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British Industrial History

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Charles Tennant and Co

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of 93 West George Street, Glasgow

1797 Charles Tennant and 4 partners (James Knox, Alexander Dunlop (a relative by marriage), Dr William Couper and Charles Macintosh) founded a chemical works at St. Rollox, Glasgow that soon grew to be the largest chemical works in the world. The principal product was bleaching powder, which was sold worldwide. The works had a tall chimney known as Tennant's Stalk that was a well-known landmark in Glasgow, not being demolished until the 1920s.

By 1800 Tennant had secured financial control of the St Rollox works.

1811 Charles Tennant and Co of St Rollox established an associated company, C. Tennant Sons and Co Ltd, in Upper Thames St, London, as "bleaching powder manufacturers"; in 1815 the term "and drysalters" was added to the description. This business has continued to the present day.

By 1815 Charles Tennant and Co had expanded into other chemicals, metallurgy and explosives. The early rail network in Scotland and important mines in Spain were also areas of its interest.

John Tennant joined the firm

1825 Started production of soda ash by the Leblanc process at St Rollox

Between 1830-38, a works was established at Carnoustie for making sulphuric acid and "artificial manures"

1835 St Rollox was "the most important chemical works in the world"; it covered 100 acres.

1841 Notice of partnerships: C. Tennant and Co, of Glasgow and elsewhere, Tennant, Sons and Co, of London, and Tennant, Clow and Co of Liverpool, as regards W. Cooper and A. Dunlop[1].

1843 Charles Tennant (1823-1906), son of John Tennant and grandson of the founder of the firm, Charles Tennant, joined the St Rollox chemical works.

Before 1850, 2 small works were established, one at Dalmuir to make vitriol, the other at Renfrew to make starch, farine and prepare logwood. Offices were established at Dundee and Liverpool; the latter later became Tennants (Lancashire) Ltd.

After 1850, Charles Tennant reinvigorated the business. He was masterful in negotiations; his success attracted support from a number of Glaswegian investors who trusted his judgement and were eager to share in his initiatives[2].

1865 Works were erected at Hebburn-on-Tyne, to meet the demand for chemicals from London, and to take advantage of the lower costs of fuel and some other materials in the Newcastle district.

By the 1880s the Solvay process was outstripping the Leblanc process used at the St Rollox works. Charles Tennant declined the opportunity to adopt the Solvay process and, instead, persuaded his fellow Leblanc producers that their by-products, especially bleaching powder, would compensate for the inferiority of their process

1885 July: Charles Tennant was created a baronet.

1885 the private Tennant company was split into separate limited companies, the chief of which was Charles Tennant and Co of St Rollox (which took over the St Rollox Chemical and Soap works, the Carnoustie works and the Glasgow dry saltery business with branch offices in Belfast and Dublin). A separate company Charles Tennant and Partners Ltd was also formed to hold the Hebburn on Tyne works; this was absorbed by United Alkali Co in 1890.

1890 Sir Charles Tennant brought together 45 businesses using the Leblanc process, including the St Rollox works, to form United Alkali Co under his presidency; its main competitor was Brunner, Mond and Co which operated the Solvay process.

1890 United Alkali Co purchased the St Rollox works, and the Hebburn and Haverton Hill works.

1892 Charles Tennant and Co Ltd became a private company again; it built on another site at St Rollox,a new soap and candle works; this was later merged with another old established soap and candle factory - A. Ogston and Sons of Aberdeen - to form Ogston and Tennant Ltd; later that company became part of the Lever Group.

In conjunction with these works, Charles Tennant and Co did much merchanting business, including as agents of United Alkali Co.

1914 Principals: Thomas Alexander, Harold J. Tennant, M.P., Francis J. Tennant, and William Alexander.

1926 United Alkali Co merged with others to form the chemical giant ICI.

1930 The various companies that grew from the development of the Tennants businesses were consolidated under the title of the Tennant Group of companies.

1937 Chemical brokers and manufacturers. "C.T.C." Chemicals. "Tunnel Portland" Cement.

Other interests of Sir Charles Tennant

1866 Tennant brought together various alkali makers to form the Tharsis Sulphur and Copper Co to take over pyrite mines in southern Spain. Tharsis acquired seven metal-extraction companies in Britain by 1872. As a result of Tharsis' by-products, Charles Tennant became interested in metallurgical technology.

1872 Tennant led the formation of the Steel Company of Scotland, intending to make use of the iron found in the Tharsis pyrites but the metallurgical techniques proved inadequate and the Steel Company of Scotland turned to conventional supplies of iron.

1876 Tennant was the chief instigator of the formation of Nobel's Explosives Ltd, formed to exploit the patents of Alfred Nobel, and served as its chairman (presumably this refers to the reorganisation of the British Dynamite Co into Nobels Explosives Co Ltd). He was also chairman of the Union Bank of Scotland and a director of the North British Railway.

1884 The Tharsis pyrites contained tiny components of gold, so Tennant and his associates formed the Cassel Gold Extracting Co which acquired the rights to a cyanide process which raised the level of gold recoverable from 55 per cent to 95 per cent. Tennant and his associates also acquired several gold-mining companies near Mysore in India.

1894 The Steel Company of Scotland almost became bankrupt; Tennant retired as chairman, becoming instead honorary president.

1896 Cassel had enjoyed a decade of prosperity but the Transvaal courts then overturned its patents.

1896 Tharsis declined the opportunity to erect a plant in the Rhineland to process pyrites, which excluded the company from accessing German metallurgical developments. Nor did it buy new mines. Tennant continued as chairman until 1906.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Leeds Mercury, 22 May 1841
  2. Biography of Sir Charles Tennant by Richard Davenport Hines, ODNB [1]