Tyne and Wear HER(3056): Usworth, Washington Chemical Works - Details
Usworth, Washington Chemical Works
Chemical Production Site
Washington Chemical Works were set up by Hugh Lee Pattinson, co-founder of Felling Chemical Works (SMR 3537), with Robert Stirling Newall, on the site of an earlier bleach works and paper mill, in either 1837 or 1842, producing a range of products, but concentrating on the production of magnesia. Pattinson had patented a process for extracting silver from silver-rich lead ore in 1833. Pattinson patents a process for manufacturing magnesia alba (used for pharmaceutical purposes) and a simple method for obtaining white lead (for paint) in 1841/2. The works were designed to make muriatic acid (hydrolchoric acid) as its main product. Soda was a by-product. By 1850 the works were much enlarged. Isaac Lowthian Bell built a big plant for oxychloride of lead. A valuation of 1850 lists a range of workshops and offices, 230 x 60 ft, comprising of a joiner's shop, cooper's shop, plumber's shop, millwright's shop, smith's shop, paint mill, alkali mill, warehouse and clock tower and bell. Pattinson was responsible for developing the process of manufacturing Carbonate of Magnesia by submitting calcinated magnesian limestone to the action of carbonic acid under pressure, the magnesia dissolving out as bi-carbonate of magnesia, from which the neutral carbonate of magnesia was precipitated by the application of heat. That the works were producing soda crystals by 1850 suggests the setting up of the Leblanc process and the development of a large scale works probably not dissimilar to that at Felling. The discovery of iron ore in Cleveland led to furnaces being erected at Washington in 1856 by Messrs Bell Brothers. Pattinson retired in 1858, sold his shares to Bell and Swan and died in November of the same year. In 1859, Glover, the works manager, erected the first Glover Tower - a revolutionary new way to reduce sulphuric acid loss. By the end of 19th century the company was the largest manufacturer of magnesia chemicals in the world. But by 1878 the partnership is dissolved. Issac Lowthian Bell retired, and Robert Stirling Newall buys out Robert Benson Bowman. By 1891 the Washington Chemical Company acquired from America the process for making non-conducting coverings from magnesia. The business expands. In July 1893 the company is a private concern, consisting of Frederick Stirling Newall (grandson of Hugh Lee Pattinson), his family and friends. The works were in decline by the end of the 19th century and ownership was transferred to Newall's Insulation Ltd in 1903-8 and became Newall's Insulation and Chemical Company and remained thus until its closure in 1973. There is a photograph of women making blocks of "Pattinson magnesia" in Atkinson 1980. Surviving parts recorded in 2014.
1st edition Ordnance Survey Map, c.1855, 6 inch scale, Durham, 13; I. Ayris, Washington Station and Washington Staith - Industrial Development, Brief summary; F. Atkinson, 1980, North East England - People at Work 1860-1950; Archaeo-Environment Ltd, 2004, Washington Chemical Works - desk based assessment; Archaeological Services Durham University, 2014, Teal Village Farm, Washington, Tyne and Wear - building recording