathe; Middle: Fire polishing glassware; Right: Acid etching of tumblers

In 1932 the directors of United Glass Bottle Manufacturers Ltd., in partnership with distributors Johnsen & Jorgensen Flint Glass Ltd. (J. & J.), decided to begin the automatic production of glassware. The Sherdley factory had automatically made glass bottle and containers (such as confectionery jars) for some time. But their new production line would be a first for the British glassware industry, which until then had exclusively used hand processes to make their products. A range of drinking glasses would be the main items but output was also set to include dishes, cream jugs, bowls, etc.

Three American glassware machines were initially purchased. One was for blowing thin tumblers and the other two were presses for producing heavy tumblers and other types of moulded tableware. There were numerous problems that the Sherdley engineers had to overcome, including discolouration caused by sulphur in the St.Helens gas supply, which reacted with the alkali in the glass. The new products were immediately successful and by the end of 1933, the Sherdley range comprised 40 different types of glassware. During the late 1930s, a six-mould press was designed and made by the site’s engineers and by 1939 five fully automatic glassware machines were producing more than 100 different moulded items.

Automatic mould engraving in triplicate at Sherdley glassworks and packing of completed tumblers
Left: Automatic mould engraving in triplicate at the Sherdley plant; Right: Packing of completed decorated tumblers

That same year the plant planned to invest in the automatic manufacture of stemmed drinking glasses but the war intervened. Plans were resumed in 1945 and top designer A. H. Williamson was hired to create a range of stemmed products. Whereas the Sherdley process for glassware mainly involved a single moulding operation, the automatic fabrication of glass stemware was more complex. A Westlake machine - which had been imported from the USA - gathered molten glass from the furnace and blew it into a bowl. Then another machine moulded the stem and fused it to the bowl, while at the same time preforming the vessel’s base. A third machine finished the base and finally a burning-off machine (called a HCO - hot, cracking-off machine) removed surplus glass (known as 'moil') and provided a smooth even rim to the vessel.

Hot-cracking-off machine at Ravenhead glassworks which removes surplus glass and leaves a fine rim
Hot-cracking-off machine at Ravenhead which removed surplus glass and created a fine rim, plus inspection & packing

It was decided to locate stemware manufacture at the Ravenhead Works and so the new glassware was called 'Ravenhead'. Production began in the Spring of 1949 and the first items off the automatic production line were port and sherry glasses. It was considered a revolution in glassmaking, as the manual making of stemmed glassware was much more expensive than items entirely formed by machines on a higher rate of production.

In 1956 there were two serious fires, which destroyed warehouses full of stock at Sherdley and Ravenhead and damaged much mould equipment and machinery. The Manchester Guardian said the fire at Sherdley in the early hours of April 6th, could be seen from ‘all parts of the town’. A further blaze affected the Sherdley works on August 23rd 1964, which was fought by 60 firemen. On July 31st 1967 the Daily Express wrote about Ravenhead Glass: 'With monster automated machines that delicately turn a "gob" of molten glass into a glistening goblet in seconds, Ravenhead is claimed to be one of the world's most advanced glassware factories.' Nearly 3 million glasses, tumblers and other tableware items were then produced at Ravenhead each week, which was double the output from 10 years earlier. Also during the 1960s, part of the Sherdley Glass Works was redeveloped and connected to a re-constructed Peasley Glass Works.tto

Sherdley and Ravenhead glassware

Cannington Shaw No. 7 bottle plant - an ancient monument
The Sherdley plant finally closed in 1981 after over a hundred years of production and most buildings were demolished in 1982. UGB continued until 1999 and the new Saints Rugby League stadium has been built on the site, although Cannington Shaw's two-storey red brick no.7 bottle shop still survives. It dates back to about 1886 and is classed as an ancient monument by English Heritage (pictured right). However the shop did not have a long operational life. By 1918 it was being used as a store and during World War 2 served as an air raid shelter. The Ravenhead glassworks was closed on March 16th 2001 with 374 workers made redundant. It was then discovered that there was a 'black hole' in the workers' pension provision and in December 2007 the government announced a financial aid package. This was after a campaign led by St.Helens North MP Dave Watts and former workers.

Part of the old UGB site on the right photographed from Sherdley golf course in 1990
Part of the old UGB site photographed from Sherdley golf course in 1990 - Contributed by Jim Lamb

Glassmaking also took place at the Sutton Lodge Glass Works in Peasley Cross, not far from where Pratt and Co. had their silver works. The latter provided services for glassmakers as well as other industries and in July 1871 they silvered what was then the largest mirror in Lancashire. The Liverpool Mercury reported that it measured 100 'superficial feet' and was accomplished using a new process by which the mirror was silvered in 40 hours instead of ten days.

c) Sutton Rolling Mill and Copper Works

The Sutton Copper Works in Sutton Oak was founded in 1832 and run by partners William Keates and Samuel Newton and later their sons, Joseph and George, respectively. It traded as the British and Foreign Copper Co., with plants in Holywell, Liverpool and Glasgow, as well as in Sutton. It smelted foreign ores, which were then arriving at Liverpool in some quantity and they employed over 100 men in Sutton. They were so successful that they claimed never to lay off men, even during slack periods. The copper works were also known for looking after their workforce. On January 9th 1855, the Liverpool Mercury reported how 150 of the workmen and their wives had been 'plentifully regaled' with a Christmas dinner of roast beef and plum pudding on the previous Saturday night. 'All seemed well pleased with their entertainment', the paper commented.

