Industrial Development of Cardiff Road & Neighbourhood since the 40's
In 1939 the government decided that a factory was needed to produce an uninterrupted supply of magnesium, and the method used to obtain it was to extract it from seawater. The site chosen was at Barry, and the factory was named "The Ocean Salts". It was built on 20 acres of land fronting Cardiff Road between Laura Street and Palmerston Road, employed over 500 men, and cost £1,500,000 to build. The magnesium extracted from seawater was added to aluminium to increase its tensile strength but not its weight. Most of the magnesium produced was used in the aircraft industry, although it could also be used in the manufacture of incendiary bombs.
A number of people who were associated with the plant thought that it was built in a most peculiar area. It was near the rivers Taff and Ely and in the Severn Estuary, all of which discharge fresh water into the sea, thereby diluting the salt content.
Perhaps it was built to con overseas suppliers of magnesium into thinking that we could do without their supplies, consequently keeping the price of the material low? If so did it work?
The factory closed in June 1944 with the loss of 400 jobs, and was bought in 1950 by Allbright and Wilson. Allbright and Wilson was formed in the 1800's by Arthur Allbright, a notable chemist who had demonstrated in the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1841 Amorphous Phosphorus, and John Edward Wilson, a brilliant accountant. Arthur Allbright was known as a chemical genius, and together with John Edward Wilson they formed a successful combination. Arthur Allbright died in the early 1900's and Wilson in 1907, but the foundations that were laid down by them survived and continued to flourish.
In 1950 the company came to Barry and took over the Ocean Salts site, giving it room to expand into other fields, such as Organic Chemicals, and a new product, Silicones. At that time Allbright & Wilson's other company interests included Electrical Reduction Company, (Canada) Ltd., A&W (Australia) Ltd., and Midland Silicones. At one time the company had a ship bearing the name the "Arthur Allbright", which ran to South America on a regular basis.
When the factory changed its name from Allbright & Wilson to Midland Silicones, development of the site began in earnest. Between 1965 and 1967 an investment of over £2 million on new plant and equipment was made. This was in addition to the £4 million spent in the expansion of production facilities at the Barry site from 1957. Some of the company's expansion plans included the completion of stage three of the research and development laboratories, which began in 1955. Further extensions planned to start in 1969 were the building of a new plant to produce silicone resins for high temperature electrical insulation. Part one of the construction of this plant began in 1965, and part two in 1967. A further extension to the plant producing heat resistant silicone rubber was made in 1967 to double its output. Improvement of the plant used for the production of silicone fluids used for cosmetics, lubricants, polishes and hydraulic systems would enable production to be doubled by 1966.
A new primary reactor unit for the production of basic chlorosilanes was started in 1967. In that same year the construction of a new office block began, allowing staff who had been using the old New Dock Hotel on the corner of Laura Street and Cardiff Road, to look forward to moving to a purpose built unit on the Cardiff Road. Upon their moving, the old offices were converted into a social club for factory staff. A further 20 acres of land were acquired to allow for this and later expansion, and further automation and computer use were needed to enable production to increase in proportion to the number of people employed on the site. The payroll of the company was expected to grow so that by the early 1970's, a further 100 plus employees would be needed. In 1972 Dow Corning Ltd acquired the company.
Did the Dow Company have designs on the Barry Factory before it was taken over by Allbright & Wilson? Before its closure in the 40's Dr J.D. Hanawait, General Manager of the Magnesium Division of Dow Chemical Company, visited the Ocean Salts factory to see it in operation. The American firm wanted to popularise the use of magnesium products and its production on a large scale from seawater. Was this visit a precursor of the intention of Dow to come to Barry and establish a chemical works?
John Collis had founded his company at the age of 27 in Ironmonger Row, off Old Street, London, in 1867. It specialised in the design and manufacture of machinery for the nailing, printing and branding of wooden boxes, later entering the field of manufacturing machines used for producing electrotypes and stereos for the printing industry.
In 1905 it moved to offices in Regent Street, and works at Harrison Street / Seaforth Street, and began the manufacture of machinery for the handling of paper for the newspaper industry. In 1908 John Collis died, and the business was taken over by his sons, Alfred and John.
In 1912 the first fork truck was made by the company under licence from the Cowan Truck Company, of Massachusetts. By the end of the first World War the company decided to specialise in producing mechanical handling equipment, and designed and manufactured equipment that used hydraulics.
In 1946 Collis acquired a former Ministry of Defence clothing store at Palmerston and moved to Barry to continue manufacture of mechanical conveyors, the Collis "Rollaveyor", the "Motaveyor" and the Collis Truck and Stacker. The company also manufactured trolleys for the handling of pallets, and thousands were made at the Barry factory. At one time the name "Collis" was synonymous with the pallet truck, and became like the name "Hoover" is with the vacuum cleaner. At its peak, the company employed over 400 workers on the site. When the factory closed the site was turned into a small enterprise park, which lay partly empty for a time. Over the past few years more space has become available with the demolition of the old factory buildings, and new premises have been built. The area has been laid out in a more attractive and accessible way and the site has become as busy and more than likely employs the same number, or more, than the Collis factory ever did.
J. Feltz came to Barry in 1946 and opened a small factory called Sidroy Lingerie, making ladies underwear, in the Osborne Rooms of the Cadoxton Conservative Club. It started with two trained machinists from London, brought down to train new recruits in the techniques needed by the company to produce underwear to a high standard. Barry girls quickly picked up the necessary skills, and were soon producing underwear to the standard required. Assistant manager Bob Brailey praised the workforce for their skills, and said that although at present the factory only employed 70, over 250 would be required when their new purpose built factory at Palmerston opened. This factory was known by the locals not by the company name, but as "The Silk Factory", and in its heyday gave employment to well over 250 workers. It closed in the early 60's and was sold to Messrs Lipton's, who wanted to move from their premises in Holton Road (now Peacocks), to larger premises. On opening their new store it became known as "Presto", and a later take-over bid it changed its name to "Tower Discount", before finally a further take-over to "Safeway's".
© T .CLEMETT 2003