Winnington Hall, in Nantwich, Cheshire appeared twice in my writing. You can read about the building in this link.
The first appearance in my writing was my biography of my great-great uncle William Smith Williams who first discovered Charlotte Bronte but then published John Ruskin’s writing on political economy. The Second time was about Imperial Chemical Industries where housed their research laboratories in which they invented polythene. The invention, or should I say discovery, was vital to the war effort. Possibly of greater import was the heritage for ICI which both embraced pure research but also a truly collegiate approach. ICI chemists refused to take patents in their own names; it was a collaborative effort.
Looking first at John Ruskin, his book, which was called The Ethics of the Dust, came from lectures which Ruskin had delivered to Winnington Hall girls’ school near Nantwich in Cheshire run by Miss Bell. Its purpose was to teach crystallography, but also to explore the method of teaching girls. Ruskin’s writing on political economy explored the tension between his vocation in art and his concern for his fellow man and woman. The first of the lectures, the King Treasures, was delivered in order to raise money for a public library in Manchester. The second Sesame was derived from the well-known phrase, ‘open sesame’; Ruskin wanted to open the treasure of books.
The ethos of ICI strikes me as far sighted really on three counts. In terms of research, the company sought out the most talented graduates to join them, but also senior academics to work with them; the managers club at the major sites of Winnington Hall, where they manufactured soda ash, embraced an informal atmosphere where much creative conversation took place in the bars after dinner. This ran hand in hand with enlightened employment policies which included the formation of works councils far ahead of their time. The third pillar was a commitment to excellence wherever it was to be found. So, for chemical research, where the best laboratory glass makers and fitters were Dutch, it was from Holland that they were recruited. The result was a working environment highly conducive to invention and innovation.
I wrote about john Ruskin and William Smith Williams in my book Charlotte Bronte’s Devotee.
I wrote about the early years of ICI in my book How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World