The name of
John Fenwick Allen is very much associated with the Sutton Copper Works. A native of Swansea, Allen trained as a chemist and by 1860 (if not before) had moved to Sutton to manage Newton Keates’s works. In April of that year he became captain of no. 3 company of St. Helens rifle volunteer corps. A Congregationalist, he was closely involved with a Ragged School Mission and was a founder of St.Helens Hospital. In June 1875 Allen - then living at Peasley Vale House - became a town councillor for East Sutton but tended his resignation in May 1881, stating that his business had "proved disastrous". Allen kept in close touch with the chemical manufacturers of St.Helens and district and later developed much renown for his publication 'Some Founding Fathers of the Chemical Industry, Men to be Remembered’. John Fenwick Allen died in 1912 at Llanddona in Anglesey.

One problem for the works was that the copper ores contained a proportion of sulphur. When the ores were smelted, gas was generated which created a sulphuric acid vapour when it came into contact with moisture. As a consequence, there was often damage to crops and gardens and the copper works regularly found themselves in court. On December 20th 1865, Sutton farmer
George Sefton was awarded £18 18 shillings for damage to his wheat, oats, potatoes and mangold wurtzels. At the same hearing Rev. Bernard Corosi of Sutton Monastery was awarded £11 16s. and James Skirven of Sutton Glass Farm won £17 8s. On August 23rd 1869 farmer John Johnson was awarded £118 compensation from the copper works for damage to his crops.

On September 30th 1891, twelve-years-old William Dean died in hospital from the injuries that he'd received at the copper works. The young plumber's assistant fell from a fifty-feet high scaffold onto a platform below. The copper works had a chimney 183 feet high and on August 8th 1892, steeplejack Ralph Woods fell from it to his death. You can read 'The Drunken Steeplejack' article here.

Sutton Copper Works closed in December 1895 and in a sale advertisement two years later, the site was described as being on triangular-shaped land measuring 2 acres and 1 rood, with a railway on two of its sides and a main road on the third. There were sidings connecting to the railway as well as 'fine chimney shafts, principals' and clerks' offices, watchman's residence, and boundary walls'.

The McTear family at their home Roughdales Farm in Chester Lane, Sutton, St.Helens
The McTear family at their home Roughdales Farm in Chester Lane, Sutton, St.Helens

A Rolling Mill factory in Watery Lane at Sutton Moss was also built by William Keates in 1860 which shaped metal for industry. It was started by a contingent from Newton Keates's Holywell factory and there was considerable rivalry between the Sutton and Welsh plants. On January 17th 1889, 50-years-old Henry Edwards was killed at the plant by the shaft of a roughing-off machine, which was making 150 revolutions per minute.

In the photograph above,
James Wilton McTear shows off his family for the camera with his wife Eliza. McTear (born c. 1837) was both the manager of the Sutton Rolling Mill factory and Roughdales. The picture was taken at his home in Chester Lane called Roughdales Farm (a.k.a. Milestone House) opposite Four Acre Lane. The farm had eight acres and the family stayed until 1894 when they moved to Micklehead Green and St.Michael's House & Farm.

Workers outside the Sutton Rolling Mill factory c.1924
Workers outside the Sutton Rolling Mill factory c.1924 - Contributed by Ian Jones

The Rolling Mill was closed in December 1895, although it reopened under the ownership of Widnes copper firm Thomas Bolton & Sons. On August 5th 1902, 29-years-old Michael Noonan was shot and fatally injured at the rear of Bolton's Rolling Mill. The company ran it for many years during the twentieth century, later making metal sheets for the printing industry. Their office block was built out of huge blocks of slag from the casting shop. It looked like rough stone and had many fissures between the large lumps. William Thomas served as Thomas Bolton’s works manager during the 1930s. Eric Foster, a ‘hammer man’ of 20 Joseph Street in Sutton, died on February 23rd 1939, a couple of weeks after being ‘terribly injured’ by a machine in the works’ rolling finishing shop.

The above photograph features the grandfather of
Ian Jones who has contributed the photograph. He worked at the Rolling Mill after returning from being a prisoner of war in WW1 and, like many in the workforce, enjoyed his pint in the Coppersmiths Arms which was opposite the plant and nicknamed 'Bobby's'. Ian writes that it was a race on Fridays for the women to get to the men before they could cross the road and spend their wages in Bobby's!

