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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Local History


The history of the chemical industry in Knottingley dates back to 1877, when Mark Stainsby and his business partner John George Lyon founded the Air Tar Company on land between Weeland Road and the Selby junction of the Aire and Calder Navigation near Bank Dole Lock. They dealt with the refining of crude oil which was transported by barge from Leeds and York before being sent forward to the ports of Goole and Hull for export.

Stainsby and Lyon Tart distillers Knottingley Yorkshire

Further details about the Stainsby & Lyon Company will follow shortly, but for now I would like to give a short extract about the history of Croda Distillates in Knottingley, who were based on the original site of the Stainsby & Lyon Tar Distillery.


The Croda company was formed at Rawcliffe Bridge in Yorkshire back in 1925 with the purpose of manufacturing lanolin.  George Crowe, a ship owner and British expatriate in Greece, was approached by a Mr. Dawe who claimed to have formulated a process for manufacturing lanolin.  Although this process was nothing new on the continent, the idea was new to Britain.  There was already a well established market for lanolin, with the better grades being used in the cosmetics and ointment trade and the darker grades in leather dressings, oils, lubricants and greases.  George Crowe decided to back the idea and a new company, Croda, was formed named after Crowe and Dawe.

A disused water works in Rawcliffe Bridge was acquired by the Crowe Manufacturing Company for the purpose of 'manufacturing grease'. Crowe's nephew, Philip Wood, was installed as Manager of the new site.

Initially, Dawe's process was not a success and it is not clear what became of him.  Philip Wood was left on his own with just a Belgium chemist and two workmen and they persevered with the task until they were eventually successful in producing lanolin and the first three barrels left the works in October 1925.

Those early years were difficult times for the new company and it continued to struggle through the late 1920's until by 1930 its original capital was almost exhausted.  Then, whether by chance or just good fortune, the National Physical Laboratory published an article showing that lanolin was an excellent rust preventive and almost immediately new markets opened up and the company steadily began to grow.  By the time of the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the company had formed a thriving export market.  But the effects of the war had a dramatic effect on its existing business which became largely replaced by profitless Government contracts.

The Company suffered a further blow in 1949 with the premature death of its manager Philip Wood.  The board decided that a committee management should be installed, with Philip Wood's son Frederick being elected to act as sales director. In 1950, Fred was sent to America to start an enterprise there as it had already been recognised that America was a vital market.  The venture was so successful that in 1953 Fred Wood returned to England to take over as managing director of the parent company.

In the mid 1950's Croda had begun to outgrow its existing offices in Snaith and larger premises were required. Cowick Hall, once home to aristocracy, but at that time standing empty and facing demolition would be the solution and Wood immediately saw its potential and felt that such a fine building would make an appropriate visual statement of Croda's achievements. With the combined efforts of the Ministry of Works and Croda, one of England's finest 17th century houses was rescued. In December 1956, Cowick Hall became the new headquarters of the Croda Organisation. Cowick Hall

[above right] 17th century Cowick Hall, headquarters of the Croda company

The 1960's saw the company flourishing. It expanded its product range and set up subsidiaries throughout the world. By 1964 it was decided that the time was right for the company to go public and later, with that accomplished, it embarked on an ambitious programme of acquisitions. Among the more notable ones in our case was the Midland Yorkshire Holdings of which the original Air Tar Company of Stainsby and Lyon had become a part.


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