Trafford Park, Billingham, Wilton, Winnington and Blackley were all part of my father’s lexicon. Each of these places were synonymous with large scale chemical plants which dominated the local landscape. They may not have been pretty to look at but they had a certain grandeur and each represented massive industrial endeavor which generated wealth and employment on a large scale. All of the plants were owned and operated by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), the company my father worked for all his life.
Sir Denys Henderson, who died on May 21st this year aged 83, was an Aberdonian solicitor who rose to be chairman of ICI and presided over the de-merger which ended the company’s ascendancy as a great industrial conglomerate. I don’t think my dad would have held him in high regard – he was deeply saddened when the origins of his pension changed from Imperial Chemical Industries to meaningless AstraZeneca.
Sir Denys was possibly a gifted man but he was a lawyer well versed in winning an argument. In my experience, the problem with lawyers operating outside the legal profession is that the argument is their entire focus, never mind its financial, ethical or technical merits. With hindsight, it is evident that deconstructing ICI was not a noble endeavor nor a proud epitaph. The evidence is everywhere. Our recent canal trip, which started from Anderton, overlooks the original ICI Winnington and Wallerscote Island soda ash plants.
At Wallerscote, limestone from the Peak District arrived by train, brine was pumped up from beneath the Cheshire subsoil and the manufactured soda ash was exported on ships which came up the river Weaver via the the Mersey. At it’s peak, the site employed 6000 people and now it is being demolished, like so much that has fallen into the hands of TATA The plan is to replace it with 3000 homes. Given the ongoing demise of the local heavy industry, it begs the question, what will everyone be doing.