Thomas Bolton & Sons factory front pictured in the '80s, then run by SD Graphics
Thomas Bolton & Sons factory front pictured in the '80s, then run by SD Graphics - Contributed by Dave Latham

Former 1960s employee, Dave Latham, remembers the row of workers' cottages alongside the Mill and how there used to be a 'wonderful steam engine' that powered many of the factory's machines. Dave was badly burned after nitric acid that he was carrying upstairs showered over him after falling. The above photograph taken by Dave during the 1980s, reveals the factory front after Thomas Bolton and Sons had been taken over by SD Graphics.

Rolling a copper sheet and pulling a hot sheet out of the furnace at SD Graphics, Sutton
SD Graphics in 1982: Left: Rolling a copper sheet; Right: Pulling hot sheet out of furnace - Contributed by Ken Davies

Ken Davies visited SD Graphics in 1982 and took many photographs. The picture above left shows a copper sheet being rolled. Ken states that the adjustment of the rolls was by large nuts on each corner and the man behind the rolls waited to catch and raise the sheet in a wooden cradle in order to pass it back over the top of the mill. The photo above right shows a hot sheet being pulled out of a furnace. Dave Latham adds that by the mid-'80s, SD Graphics had stopped rolling copper, zinc, aluminium and magnesium and were instead coating bought in American metal.
View Gallery of ten SD Graphics photographs taken by Ken Davies in 1982
There were also copper works in Ravenhead and Peasley Cross which date back to 1780, when the Parys Mining Company began production. During the 19th and 20th centuries, there was the Ravenhead Old Copper Works and Bibby & Co's New Ravenhead Copper Works. Duncan McKechnie established his copper works in 1870 just north of Peasley Cross Colliery. This was taken over by the United Alkali Company who closed the works in 1927. Peasley Glass Works was erected on the site by United Glass during the 1960s. There was also the Bold Copper Works, which was initially run as a partnership by Alfred Paget, Walter Critchley and Charles Swaisland. After the latter had resigned, the St.Helens Smelting Co. Ltd. was created on June 20th 1862 and they began to more vigorously run their works at Bold. This was situated a mile from Bold Hall and half a mile from its estate boundary and quickly damage was noticed to the trees on the estate. William Tipping, owner of Bold Hall, brought an action against the St.Helens Smelting Co. Ltd. in August 1863 and was awarded the large sum of £361 in damages.

d) Chemical and Alkali Works In Sutton

By the 1890s the towns of St.Helens and Widnes were responsible for three-quarters of all chemicals manufactured in Britain. During 1896 Pearson's Magazine ran a series of articles entitled 'The White Slaves of England' by Robert H. Sherard which focussed on the 'worst paid and most murderous trades of England'. For one edition Sherard paid backdoor visits to the alkali works of St.Helens and Widnes accompanied by artist Harold Piffard. His exposé could not have been more damning. Sherard revealed the wretched life of the workers and the shocking damage that the chemical factories inflicted on their health. Plus how the foul gases that belched from the works decimated the environment.

Illustrations by Harold Piffard of a stone nobbler and approach to an alkali factory in Sr.Helens and Widnes in 1896
Illustrations by Harold Piffard who visited chemical factories in St.Helens & Widnes in 1896

Sherard's article described the various tasks that the workers had. The 'stone nobblers' were 'broken-down men, not old but aged' who broke stones from which sulphur is extracted and who mainly earned just 8 shillings a week. These were the 'wasted' alkali workers who were toothless, asthmatic and half blind; the 'cast-offs' who were on their final stage before the workhouse. The salt-cake men were at the sharp end of the operations. Working with hydrochloric acid gas they lost their teeth within a year. One St.Helens salt-cake man who'd done the dreadful job for 18 years, described working seven days a week for just 24 shillings pay. He had to stand for eight hour shifts in front of a fiery furnace 'melting with heat', drawing, shoving and turning the salt with an iron bar that weighed 56 pounds. Another salt-cake man from St.Helens with twenty years experience, told Robert Sherard that he'd recently been sacked on the spot after he'd overslept and arrived at work late.

Illustrations by Harold Piffard who visited chemical factories in St.Helens & Widnes in 1896

The lime-men load slaked lime after turning it over and over onto lifts so it could be treated with chlorine. Their dirty and dangerous work within a cloud of white particles could only be conducted in shifts of 20 minutes, with a few minutes rest in between. When on the night shift they worked for 14 hours and always wore a thick gag in their mouths. Sherard explained that after finishing their shift, the lime-men washed their bodies with oil or tallow as washing with water would 'flay them alive'.

Pearson's Magazine claimed that the men who packed the bleaching powder 'literally carry their lives in their hands', as they were exposed to deadly chlorine gas. The packers wore goggles and 20 thicknesses of flannel over their mouths but could still only pack for a few minutes at a time. If they were 'gassed', they would likely be dead within an hour. Like all the other alkali workers, these men were piece-work paid, with the article claiming their average wages were 50% less than they'd been 5 or 6 years earlier. During the same period, the prices of the products that their hard graft produced - namely bicarbonate of soda, salt-cake, caustic soda and bleaching powder - had each risen by between 50 and 100%.

