CHEMICAL INDUSTRY IN KNOTTINGLEY
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.
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.
CRODA INTERNATIONAL PLC
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
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
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.
[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.