Albright & Wilson

by | 1 Nov 2016 | CCC Trading, Chemical Industry, Products

This article is all about a great British company, Albright & Wilson, and looks at its history, the highlights of its evolution and what went wrong that caused it to fail and sadly disappear.

Albright & Wilson Logo


  • 1854 Albright and Wilson was founded by Arthur Albright and John Wilson as a manufacturer of Potassium Chlorate and White Phosphorus for the match industry.
  • 1892 Albright and Wilson became a private limited company, Albright and Wilson Ltd; it remained a double family-owned firm for nearly 100 years, until 5 March 1948 when it became a public company.
  • 1901 – A&W started ERCO a Canadian manufacturer of elemental Phosphorus
  • 1939 – A&W Australia established manufacturing Phosphates & Surfactants
  • Albright and Wilson expanded considerably into silicones, detergents, food additives, metal finishing chemicals, strontium based chemicals and Chromium based chemicals. It was the second largest chemical manufacturer in the United Kingdom to ICI. By 1951 the company employed 4,000 people in the UK, Ireland, North America and Australia.
  • 1952 – A&W in a 50/50 partnership with Dow Corning established Midland Silicones in Barry, South Wales.
  • 1955 Acquired Marchon Products with its main site in Whitehaven manufacturing surfactants and Sodium Tripolyphosphate.
  • 1960s The company expanded its ERCO plants at Long Harbour in Canada, manufacturing Phosphorus by a new process; though this did not turn out as expected. The company being rescued by its partial acquisition by Tenneco Inc.
  • 1965 Take-over of Associated Chemical Companies
  • 1966 Bush Boake & Allen (BBA) acquired – a Flavours and Fragrance co.
  • 1971 – A&W was in financial trouble and sold its 50% holding in its Silicon business to Dow Corning
  • 1971 Tenneco bought a part of Albright and Wilson’s share holdings
  • 1978 Tenneco obtained full ownership. In the short term, the company retained its own identity; however many of its subsidiaries were sold off.
  • 1974 Developed a method for purifying phosphoric acid from impure phosphate rock.
  • Mid ‘80’s – Phosphorus derivatives made from Canadian elemental Phosphorus manufactured at Oldbury
  • Mid ‘80’s – Alkali Phosphate production at Widnes UK greatly expanded
  • 1982 Tenneco sold BBA to Union Camp
  • 1989 – A&W closed ERCO Canada
  • 1995 Tenneco divested many of its assets; and parts of the original core of A&W were transferred into a new public company,Albright and Wilson Plc which was floated on the stock market in February of that year.
  • 1999 However, just four years later, following disappointing results, the French chemical company Rhodia acquired Albright and Wilson and the century-and-a-half old name disappeared (apart from Australia).
  • 2000 – Whitehaven Phosphate production ceased
  • 2001 – Rhodia sells the A&W European surfactant business to Huntsman (an American Co) and that business is going strong – we are a customer.
  • 2003, A&W Australia Limited became a wholly owned subsidiary of Universal Interchemical Corporation Pte Ltd.
  • 2004 – Rhodia sells its Phosphate business to Thermphos (a Dutch company) that eventually went bankrupt in 2012
  • 2005  Huntsman closed the surfactant plants in Whitehaven.

All that remains today are its Surfactant products and brand names but manufactured and marketed by Huntsman; and A&W Australia – retaining the A&W name.

A&W – the Glory days – Highlights

  • The mid 1980s were when the company was at its peak. It was the second largest chemical company in the UK to ICI. It was a major manufacturer of Phosphates and Surfactants & a minor manufacturer of fertilisers & disinfectant raw materials
  • Factories in UK: Whitehaven, Widnes, Oldbury, Barton-on-Humber & Avonmouth
  • Overseas production: Canada, France, Italy, Singapore, Australia, Spain, South Africa, Mexico, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, China and Thailand.
  • Transport by A&W ships from Morocco of bulk phosphate rock from Morocco’s phosphate mines to Whitehaven UK where it was processed into Phosphoric Acid.
  • Phosphoric Acid – Major production at Whitehaven – Tech & FG
  • Sodium Tripolyphosphate (STPP) – 250,000mt/annum at its Whitehaven site – the biggest in the world.
  • Transport of Phosphoric Acid by road tanker from Whitehaven to Widnes.
  • Major Phosphate production at Widnes: SHMP, MCP, DCP, TCP, MSP, DSP, TSP, TSPP, SAPP – all FG and most Tech
  • Canada : Production of pure elemental Phosphorus and transport by sea/road to Oldbury UK where it was processed into RAP,P2O5, PCl3, POCl3 & P2S5.
  • Detergent raw materials: All the basics eg Labsa, Sles, CME, CDE, SLS, C/S Alc.,NP9 etc also a massive range of specialities – over 200 products manufactured at Whitehaven UK and its plants in Spain, France, Italy,  South Africa, Singapore & Australia all designed to meet the needs of Unilever, Proctor & Gamble, PZ Cussons, Colgate Palmolive etc,
  • A&W was a technically superb company meeting the needs of its customers

World Wide Sales – CXD

A&W operated at various production sites and in several Divisions –  the two biggest being: Phosphate Division and Detergent division.

However all deep sea sales were handled by Company Export Department CXD. CXD was responsible for representing the whole company – all its products in all the deep sea markets. CXD personnel were motivated & travelled extensively. I was lucky enough to have been in CXD from 1982 to 1987 – the peak A&W years. We were a team of 5 sales people taken from the various divisions. During my time in CXD I visited 26 counties. Many of which I went to multiple times eg South Africa – 15 times, Nigeria 9 times, Kenya 8 times. We believed in getting to know our customers with face to face meetings to secure business.

A&W / UK heavy industry – what went wrong?

From the mid 1980’s both China and India started to get their act together in terms of industrial production and sales. Both had low cost labour and China in particular low cost energy. As newly developing industrial countries state of the art new factories were being built on green field sites usually in good logistical locations. Both countries were determined exporters wanting to earn hard currency.

A&W in contrast had its production units in the UK in difficult logistical locations and with no access to cheap energy / labour. Importing Phosphate rock from Morocco and elemental Phosphorus from Canada was expensive.

A&W should have recognised this problem.  The low added value products of STPP and the rest of the basic phosphate range should have been manufactured in Morocco at the site of the mine and the purer Elemental Phosphorus products in Canada with access to low energy. Totally integrated production from mine to final product all on one modern site. Only high added value products should have been made in the UK.

Also a new joint venture (JV) with a major Chinese corporation should have been agreed to also produce the full A&W phosphate range for sale into China and export to the rest of the world. New basic products added to production in China eg Zeolites and in the UK new added value products.

I would like to pay special tribute to:-

  • Derek Severs (my 1st A&W boss) – Sales Director of Fertiliser Division – a great UK salesman
  • Mike McKinley – CXD boss – No messing about – he knew the biz.
  • Jim Mossop (introduced me to exporting) – Africa and Middle East expert – a true professional.
  • Mike Smith – Specialist in French West Africa, North Africa and Russia – a great character and businessman.

I am very proud of my time at A&W – a truly great company in the 1980’s, with probably the best and most professional export department of any UK company at that time.


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