Kurtz Alkali works, St.Helens
Left: Kurtz Alkali works pictured during the mid 1890s; Right: The shed where an explosion killed 8 men in 1899

The Sutton alkali and chemical plants included the Kurtz Chemicals Co. (a.k.a Sutton Alkali Works and A.G. Kurtz & Co.) at the old Sutton township's northern perimeter. This was an extensive works which by the 1890s had expanded enormously since Andrew George Kurtz inherited it from his father in 1846. The factory extended beyond Warrington New Road to Langtree Street (now Jackson Street) and it was one of the largest chemical plants in the area, producing soda and bleaching powder.

Explosion at Kurtz Alkali works, St.Helens 1899
In February 1891, A.G. Kurtz & Co., plus a large number of other chemical works, were incorporated into the United Alkali Co. Ltd. A dreadful disaster occurred on the Kurtz site on May 12th 1899 when eight men were killed by a fire and explosion in the chlorate house. Huge beams were hurled nearly a mile and a yellow cloud of nitrate gas enveloped the surrounding streets. The nearby gasometer was split across its top and escaping gas was ignited, creating a column of flame hundreds of feet high. This photograph (right) shows a group of firemen damping down the demolished vitriol chambers in Warrington New Road. The alkali works closed in 1920.

Sutton Lodge Chemical Works was operated initially by the Sutton Lodge Chemical Co. from the mid 1870s. The alkali works was set up by Cannington and Shaw, who sold it to the United Alkali Co. in 1891. They closed it in 1896 and the site was repurchased by Cannington, Shaw & Co as a glassworks. The Greenbank Chemical Works operated from around 1845 until 1921, when its last owners, the United Alkali Co, closed it. Other plants in Ravenhead were Marsh's Chemical Works and Bridgewater Alkali Works. There was also a short-lived vitriol works adjacent to Ravenhead Brick Works, which began in the late 1870s.

In Sutton Oak
Victors Ltd. operated a chemical works in Baxters Lane, commencing operations about 1915. They were described as phosphoric acid and phosphate manufacturers and in 1920 and ’21 invested in new extensive works. Perhaps they overstretched themselves, as a petition for Victors winding up was brought in September 1922. The appointed receiver placed advertisements in newspapers inviting a sale by private contract of the 14-acre works. The ads claimed that Victors was ‘equipped with the finest American and English automatic and labour-saving Plant’ and had been acknowledged as ‘one of the most up-to-date Chemical Plants in the world’. The sale also included four houses close to the works and an automatic barrel-making plant. Victors were again advertised in 1924 but this time it was to promote a piecemeal auction of all the plant's equipment, which was set to take place on October 15th. Further newspaper adverts were placed in May 1929 but purely to sell the buildings that occupied 7,850 square yards and the leasehold land that adjoined the Sutton Oak Brick Works and which was now down to just over 5 acres. It was also stated that a low price would be accepted. By this time all the chemical firms were deserting Sutton and St.Helens for Widnes and Warrington. So it seems likely that a buyer for the Victor works could not be found and so the Sutton Oak Brick Works took over a large chunk of their land. They took a lease in December 1926 with Michael Hughes, so the brickworks probably expanded then. The old Victors buildings appear to have been left unused for some years, before being occupied by Stamina Foods to make pet food, biscuits and dextrin (see Other Sutton Works for details).

British Sidac are included in this section as they used chemicals within their production process and were linked to sulphuric acid manufacturer Leathers Chemicals. The company was a major employer in Sutton and by 1973, after four decades of production, had 1,600 staff working on its 40 acre site. Much of the transparent cellulose wrappings manufacturer's output was converted into plain and printed packaging materials, mainly for food and tobacco products. Their product is often referred to as Cellophane, although this is a registered trade name. British Sidac also made film for transparent cellulose adhesive tape and began as a public company on November 30th 1933 but was converted into a private company on July 23rd 1936. The firm was a British subsidiary of Société Financiére de la Cellulose S.A. Holding of Luxembourg, which in turn was a subsidiary of Société Industrielle de la Cellulose (Sidac) S.A., of Belgium. On 21st April 1939 the St.Helens Reporter described how British Sidac had celebrated their fifth birthday with a dance attended by 400 guests, which was held in the Co-Op Hall in Baldwin Street. The newspaper commented how their workforce had numbered 60 people in 1934 but was now 600.

As they employed volatile chemicals, the risk of fire was never far away. On March 20th 1959 ten fire engines were sent to the fourth fire in three months at Sidac's Sutton Oak plant. The £1 million works suffered from subsidence and by October 1959, this had led to a total of £100,000 in repairs having to be made. The company was already constructing a new £500,000 viscose plant and fearing that its buildings might also be affected by subsidence, British Sidac purchased £40,000 worth of underground coal to limit the future impact of mining on the site. On September 22nd 1960 it again became a public company and in their share prospectus, the Sutton Oak works was stated as covering 18¾ acres, with a total floor area of 480,000 square feet. British Sidac also had 51 acres of additional land in Sutton, on which was situated its sports club, reservoirs and waste dumps. Substantial quantities of cellulose film were supplied to E. S. & A. Robinson of Bristol, the renowned paper, printing and packaging company and it had a small export business, mainly with Commonwealth countries. In 1961 Sidac opened a new leisure and sports club for its staff, situated off Applecorn Close by Leach Lane.

