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Billingham Wharf and Official Opening of the Coal Hydrogenation Petrol Plant, ICI Billingham, by James Ramsay MacDonald M.P.

A political giant takes a trip by electric buggy into the heart of an extraordinary chemical town at Billingham.

Cinemagazine 1935 9 mins Silent

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Logo for North East Film Archive


From the smoky, industrious Billingham Wharf to a vast new oil production plant, this film documents a brave new world at ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) on Teesside in the 1930s. Fresh from his resignation as Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald and some ICI top brass ride an electric buggy to the heart of the giant Oil Works for the official opening ceremony. A slow, stately phantom ride, popular in early cinema, captures the awesome scale of this new chemical town.

ICI at Billingham was already the largest factory in the British Empire by 1930, totalling over 1,000 acres. The new Oil Works expansion was predicated on a future war, built to provide a home-grown source of oil, immune from U-boat attack. In February 1931 Aldous Huxley toured this extraordinary industrial site, a mass of steaming and sizzling steel cylinders, towers and pipes. Huxleys visit to ICI (whose Chairman was Sir Alfred Mond at the time) is thought to have inspired his classic dystopian novel Brave New World, released the next year, in which the character Mustapha Mond is the Resident World Controller for Western Europe.