Walter Denwood (1925-) - British Glues & Chemicals


caution !! this is an initial draft ...

I keep these notes on my server so I don't lose them !!




Walter DenwoodWalter Denwood had a long and happy association with BG&C which inspired his son Angus to discover more about -

'a great company which seems to have disappeared from the record'?

It was always interesting to hear from a family connection to BGC which chimed.

The Birchall 'connection' was from a maternal great grandfather who was a partner in The Weaver Refining Co Ltd at Acton Bridge, Cheshire. This was a small concern but part of the original amalgamation of companies which formed BGC in 1920.
Great grandfather was a Director of BGC from 1920. Research started and returns were sparse.
As a retired business economist, jpb was interested in the company rather than the chemistry. Perhaps the best returns came from a few people like Angus Denwood who had working links with the company and their reminiscences were recorded in 'preliminary notes'. Names and dates and places mentioned often led to other contacts with other folk who were interested enough to put a relevant search string into Google ...
In this way the information network spread, and many errors corrected and, perhaps, new ones introduced?
But such reminiscences surely helped rectify the dearth of information ...

In October 2015 Angus Denwood remembered -

Over the years I've perused your account of British Glues with interest. My father spent all of his working life with that company and I for short periods during school holidays. I have been researching Dr Silberberger with very little return.
Your comment, 'a great company seems to have disappeared from the record!' is very apt. To think they were taken over by Croda, a smaller company!
A huge number of people must have been employed directly and indirectly as a result of their operations. These would have ranged from bone collectors to bone china manufacturers and miners using ore beneficiation methods. Nowadays butchery and abattoir waste goes into useful but much lower value products such as meat & bone meal.
In the mid 1960s, my father told me that Chinese glue was undercutting BGC low end products, but the business would see him into his retirement. It did! At that time the Chinese were not selling high grade bone glues.
Walter Denwood started work in London straight from school, maybe in 1928-29 I'd guess at Stratford. In our discussions he always referred to the plant sites by their location not by their pre-BGC names. He was always on the technical side of the business and described his first job as laboratory 'chief bottle washer'.
After much study at the Borough Polytechnic he obtained various qualifications in science particularly chemistry and progressed within the company. I have no details of his roles simply that he worked at Stratford, Newport Monmouthshire, Appley Bridge (he called it Wigan) then just before the war he reached Newcastle. During the war he was exempted military service due to his reserved occupation but made a special contribution to the war effort through involvement in the development of glues for jettisonable paper fuel tanks for aircraft. I'd guess the glue was a binder and size.
After the war he described himself as 'Research Chemist (Glue Manufacturer)' - it says that on my birth certificate.
From my earliest recollection, ~ 1952, he was Process Controller and Assistant Manager of the Walker (Newcastle) works; the manager being Jessie Baker. He remained in that role until the de-glueing plant closed around 1967. He then relocated to Appley Bridge and continued in an R&D role until he retired.
Originally the bone was degreased with solvent; I don't remember it in operation but the equipment was still in place at my last recollection ~1966. The process was replaced by the Continuous Cold Degreasing (CCD) plant that produced better quality tallow without the use of solvent. I believe this process was developed by Israel Chayen and Dr Ashworth. It also fits with one of the patents. On occasion, I met Dr Ashworth who visited the Newcastle plant from time to time to review the operation of the CCD process. That CCD plant continued to operate for some time after the glue works closed and sent de-fatted bone to Appley bridge for de-glueing.
I remember dad spent a lot of thought & effort into increasing the plant throughput while making the process more efficient and lower cost. Latterly he spent much time on process automation.
While still at Newcastle he made annual trips to London where he met Dr Silberberger and Mr Drew. Over the years I'd heard these names many times and on a trip to London ~ 1956 I met each of them. I even went to Dr Silberberger's home in Putney. It was evident that my father held the Dr in some esteem!
From time to time he visited customers and even other plants to help trouble-shoot problems. I remember one trip he made to Newark to help solve a problem they were experiencing of poor keeping quality. Evidently they had forgotten about the Dr's sulphur candles! I recall him saying there was a redundant piece of pipe in which liquid glue stagnated resulting in bacterial buildup causing infections of new glue that led to its rapid microbial breakdown. Once the pipe was removed keeping quality returned to normal.
As a child and teenager, I frequently visited the plant, although nowadays it would be improbable for a child to be present still less to wander in such a workplace. I was very familiar with its layout and operation. During my later school and some university holidays I worked in the laboratory sampling and testing glue as part of process improvement rather than routine product tests. No doubt working at BGC whetted my appetite for industrial chemistry so I studied Chemical Engineering. After working in 2 steelworks during Uni vacations I became disenchanted with high energy industrial chemistry and that led me to major in Biochemical Engineering. Thereafter I worked in biological and food industries where sophisticated chemical changes are made much less crudely through the use of micro-organisms and similar!