British Sidac advertisements

In 1962 the company acquired a 12-acre site adjacent to their works to cope with further expansion. This included a new Plastics Division, which became operational in 1963. Also during that year, British Sidac acquired British Rayophane. In addition to its main works in St.Helens, British Sidac now also had small works in Paisley in Scotland, Wigton in Cumbria and in London and Australia. A new research block and pilot plant was completed at the Sutton Oak works at the end of 1964. However in September 1965, it suffered yet another fire. This time the blaze destroyed a major coating unit, which the company described as a 'severe blow'.

In the early 1970s there was a recession in the cellulose film industry and during the financial year 1970 – 71, British Sidac's profits dropped from £1.35 million to £188,000. Low consumer demand, increasing competition, soaring raw material costs and rising wages were all having an impact on profitability and the company’s share price plunged. To reduce overheads the London head office was moved to Sutton but plans to merge with First Transparent Paper, were scuppered by the Monopolies Commission. During November of 1971 production was cut at the works because of a shortage of raw materials, caused by an explosion in a supplier’s factory. By 1973 profits had recovered to £1.25 million but its chairman
S. H. Marechal warned shareholders that the company was facing considerable increases in costs. In October of 1973, British Sidac was taken over by Belgian chemical group UCB, who already owned almost 40% of the company’s shares. This marked a full circle in the British company's history, as it had been formed in 1933 by a part of the UCB group, then known as Société Industrielle de la Cellulose. However during the early 1980s, there was a worldwide collapse in demand for cellulose film and British Sidac made heavy losses and closed its Sutton Oak plant on November 20th 1982 with the loss of 650 jobs. The site was purchased by St.Helens Council who began a clean up in 1994.

British Sidac canteen staff
British Sidac canteen staff in early 50s - front row (L-R), Maggie Morgan; ?; Mrs Round; Annie Cook - Contributed by Ken Morgan

In March 1998, sixteen years after the plant closed, two former workers - James Fallon and Robert Burrows - were awarded £75,000 compensation after developing asthma, memory loss and mood swings. In an interview with David Ward of the Guardian published on March 27th, 65-year-old Fallon said "I was effectively sniffing glue for 22 years". The former fitter at British Sidac added that in the early days of his employment, the fumes were so bad within certain parts of the factory, that the workers learned to recognise each other by their shoes and lower bodies. The hazardous chemicals that they came into contact with were carbon disulphide, toluene, formaldehyde and phosgene. Mr. Fallon stated that during his career with Sidac he never wore masks or protective clothing and had been attracted by high pay levels and often worked 7 days a week. He said the company were only concerned with fire risks because of the volatility of the chemicals, adding that "the smell was evil and there were times when I was high on a cocktail of different things". For their part British Sidac denied responsibility for James Fallon and Robert Burrows’s health problems. The company said that they settled upon the advice of their insurers to avoid an expensive trial.

Leathers Chemicals and Hays Chemicals were both highly controversial plants, which date back to 1968. This was when British Sidac requested planning permission for a £1.3 million sulphuric acid plant to be built adjacent to their main works. They stated that surplus steam generated by the new factory would be used by Sidac’s existing plant, which would ultimately reduce the levels of sulphur dioxide generated into the atmosphere. It was also claimed that the highly-polluted Sutton (or 'Stinky') Brook - which also produced a bad egg smell - would be cleaned up. This was because the new sulphuric acid factory would effectively recycle the sulphurous effluent liquor that was discharged by Sidac into the brook. The liquor would instead be burnt off and converted into sulphur dioxide, which would then be used as a raw material by the new plant. It was on this basis that St.Helens Council granted outline planning permission on December 4th 1968. Ten days later the council were surprised to receive a letter, which stated that it would be Leathers Chemical Company who would be operating the new plant and not British Sidac. Leathers were a subsidiary of the giant Occidental Petroleum Corporation of California and they needed a new site after a Bradford ring road had displaced their existing plant.

The new sulphuric acid works was commissioned in February 1970 and the proposal that British Sidac would make use of excess steam generated by the new plant was enacted. However some months earlier, Leathers had informed St.Helens Council that the link up between the two plants - in which liquor would be turned into sulphur dioxide - was no longer technically feasible. The net effect was that more sulphur dioxide was discharged by Sidac, rather than less, as they had promised. However they did constructed an effluent treatment plant, which improved the quality of Sutton Brook. Soon after the new sulphuric acid-making plant became operational, locals began complaining about pollution. The Lancots Lane factory was only 200 yards away from housing and there was also six primary and two secondary schools - along with St.Helens Hospital - in the neighbourhood. At first the council complained that pollution monitoring equipment had not been installed, as required by the conditions attached to the planning permission. Once the equipment was installed, the council issued an enforcement order against Leathers, alleging that sulphur dioxide emissions were too high.

