Charles Tennant & Co. Limited

Charles Tennant & Co. Limited, Chemical Manufacturers, St. Rollox.—

    The St. Rollox Chemical Works, controlled by the old and distinguished house named above, constitute the largest productive establishment of the kind in existence, and date their history back over a period of about a hundred years to the time at which their foundations were firmly but modestly laid by Mr. Charles Tennant, the illustrious grandfather of the present principal of the concern. Two sons of the founder, named respectively John and Charles Tennant, jointly controlled the works for many years after the decease of their father, and now the chief proprietary interest is vested in Sir Charles Tennant, Bart., of The Glen, Peeblesshire, who reconstituted the firm upon a limited liability basis in 1885. The progress of this immense business has been nothing less than phenomenal, for like many a vast modem industrial concern, it has grown up from comparatively small beginnings, and it is only possible to attribute its remarkable and unceasing development to the splendid spirit of active enterprise and untiring energy that has characterized the personnel of its three generations of family proprietary.

    About the same time that the original Mr. Charles Tennant commenced operations as a chemical manufacturer, Papillon, the celebrated French chemist, had just discovered the means of bleaching cotton fabrics by chlorine gas. This powerful agent was introduced into water, and thus conveyed to bleaching works in glass carboys, as sulphuric acid is carried at the present day. Charles Tennant, convinced that some better method could be perfected than this, gave the matter very close attention and study, with the result that he speedily invented the mode of introducing the chlorine gas into hydrate of lime, which made it more easily portable and much safer in transit. As in many other inventions of public utility, the inventor’s patent rights were promptly disputed, and Mr. Tennant was obliged to defend them in the law courts. After lengthy and troublesome litigation the justice of his case was fully established, and his position was vindicated and thenceforward maintained as inventor of the dry system of preparing and transporting chlorine gas as a bleaching agent.

    After this settlement the progress of the St. Rollox Works was rapid and continuous, and the development which then set in has not abated down to the present day, when the establishment covers in all no less than seventy acres of ground. It is a remarkable fact that about the period of Mr. Charles Tennant’s improvements in methods of chemical manufacture, James Watt, in the Old College buildings, not very far from St. Rollox, was slowly, but with all the certainty of firm conviction, working out the mighty problem of the perfected steam-engine ; and who shall estimate to-day what the world owes to these two Glaswegian pioneers of industrial science ? For many years the chief chemical productions of the St. Rollox Works were sulphuric acid, bleaching powder, soda ash, soda crystals, and soap, in all of which the firm greatly excelled, and in all of which, together with many other added items, they still sustain a reputation of unsurpassed eminence.

    “Tennant’s White Soap” was for a long time a standard article of commerce, widely appreciated for use in all fine and delicate classes of work, which for special purposes, such as the treatment of silk yarns, is still in great demand. Messrs. Tennant also now devote their attention in soap-making to satisfy the modern popular taste and demand for saponaceous manufactures of a yellow or brown hue, in which they are characteristically successful.

    Their bleaching powder and sodas are known all over the three kingdoms and throughout the United States and the colonies ; and their sulphuric acid is no less eminently famous, though its demand is more of a local character, for there are scores of great British industries in which this most useful chemical is in constant and imperative requisition. The lime used by the St. Rollox firm for the making of their bleaching powder is all brought from England and the north of Ireland in the form of limestone, which is burned at the works in kilns of peculiar and special construction. These limes have been found to be particularly well suited for the purpose to which they are applied, being exceptionally white and free from impurities.

    Apart from the main group of the works there is a large cooperage, wherein are made the casks for packing the bleaching powder and soda ash, and in this department there is every requisite of apparatus and appliance for economising labour. As for the works themselves, it would be superfluous here to speak in detail. They stand among the industrial wonders of Glasgow ; and the vast proportions to which they have attained, and their elaborate complexity of equipment and arrangement, render anything like an enumeration, or even a classification, of their structural, mechanical, or systematic features quite beyond the capacity of a brief commercial sketch. The works are in every way well situated, having the Forth and Clyde Canal on the one side, and the Caledonian Railway on the other, and North British branch lines running through the establishment. At the canal frontage there are always to be seen several ships discharging cargoes of salt from Cheshire, manganese from Spain and Russia, limestone from Ireland, coal from the neighbouring coalfields, and various other commodities brought from far and near, and all designed for the use of the immense industry that has been carried on with ever-increasing vigour on this same spot for about a century.

    In even the briefest mention of St. Rollox Works some allusion to the remarkable chimney for which they are nationally and internationally famous must find a place. This tremendous structure, erected about forty-five years ago, and familiarly designated in local parlance “Tennant’s Stack”, is four hundred and fifty-three feet in height, or forty-nine feet higher than the top of the cross of St. Paul’s, and four feet higher than the Great Pyramid. It is distinctly visible from all the environs of Glasgow, and is indeed a landmark, or rather a city mark, for people at a distance in the country try to catch a glimpse of the St. Rollox chimney, and thus arrive at an idea as to the exact location of Glasgow from their standpoint. It is perhaps hardly necessary to state that the object of raising the chimney to such a phenomenal altitude was to cast the smoke from the furnaces far up and out over the city, so that the chemical fumes might be thoroughly dissipated in the upper atmosphere. In achieving this object Messrs. Tennant accomplished the erection of what has long been recognised as a structural marvel.

    At the head of the administration of the great St. Rollox industry stands Sir Charles Tennant, the present senior representative of an old and distinguished family whose name is honoured and respected in Glasgow to-day as having reflected more than ordinary credit upon the great city with which it has now so long been associated in social and commercial life. Sir Charles Tennant represented Peeblesshire, the county of his residence, in parliament during two years, and in 1880 he received from her Majesty the honour of baronetcy. He is chairman of the notable Tharsis Sulphur and Copper Ore Company, and also of the Steel Company of Scotland, and he was recently appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland one of the commissioners to hear evidence regarding the proposed new and extended boundaries of the city of Glasgow. With a firm and capable hand he has guided the course and assisted the fortunes of a business undertaking that is without a parallel in the world’s annals of chemical manufacture ; and his administrative policy, always vigorous, progressive, and judicious withal, has manifested present results which are full of strong assurance for the lasting stability and augmented future prosperity of the work and industry of St. Rollox.

Back to Index of Firms (1888)