Brunner Mond, one of the founding companies behind the formation of ICI

t15205Ludwig Mond (1839 – 1909) was a German-born chemist and industrialist who took British nationality. After attending schools in his home town, he studied chemistry at the University of Heidelberg. He then worked in factories in Germany and the Netherlands before coming to England to work at the factory of John Hutchinson & Co in Widnes in 1862. Here he formed a partnership with John Hutchinson. Shortly after starting work at Hutchinson’s he developed a method to recover sulphur used to manufacture soda. In 1872 Mond got in touch with the Belgian industrialist Ernest Solvay who was developing a better process to manufacture soda. The following year he went into partnership with John Brunner to work on bringing the process to commercial viability.
They established the business of Brunner Mond & Company. Within 20 years this business had become the largest producer of soda in the world.
John Tomlinson Brunner (1842 – 1919) was a British chemical industrialist at Hutchinson’s alkali works in Widnes, there he met Ludwig Mond, with whom he later formed the chemical company Brunner Mond & Co. Their initial capital was less than £20,000 (£1.6 million in 2016) most of which was borrowed. After its slow start, Brunner Mond & Company became the wealthiest British chemical company of the late 19th century. On its merger with three other British chemical companies to form Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in 1926, it had a market capitalization of over £18 million (£940 million in 2016.
Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) was formed by the 1926 merger of Great Britain’s four major chemical companies: Nobel Industries Ltd.; Brunner, Mond and Company Ltd.; United Alkali Company; and the British Dyestuffs Corporation.

Information courtesy of Bob Wilson.

6 thoughts on “Brunner Mond, one of the founding companies behind the formation of ICI

  1. Moving on from Cerebos we went to the ICI brine wells out on the Seaton Road Haverton, we put in a collecting tank and cut up the old ones. In the process talking to a Pump Man discovered how water was pumped down the wells washing the salt away from the rock and then pumped back up and sent to Billingham castle Works for Process.I was told it was the initial raw product the Synthetic used as many products are based on Brine or raw salt laid down millions of years ago when this area was under the Ocean, I always found people interested in what they did would talk about it and you found out things that were not in books.
    Many years later I started at ICI and among some of my duties had to go into the Anhydrite Mine, the first time believe it or not on top of the cage with safety harness tied to the lift cable inspecting the side lining steel work, A chap called Frank Canny was the Boilermaker who had done it many times also keen to explain what we were doing and why, I had to write the report.
    Going down for the first time inside the cage i was awestruck by the size of the Cathedral as the men called it. We then went on the bus to the face and it was indeed a dual carraigeway, we were among huge trucks racing from the face to the crusher and the face was out somewhere near Wolviston. The whole operation was mind blowing in its magnitude and though classed as a safe mine we still had to watch all the mining rules and regulations. The roads were built on the principle, mine out the rock and leave a rock pillar in place, the size would be 20 feet square for the shaft leaving a pillar 20 feet square, huge draught doors opened automatically as you approached and closed after you.
    The Cathedral held offices workshops and canteen. Passage ways off there had a museum of old vehicles of all descriptions, they were taken down in bits and assembled down below then when they got too old were dumped in the side passage ways I spent some time looking at them being a vehicle nerd.
    Two shafts were entrance to the mine, the main Cage for men and the stone shaft brought up the Anhydrite to be sent of to the many processes it was used for.
    The miners spent their lives down there and after the shift change you would often see them sitting along side the plant drinking in the fresh air, to me they looked as white as the product they mined. My trips down were usually for an odd day although I was still happy to get back up top, the thought of all 800-1,000 feet of rock over your head is a little unsettling.
    I often think ICI started with rock salt making a huge Empire of chemical products then vanished from the area all in less than one hundred years. They employed many people from this area including me and five of the family, we will never see the likes again.
    Frank.

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    • Frank and all, I have a rough idea what a Brine Well is, what I don’t understand is why they don’t mine the salt and crush it, and by using water to pump it out – when the water dissolved salt solution from the Salt Mine below reaches the surface, how is it evaporated to recover the salt (in it). Which leads me to my second question, if you walk about 1/2 mile from the Transporter Bridge North, you come to a number of Brine ponds, but what where they used for?