Leathers Chemicals in Sutton, St.Helens
The controversial Leathers Chemicals in Lancots Lane in Sutton, St.Helens which had two public inquiries

Leathers appealed, and a public inquiry was held in December 1973. Leslie Spriggs, the MP for St.Helens, told the inquiry that "the emission of toxic materials has caused great fear in the minds of my constituents". Letters were read out which claimed that children at the nearby schools had suffered bouts of vomiting, sore eyes and breathlessness. Resident Anne O'Hare complained that emissions from the plant had given her bronchitis and pleurisy. "They have ruined my health", she said. 29-year-old Brenda Kay, of Baxters Lane, began to describe how she had "fled in terror" from an acid cloud while pushing her 10-month-old son in a pram. However she was ruled out of order and told her evidence was not relevant. Leo Price QC, the company’s barrister, dismissed all the allegations, stating that there was no evidence to support them. The East Sutton Residents’ Association had earlier held a protest march and demonstration. Its chairman, James Atherton, told the Guardian newspaper: "We are not going to be armchair protestors any more. This acid has stripped paint off cars, put holes in pipes, and caused coughing fits." However Leathers won their appeal but the company was subsequently prosecuted under the Alkali Acts and fined. The Alkali Inspectorate put the plant under close inspection and made 25 visits within a period of 12 months.

In March 1975 St.Helens Council voted to close Leather's by revoking its planning permission under a clause in the Town and Country Planning Act. It then asked the Government for permission to borrow £3 million to pay compensation to the company. This would set a precedent for other local authorities, who had in the past elected not to rescind planning permissions from troublesome companies because of the high levels of compensation that would have to be paid. St.Helens Council wanted to spread the compensation over five years and estimated that this in total would mean a 10p rate increase for residents. Sutton Councillor
Jim Bond said: "The people of the area are so heartily sick of Leathers that they are more than willing to pay the price". He also said that their acid tankers were cleaned out with steam every night with "the fumes choking those living nearby". Sixty workers would lose their jobs if the plant closed but the hope was that some could be transferred to Leathers plant in Trafford Park.

Leathers responded by extensively overhauling their Sutton plant at a cost of £340,000. This led to the works being closed for several months, only reopening in mid-November 1975. A new cooling system was installed and the height of its chimney stack was raised from 140 to 200 feet. However the council still wanted the plant closing and so Leathers appealed against the decision and a week-long public inquiry was held in January 1976. St.Helens Council produced as evidence a list of 45 pollution incidents, two of them serious. Claims were made that acid fallout had led to women's tights being destroyed, plants on allotments dying and patients in St.Helens Hospital coughing. Planning Committee Chairman
Councillor Bill Paton told the inquiry: "In the Council’s view they have a duty to the people of Sutton to remove this fear from their minds and let them breathe freely once more."

Leathers Chemicals in Sutton, St.Helens newspaper articles
How the St.Helens Reporter (left) and the Guardian newspaper covered the week-long public inquiry into Leathers

However it was revealed that if Leathers were forced to close their plant, an additional 1.86 tons of sulphur dioxide would be generated daily by British Sidac. This was because the cellulose maker would no longer have access to Leathers' excess steam. It was also argued that there was a tendency for people to blame any sulphur dioxide fumes or illness on Leathers. The chemical company revealed that it produced 600 tonnes a day of sulphuric acid and it had been the first firm in Britain to use a new double contact process of manufacture. So Leathers argued at the inquiry that some 'teething troubles' were inevitable. The chemical company won their appeal against the council closure plan, to the disappointment of local residents but to the relief of their workers, many of whom would have lost their jobs.

However the plant remained controversial and in January 1985 the Health & Safety Executive advised St.Helens Council to shelve their plan to build housing for the elderly near to Leathers. Their confidential report stated that an accident at the chemical plant would endanger people within a one mile radius. Leathers' successor
Hays Chemicals was equally controversial. In 1986 four thousand people signed a petition demanding the closure of the plant because of leaks and fallout of oleum, i.e. fuming sulphuric acid. In June 1987 Hays were fined £3000 at Liverpool Crown Court for allowing an escape of sulphur trioxide. The incident had led to local residents being warned to stay indoors and Morrisons Supermarket in Baxters Lane was evacuated. The gas was dangerous enough to have severely damaged a person's lungs, but fortunately no one was injured.

