Celanese: 'There can be life after Celanese...but we will look back at the plant with fond memories'
FOR as long as most people can remember, the Celanese plant has loomed over the Spondon skyline.
Every day when the factory whistle sounded, thousands of workers would flood out of the Celanese gates, cross the railway line and walk up Station Road – where a fleet of 100 buses would be waiting to ferry them home.
It is difficult to imagine just how big an operation the plant was in its pomp, with 20,000 clocking on for shifts and five miles of rail track, plus 15 miles of road, within the 270-acre site.
Over the years, changes in ownership and manufacturing processes have meant a vast reduction in the workforce and new names for the factory but, even in the early 1990s, it was still the third largest employer in the city.
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Celanese's Derby story began with the arrival of two Swiss scientist brothers – Henri and Camille Dreyfus – in Britain in 1916.
The Government had asked them to supervise the construction of a new factory, which would produce cellulose acetate dope to coat planes and render them waterproof and flameproof.
Sir Alfred McAlpine built the Megaloughton Lane plant, which became known as the British Cellulose and Chemical Manufacturing company.
After the war ended, the Dreyfus brothers branched out into producing cellulose-based varnishes, paints and artificial silk yarn, known as celanese, and, in 1923, the firm changed its name to British Celanese.
The company's fortunes flourished and, by the late 1930s, more than 20,000 employees were producing acetate yarn, acetate film for protecting record sleeves and transparent packaging.
Its role in the Second World War was equally as important as the one it had played in the 1914-18 conflict.
British Celanese contributed a variety of materials, including fabrics for clothing and uniforms, ropes, webbing, tapes, insulating yarns, oilskins and parachute and balloon fabrics.
Also needed was acetone for cordite manufacture and a product which, when added to cotton mesh, was ideal for use as substitute glass in roof lights and windows blown out by bombing.
Rival company Courtaulds took over the business in 1958 but retained the British Celanese name until 1982.
In 1991, British Celanese's original business, producing filament yarns, became part of a joint venture with SNIA Fibres in Italy.
The remaining Courtaulds acetate businesses were merged with Courtaulds Fine Chemicals to form Courtaulds Chemicals, based on six sites across the UK, with Spondon as its headquarters.
Courtaulds remained the parent company until 1998, when Dutch chemical giant Akzo Nobel acquired a controlling interest in a friendly takeover.
Both combined their fibre businesses to form Acordis, the largest independent fibre company in the world.
The old name resurfaced in 2007 when the Acordis acetate business was acquired by Celanese Corporation and became Celanese Acetate Limited.
Two years ago, when bosses first announced plans to close the site, Terry Kelly, of Duffield, shared his memories of working there with the Derby Telegraph's Bygones section.
Mr Kelly started his working life at the Spondon business, joining from school in the mid-1950s as a laboratory assistant.
He started work in the central research textiles department C (CRTG) in the yarn photographic research (YPR) section.
Mr Kelly, who spent two-and-a-half years at the firm, recalled: "I was required to work every Saturday until noon and my take-home pay was £2, 19s and 11d a week.
"CRTG was located in the bottom south-west corner of the Celanese site, about as far away from the main gate as you could get, yet still remain on the site.
"Because of this, staff were allowed to clock on 15 minutes later than staff in other parts of the site.
"I found all members of staff were very helpful to me and I cannot remember a misery among them.
"We played table tennis at lunch-time on the large tables used for rolling out bolts of cloth for examination. Some strokes were restricted due to the presence of adjacent laboratory equipment!
"I was thoroughly enjoying my time at Celanese, both the work I was carrying out and the people with whom I was working. Then came the bombshell in the form of the takeover by Courtaulds.
"At first, nothing happened. Then, one day, I returned from tech and discovered more than half the CRTG staff had been made redundant."
In another Bygones article, Kevin Potter recalled how three members of his family were employed at Celanese.
He said: "My father, Edwin (Ted) Potter, first started as a boiler fitter's mate under Celanese and was still employed during the takeover by Courtaulds.
"My mother, Joyce, and brother, Melvyn, both started a few years before the takeover and both worked in the yarn shop.
"The community spirit at Celanese was fabulous. I can well remember taking judo classes at the sports club and clearly remember the sports days there.
"It is a sad reflection of today's society no such activities appear to take place at companies now.
"The whole works turned up – it was absolutely great. What a sight to see thousands of families playing and enjoying their time together, to see dads sack racing and egg racing!
"My father worked shifts and I remember the 'Celanese' smell on him to this day. He used to bike both ways from Chaddesden, in all weathers.
"Sometimes I used to stand just over the rail crossing and see him coming through the swarm of employees leaving work – what a sight.
"I cannot remember my father, mother or brother moaning or complaining about Celanese.
"It was only in the later years, until my mother and brother were made redundant in 1981 after the takeover, that complaints started.
"My father worked until early retirement in 1983 when our contact with Celanese finally broke, for the first time since the end of the war. I was born in 1952 and grew up with Celanese. Both my parents are now dead but my family still looks back on Celanese with fond memories."
Pat Love, of Willington, spent 30 years working at Celanese after joining the company from school at the age of 15.
Speaking in 2010, she said: "I started work as a machinist making tights for women. The department was called 'bon ton' (building 52G), next to the main canteen.
"When I had been there for three years, we were taken over by Gossard, the bra manufacturer, and, two years later, it closed down.
"I then moved to a department called Marglass where I was an examiner inspecting fibreglass curtain material.
"After six years, that closed and I was transferred to jet cleaning in a department which supplied spinnerets to filament yarns. Another six years later, I was asked if I would move to the lab.
"This was a very different role, testing yarns for two departments, and I did this for four years and then moved back to jet cleaning.
"I spent the rest of my Celanese life there, running the department. We supplied two sites, the one at Spondon and at Little Heath, Coventry.
"At the beginning of 2003, I took voluntary redundancy and started my own business, selling cosmetics.
"My 30 years spent at the Spondon firm was a good living – we survived three-day weeks and short-time working. When you left school all those years ago, you had a job for life. That doesn't happen today – job security is not with us anymore.
"I feel sorry to hear about people losing their jobs but there is life after Celanese.
"It was always on the cards that the factory would close – the plant at Coventry was closed five years ago."