Wallerscote Island

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.

Eve of destruction ... Eve of destruction ... Eve of destruction ... Eve of destruction ...Eve of destruction ...

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Heaven’s door …

One of the joys of Golf in the Wild is the unexpected connections I make. A recent exchange with a fellow golfing/motor racing/railway enthusiast (yes, we exist) whose father also worked for ICI, put me in mind of Trafford Park and my Dad, not that he is ever that far from my thoughts. This picture dates from his early career at ICI, just inside the entrance to the works on Westinghouse Road – he is standing far left among his fellow members of the Works Council; sadly none of the names mean anything to me but the location does.
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The door to the immediate left of my Dad opened onto a tiled corridor and up the stairs was the cashiers’ office where I collected my first pay packet – I had a string of holiday jobs on site which included internal postman (the best), toilet floor cleaner (the worst), working in the canteen kitchens and serving in the tuck shop. I had grand plans to use the money to buy a go-kart but was actively discouraged from such ‘dangerous’ ideas. Instead, I saved up for a Mini 850 and promptly went ‘racing in the street’ – the world would have been a safer place had I been confined to a track.

Outside the gates the open moorland that was Trafford Park is still visible. A section of the local goods railway ran parallel to the road and terminated near the entrance to ICI – to the end of the 1950s, Westinghouse Road went no further than these gates.  This is an aerial view of the original British Alizarine Co Ltd works taken in 1929, courtesy of Britain from Above (the bottom left of the inserted image marks the location of the gates). The Google Earth view of this area today is utterly changed and ICI gone.

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To the rear of the site is the Bridgewater Canal, the first commercial waterway in Britain. On the open moorland opposite the main entrance, men with horse-drawn carts would cut damp dark peat.  Dried and soaked in paraffin, it was sold to the housewives of Lancashire and north Cheshire to light their coal fires which fed the long winter smogs. One such horse-drawn cutter was Piccolo Pete (I had always imagined him a ‘Peat’), a regular visitor to our street and my mother an avid consumer of his wares and philosophy – ‘a very intelligent man’.  He attributed the severe changes in weather patterns to a spate of nuclear tests – I forget if it was getting hotter, colder or wetter. The fear of climate change is nothing new.

Piccolo Pete, the rag ‘n’ bone men, the Corona lorry, the Kleeneze rep, gypsies with pegs, French men with onion strings, the electric milk float and the occasional tramp – once the world came down our street, now they go knocking on heaven’s door.

Travel theme: Play

I accept this post has nothing to do with travel except in the sense of time.  It is just an excuse to post this picture of a play, one of several I find intriguing.  My Dad was a scientist by education and natural inclination; an industrial chemist, his entire working life was spent at ICI at a time when chemistry was a new frontier, the IT of its day.

He had no interest in the arts, I never heard him sing, he very rarely went to the cinema and I don’t remember my parents ever going to the theatre.  And yet, here he is taking part in an ICI Trafford Park amateur dramatics production, front of stage (he is on the right).  I would guess this was taken in the immediate post-war years and is one of several productions he participated in – I have another picture of him dressed as a vicar, a most unlikely role.

I imagine this is a ‘whodunnit’ – Colonel Mustard, in the lounge with a bottle of whiskey. My Dad looks so young and innocent I assume he did it.  Any suggestions for the name of the play would be gratefully received – however unlikely :-):

ICI Play

Life on Mars

I have just finished reading Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts Edgelands – Journeys into England’s True Wilderness.  As it states on the cover, the wilderness is much closer than you think.  Passed through, negotiated, unnamed, unacknowledged: the edgelands – those familiar yet ignored spaces are neither city nor countryside – have become the great wild places on our doorstep.  It prompted me to scan some 120 roll film negatives taken in Manchester and around Trafford Park at a time when everything was verging on edgelands.  The title for this post is inspired by the first photograph if you can spot the reference and also by the fact they were all taken in the mid-1970s – I would guess 1976.

I am almost disappointed by what has become of Manchester Central – still a functioning railway station when I was a boy, it closed to railway services in 1969 and for a time was used as an undercover car park.  The picture included here shows some of the fire damage which closed the interior before the structure was eventually converted into the G-MEX Exhibition Centre.  It has since been renamed Manchester Central in recognition of its heritage but that glorious smoke filled cathedral is no more – the dilapidated remains had a more direct association with its past.  Sadder still, the Free Trade Hall opposite, once home to the Hallé Orchestra, is now a Radisson Hotel.  I attended many an event in that fine building, most memorably, a Simon & Garfunkel concert in 1967 – Manchester ‘seems like a dream to me now’.

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