During the same year, a planning application was submitted to construct a new sulphur processing unit, but it was rejected by St.Helens Council after a residents' campaign. In 1988 the Hays management bought the company from the Kuwait Investment Office and at the time this was the second largest management buyout in the country. On May 19th 1989,
Councillor Eric Hutchinson collapsed in Baxters Lane after walking into fumes that had emanated from the Hays plant. He recovered after being taken to hospital. On July 1st 1989, there was another bad leak at Hays which was caused by a rupture in an oleum tank. For this the company was again prosecuted and fined a further £3000. To calm fears in the district, Hays held open days and residents' meetings and conducted mock emergencies, that were codenamed 'Cloudburst'. In 1999 a major refurbishment took place at the factory and at the end of 2001, Hays was taken over by Albion Chemicals. Six months later the company shocked their 60 workers when they announced that the plant was closing down. The closure - which took place at the end of April 2002 - was blamed on the rising costs of raw materials and the falling price of sulphuric acid, which had made the business unprofitable.
Memories of Leathers Chemicals from Sutton Beauty & Heritage Facebook Visitors:
Makes me wonder if that's the reason I'm ill. I was born in Sutton and lived here all my life. That mist that used to come down was all over cars, grass verges and windows. My mum used to say about women’s tights getting burned off their legs. Have to say that getting rid of these places has made Sutton a lot more cleaner in the air and ground. - Kay Roberts

Could always tell a Suttoner from their cough, and there was always a strange smell from the factory. - Karen Wilson

Around 1965, I was working for Grayston Plant and Engineering Company in Haydock Lane. I was sent to repair a water pump that was on hire to Leathers. The pump had a German made diesel, pull-start engine, and they were very difficult to start. I was out of breath with the effort of pulling at the starter cord, when a whitish / green cloud from a leaking overhead pipe encircled me. I was choking, but managed to stagger to a nearby First Aid Station, and was given oxygen. I was told “It’s only a bit of Chlorine Gas”!!!!. That chemical works should never have been allowed to operate in a heavily populated area. - Alan Parry

I was a foreman tyre fitter at ATS in Sutton Road in the mid 70s. We had the contract to repair and maintain their trailer and wagon tyres. Whenever called out we would draw straws as to who went to the job, as we were well aware that never mind women’s tights, if you came into contact with the acid it would burn straight through your skin. - Stewart Brown

e) Crone & Taylor Bone Crushers

Longstanding Crone and Taylor were an interesting company on a number of counts. Founded in 1886, their letterhead contained an illustration of late Victorian Sutton with numerous smoking chimneys. They described themselves bluntly as 'Bone Crushers and Manufacturers of Blood & Bone Manures', in other words makers of fertilisers, which was how they described their business during the twentieth century.

Crone and Taylor, Sutton Oak, St.Helens
The headed stationery of Crone & Taylor, Bone Crushers and Manure Manufacturers of Lancots Lane, Sutton Oak

For some years Crone & Taylor's storeroom in Worsley Brow, Sutton Oak, served as the chapel for the undenominational Welsh, prior to them taking over the Methodist Church's chapel in Lancots Lane in 1893. To gain access to the storeroom the congregation had to pass through a hole in the surrounding wall and the chapel became known locally as 'The Hole in the Wall Church'.

Crone and Taylor postcard
Crone & Taylor promotional picture postcard extolling the benefits of their manure for growing root vegetables

During the 1890s the company's works extended across two acres of Sutton Oak, for which they paid £360 rent per annum. Crone & Taylor understood the benefits of marketing their wares and they regularly exhibited in agricultural shows where they awarded prizes to the best exhibits. In 1899 at the Vale of Glamorgan Cattle Show, a 'silvered tea service' was presented to Mr. Thomas for two acres of swedes that the farmer had grown with Crone & Taylor manure.

Crone and Taylor pencil

The company had a presence at many Welsh shows, as well as some English ones and held annual exhibitions in Aberdaron. At the first in December 1894, John Davies won a silver breakfast cruet for having the 'heaviest and soundest four swedes and four turnips.' During the early years of the twentieth century, Crone & Taylor produced a number of promotional postcards and pencils, as shown above. In 1907 the company expanded its works on an adjacent site, which they told St.Helens Council would obviate the nuisance that their emissions were causing. A chimney 185 feet high and 12 feet 3 inches in diameter was erected, through which all harmful fumes were passed.

Crone and Taylor teapot
Many silver teapots were presented by Crone & Taylor at agricultural competitions. However the above is believed to have been presented to the winner of a Cumberland Wrestling Competition at Keswick Sports - contributed by David Tait

French mantel clock with Crone & Taylor inscription
This French mantel clock has an inscribed plaque on its front and was probably presented by Crone & Taylor to the winner of a best in show competition at an agricultural show - photos contributed by Michael Robinson

After WW2, the company abandoned fertilisers for mechanical handling equipment, such as roller conveyors. This change of product seems to have arisen through their use of such conveyors when handling and despatching fertiliser sacks. Their machine shop was at the bridge end of Ellamsbridge Road and was elevated about two metres above the ground, due to the periodic flooding from Sutton Brook. During the 1960s, Crone & Taylor were employing 100 people with a record order book and in 1971 were acquired by Wm. Brandt & Sons. The plant closed in 1983.