Attached is a colour photo of my father taken about 1965, between the laboratory and upper glue shed at the Walker Newcastle works. He is sitting on top of the wall at the side of the steps that led to the lower yard past the manager's office. I knew the site very well! The photo has not aged well so was enhanced 2 years ago for a digital album made for my family.

Vivian F Suter remembered Walter as a true GENTLE man but thought he joined long before him and was based at B Young of Bermondsey working on the DLS process with Webb & Downes. Vivian didn't recall the bad glue pipe but it was quite feasible!

DLS was Dyed Leather Scrap. Bermondsey bought undyed chrome tanned scrap to make gelatin but, as a condition, were obliged to clear the tanyard of all the waste dyed trimmings. They finished up with several thousand tons piled up under the railway arches and a solution had to be found. Webb and Downes spent years on trials until they found that magnesite calcined to a specific alkalinity and ground to a closely controlled mesh would allow the protein to be leached out whilst leaving the dye and the chrome tan behind. This was piloted at Bermondsey then scaled up and developed at Newark after we sent our degreasing to Market Harborough and released four 5 ton vessels.

Vivian certainly suspected that Dr Silberberger had a finger somewhere in this pie ...

Stratford was a hot bed of animal by products processors in Essex - tallow, soap, glues, and fertilizers form a group based on the processing of animal or vegetable oils ...  

Angus Denwood April 6th 2016 -

Vivian Suter is correct, Dad worked at Bermondsey, although in conversations he did mention Stratford. He was a very gentle person, showed great patience and was an excellent teacher.
I think 'the glue pipe' interconnected two glue lines used for transferring one stream of glue into another and that it was seldom used and become redundant. The logic of its removal was that if it was rarely/never used then it should be removed.
Dad spent quite a lot of time at Newark during his later working years when he was based at Appley Bridge.
The Borough Polytechnic where Dad studied is now London South Bank University.
Dad always spoke warmly and respectfully of Dr Silberberger.

I was intrigued about the man and his connection with BGC. When I started my research I didn't even know the spelling of his name!
Sometime after the war my father was approached about working in Toronto. The offer was declined; I recall my parents subsequently speaking of the offer during my junior school years.
In my research on the Company in general, and Dr Silberberger, in particular, I discovered that Dr Richard Silberberger, Israel Chayen and Herbert Orwell all booked to sail to Canada on RMS Queen Elizabeth on 29th January 1947 (Actor & dramatist Noel Coward also sailed on this voyage). The passenger list states their occupations as Doctor, Chemical Engineer and Works Manager respectively with addresses as Welwyn Garden City. Importantly, the country of intended future permanent residence is Canada, England and Canada respectively. However the Immigration Manifest for US shows that Richard and Herbert did not embark on this voyage! At present I do not know how they reached Canada but Richard entered US from Canada at Buffalo May 3rd 1947 on his return home. (Perhaps in another world my father might have accompanied them).
On 12th May 1947 Richard Silberberger returned to Britain on RMS Mauretania. In the passenger list he is described as 'Process Controller' with address as Imperial House, Kingsway, where the company had offices and some laboratories.
Several years later I met Dr Silberberger and Mr Drew there.
Israel Chayen travelled to US/Canada at least 5 other times between 1946 and 1952.
Herbert Orwell originated in Newcastle Under Lyme and died in Toronto Canada in 1985.
Was this all connected with W Harris and Co in Toronto?

1948 - Cockman Bros Ltd of Stratford, London?

Any corrections and additional information gratefully received contact john p birchall

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