      Some 68 years ago, I can recall one day finding a frog sat happily in the grass near the Transporter bridge, and being a kind sod decided I knew the best place for it, somewhere where it could have its very own private swimming pool. So I carried it very gently to the brine ponds and lowered it in, that being my good deed for the day – that is until I found out these ponds are highly poisonous. I can only wonder if maybe (my) Mr Toad of Toad Hall quickly got to thinking after I’d left him “If only that fool had left me alone.”,? This raises the question do frogs swear and curse people who try and help them, and could there be any truth in the ancient legends about them? including the one that those who kill a frog will forever be covered in warts? (Bob)

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  2. Another product that help with the growth of ICI was the deposits of Anhydrite below the Billingham complex. Anhydrite became important as a source of fertilizer. The rock is also found in association with gypsum and rock-salt. The latter was ‘mined’ in the area around Greatham by Cerebos and sold as table salt, along with other uses. The Anhydrite was mined under ICI and its said that the roadways were large enough to drive double decker buses along.

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    • Starting at F.Browns Sheet Iron Works at sixteen my first outside job was at Cerebos with a crew fitting a new salt filter machine up in the loft. We walked through the doors and the racket was deafening, dozens of machines that seemed to be all arms packing salt in packets and tubs. I could only see a few people around and we had to walk up a long inner stairway to the loft, then it hit us, one prolonged Wolf Whistle, looking back I saw dozens of girls behind the machines and they were all bursting their lungs whistling. Being a budding engineer I had to know how it all worked and a very nice supervisor took me on a tour. It took a week to fit Cyclones Piping and shakers, the last job fitting the long filter bags then testing it.
      Also learned how many cups of tea one can drink brought up by young girls saying see you at the Palais, “hmm yes nice” also found out what went into Bisto after watching a chap sweep the filter floor clean and dump the rather brown looking salt down a chute? My first introduction into the lifting of salt from brine wells and mines and certainly not my last.
      Frank.

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  3. Ludwig Mond was involved in developing the producer gas process, which became vital in the formation of ICI Billingham and the oddly named Power Gas Corporation

    Producer gas is made by blasting air through a bed of red hot coke. It produces a gas containing carbon monoxide. This gas can be used to purify nickel and made Mond a lot of many in the 1890s.

    However producer gas can be used as fuel in internal combustion piston engines, which could be and are still used to drive electrical generators. In 1901 this was cutting edge technology, so Mond formed a new company Power Gas Ltd in Bowesfield Lane. Although it was a practical means of generating power, it was a short lived revolution, following the invention of the steam turbine.

    However, producer and water gas, are needed as feedstocks for the Haber Bosch method of making ammonia. This was termed ammonia synthesis and is the reason why ICI was also called the “Synthetic”.

    It seems unlikely that ICI would have come into existence unless Power Gas had been over in Stockton. But why did Mond decide to build Power Gas and the Labs at Bowesfield?

    My guess is that Teesside was the fastest growing industrial centre in the UK and had the biggest heavy chemical engineering group. Furthermore, the development of the steel industry resulted in the construction of coke ovens. Waste coke from these was an ideal fuel for gas producers.

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    • Billingham was initially chosen by the Government to be built on Grange farm and was known as Government Nitrogen I would assume it was for explosives, that was 1917. Numbers of German POW’s were moved in to help with the building hence the name German Road joining Ammonia and Nitrates Ave passing the Nitric Acid Plant, they had their living accommodation huts on the road they built.
      In an agreement with the Government Brunner Bond took over the site in 1920 to make Synthetic Ammonia and Nitrates, the system was a model of the plant in Germany that exploded, possibly from stolen plans?
      ICI was formed in 1926 from a conglomeration of Chemical works nation wide and from there became the biggest Chemical plant in the world at one time.
      The old WG plants were the original producers of Ammonia Nitrogen and solid fertilisers and grew to have Coke Ovens, Water gas,Boiler plants and in time coal gas and plants making cleaning agents from the Salt wells then Anhydrite Mines provided raw material for many products. Plastics a new plant built just as the run up to war began produced plastic Canopies for planes among other things, some of which were cigarette lighters made from the scrap ends by versatile workers and usually in works time.
      ICI did this area proud employing 25,000 people at one time and looked after its people, I have just had notification of a rise in my pension.
      My Father always wondered why they chose to build on what was well known in the area as bog land, guess they knew what they were doing?
      Frank.

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