Prior to Crone & Taylor beginning their operations, Newton Keates & Co. had a bone manure plant on the same Worsley Brow site. A fire of bones eight to nine feet high took place on March 20th 1881, which caused considerable alarm in Sutton. There was also the Bold Manure Works owned by Kearne, Richards & Co. and managed by Alfred Rawlinson. This was a partnership between Roger Charnock Richards, John Hannah Kearne and James Richards. The company was prosecuted in March 1884 for carrying on an:
 ...offensive business, to wit, the boiling of bones and converting them into manure, without the consent of the said authority, and with causing a nuisance injurious to the health of the inhabitants. 
It was claimed that people were vomiting in the roads and within their own houses because of the terrible smell. A protest meeting had been held in St.Anne's schoolroom on February 1st attended by local councillors as well as William Tipping of Bold Hall. The business had been previously owned by the Lancashire Agricultural Chemical Company who went into liquidation in 1882. The site comprised almost sixteen acres with 1000 yards of sidings, sixteen workmen's cottages and had a chimney seventy-five yards high.

Newton, Keates & Co. advert from October 1875 and Kearne, Richards & Co. from November 1884
Newton, Keates & Co. advertisement from October 1875 and Kearne, Richards & Co. advert from November 1884

Kearne and Richards had a plant in Dublin as well as at St. Helens Junction and had previously run one near Sandbach. The partnership was dissolved in September 1886 with John Kearne initially running the business as sole proprietor. Alfred Rawlinson - who'd endured the tragedy of his wife killing their son and then herself - became a partner and the company changed its name to Kearne & Rawlinson before closing in December 1889. Soon afterwards John Kearne was found dead in bed at the White Hart Hotel in St.Helens. He was discovered fully clothed and had chosen to stay at the hotel rather than return home to St.Michael's House in Micklehead Green after visiting Liverpool. Chemical labourer John Doolin, of Heslby Street in Sutton, died from gas inhalation on May 13th 1891 after emptying a nitric acid chamber in preparation for the Bold Manure Works's demolition.

f) Brook Blue Works of Micklehead

Brook Works (a.k.a. Brook Mills) at Micklehead Green, near Lea Green and Rainhill, manufactured ‘blue’ for over one hundred years. Their product was used when washing white fabrics to compensate for a slight colour cast and give clothes a whiter appearance. Although often referred to as ‘dolly blue’, this was in fact made by William Edge & Sons of Bolton, with the brand name copied by others.

Workers at Brook Works in Micklehead Green pictured in 1889 - Photograph John Roscoe

Before becoming a blue works, Brook Factory made iron arms for scales and they also conducted a smelting trade. Their manufacture of ‘smalt blue’ began in 1821 after Charles Rawlins relocated from Wallasey to make it on a commercial scale. According to an article in the St.Helens Reporter of March 17th 1939, Brook Works was the first such factory in the country. In 1876 Rawlins & Son patented the more expensive but better quality ‘ultramarine blue’, which became the standard type manufactured by many blue factories throughout the country.

A view of Brook Works in Micklehead Green taken from School Lane in 1912 - Photograph John Roscoe

According to the Reporter, Brook was also the only works to make both smalt and ultramarine blue in the same place. In March 1862 the father and son partnership was dissolved and Charles Rawlins Jnr. solely ran the firm. On October 31st 1929 at an Extraordinary General Meeting of the company, the chairman Herbert Rawlins proposed a resolution that Rawlins & Son (Smalts) Limited be voluntarily wound up. The Sutton Manor Colliery Company acquired the works’ buildings off Chapel Lane in 1936 and began demolishing them in 1939.

Workers at Brook Works in the 1920s (n.b. background chimney is Sutton Manor Colliery) - Photograph John Roscoe

Rawlins & Sons enjoyed a reputation for being generous employers. The Liverpool Daily Post of January 12th 1860 wrote: ‘This firm are noted for their kindness and liberality to all in their employ, and have been for years’. A small number of cottages were built off Walkers Lane to house the workers and a schoolroom was attached to the works to educate their children.
Other Pages on Sutton Industries: Mining in Sutton; Sutton Manor Colliery Pt1; Memories of Sutton Manor by Stan Johnson; Clock Face Colliery; Bold Colliery; The Poison Gas Works; Sutton Trivia & True Facts! article 'Royal & Noble Visits to Ravenhead'.
Next:  Part 28)  Industry in Sutton Part 2
Stephen Wainwright
This website has been written and researched and many mages photographed by myself, Stephen Wainwright, the Sutton Beauty & Heritage site owner. Individuals from all over the world have also kindly contributed their own photographs. If you wish to reuse any image, please contact me first as permission may be needed from the copyright owner. High resolution versions of many pictures can also be supplied at no charge. Please also contact me if you can provide any further information or photographs concerning Sutton, St.Helens. You might also consider contributing your recollections of Sutton for the series of Memories pages. Sutton Beauty & Heritage strives for factual accuracy at all times. Do also get in touch if you believe that there are any errors. I respond quickly to emails and if you haven't had a response within twelve hours, check your junk mail folder or resend your message. Thank you! SRW
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