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Report - British Cellophane, Bridgwater - 17/01/2010

Discussion in 'Industrial Sites' started by clebby, Jan 18, 2010.

  1. clebby

    clebby ( . Y . )
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    British Cellophane Ltd, Bridgwater

    Visited with ImmortalOwl. Unfortunately Paskey couldn't join us 'cos he had to stay at home and do his German homework! :p

    Oh my god this place is epic. I knew it was going to be good having looked at other peoples pictures but I had no idea it was going to be this good. Why has this site largely escaped mainstream exploring, while vastly inferior sites get a lot of attention? Ok, the security here is a bit of a nightmare, but that doesn't mean it has to be a stealth mission, and it's actually a very enjoyable explore. But more on the explore later - first, here's the reason it exists.

    The History

    Cellophane was discovered by Swiss chemist Jacques Brandenberger, when he saw wine spilled on a tablecloth at a restaurant and decided to create a cloth that repelled, rather than absorbed, liquid. He sprayed viscose onto the cloth, which made it too stiff, however a thin layer of film could easily be peeled off. He quickly realised the potential of this discovery and abandoned his original idea, spending 10 years perfecting the film. He named it cellophane; cello from cellophane and phane from diaphane, the latin word for transparent.

    In 1912 cellophane was patented, and the following year La Cellophane SA was formed. In 1930, British firm Courtaulds diversified into viscose film and created "Viscacelle", however La Cellophane's sales were eating at their profits and so in 1935 the two companies started work on a production plant at Bridgwater in Somerset as a joint venture - British Cellophane Ltd.

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    The above photo is from a promotional guide and dates from 1939, two years after the plant was opened. It was built on the grounds of Sydenham manor, a 17th century manor which still stands in the middle of the complex, looking very out of place. The buildings spread of 59 acres and were at the time exceptionally modern, and had direct railway access. Cellophane was produced up until late 1940, when production switched to bailey bridges for the war effort, which were first used in Italy in 1943. In 1944 production was increased in preparation for the D-Day landings.

    When the war ended production was switched back to cellophane and products began to be exported worldwide. In 1964 it employed 750 people but by 1974 over 3,000 people were emplyed there, producing 40,000 tonnes of cellophane a year, which won the company the Queen's award to industry. In 1994 the company was bought by UCB Films, and then in turn by Innovia Films.

    However in 2004 cellophane sales were dwindling, and Innovia decided to close one of it's plants - either Bridgwater or Tecumseh, Kansas. Innovia were offered $120,000 dollars in tax cuts to keep the Bridgwater plant open, while Kansas offered $2 million. Of course the profitable Bridgwater plant closed, while the loss making Kansas plant remained open.

    Although the remaining 250 jobs were lost, this was not all a bad thing - for years, the town of Bridgwater caused a terrible, noxious smell that hung over the plant, and it was nicknamed "Smellophane" by the workers who had to put up with the stench of the natives... oops, I appear to have "accidentally" put that the wrong way round! :p

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    The Explore

    I'm seriously struggling to think of a word to sum this place up that isn't epic, mega or staggering. Will "wintastic" do?

    I arrived with low hopes; British Cellophane is a notoriously hard nut to crack, and after scouting the perimeter things didn't look good. The ammount of razor wire surrounding this place is near enough taking the piss - two 10ft fences, one behind the other, with razor wire on the top and around the bottom. Couple that with the fact security really do their job properly here, and you have what looks like a fortress. But where there's a will there's a way, and eventually we were in.

    First up, the ground floor store rooms - acres and acres of them, all standing empty now, with racks stretching off into the distance.

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    After briefly exploiting the countless photography opportunities down here, we headed into some of the production areas. They were huge, and although some areas were relatively stripped...

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    ...some were still chock full of machinery. Win!

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    Lot's of different control rigs to play with...

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    And lot's of colourful machines, like this 10ft high roller...

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    Coming off the factory floors were lot's of offices, store rooms, first aid rooms etc...

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    The Cellophane Production Plant

    Next stop, the allusive, towering cellophane production plant that looms over the site. I'll start at the top, seeing as that's where the production process started, but firstly here's some views from the roof...

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    Pretty much eveything in these views is part of the site. That's how astronomically vast it is. Whatever you imagine, this place is bigger than that.

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    The building is 7 floors high, which means lots of climbing to get around...

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    The building is mainly taken up by column-like metal tanks that reach the entire height. This means a few of the floors are pretty routine, but at the top you can see where cellulose was loaded in...

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    ...and there are some inspection portholes for workers.

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    So it was pretty much several long tanks all the way to the ground floor... which is absolutely stunning.

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    Underneath each tank are the machines that would be used to load, press and coil the finished cellophane onto huge steel rolls...

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    There were several of these rigs of dials, and gauges dotted around the ground floor...

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    ...but they didn't actually have any buttons on them. Instead, they had pressure, temperature and speed dials and gauges that could be monitored by workers. Each of the machines was operated via their own individual control panels.

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    The noise and the atmosphere down here must have been immense when it was up and running.

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    More photos below.

     

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  2. clebby

    clebby ( . Y . )
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    Once the cellophane had been rolled, these robotic claws could run around on rails overhead, pick up the rolls...

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    ...and drop them off in some more of the store rooms.

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    The CS2 Recovery Plant

    Cellophane is a thin, transparent sheet that is made of regenerated cellulose. Cellulose fibers from wood or cotton are dissolved in carbon disulfide, making a solution known as viscose. When extruded through a slit (which gives cellophane it's paper-thin appearence) into tanks of sulfuric acid and sodium sulfate, the viscose is turned into pure cellulose. When passed through several more tanks, or "baths" of chemicals which remove sulfur, bleach the film, and add glycerin to stop the film becoming brittle, we get what is known as cellophane.

    The CS2 Recovery Plant is where the cellulose was passed through several different baths of different chemicals, most notably CS2 (Carbon Disulfide). At one end of the plant, cellulose could be loaded in...

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    ...and then rolled along the plant, which is an original building with a wooden roof and floor.

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    The cellophane would be woven between two sets of rollers - one at the top of the tank, and one at the bottom. This ensured the film was permanantly submerged in the various chemicals, and kept tense.

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    This part of the plant closed in 2005, and despite 5 years worth of damp, grot and grime, it still smells strongly of chemicals. The wooden roof has rotted through in places and the intricate network of pipes, catwalks, valves and tanks reminds me a lot of Cwm Coke.

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    After being dragged through the various baths, the cellophane would have been rolled along this flat arrangement, where it would be dried and nasty chemicals removed...

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    ...before finally being coiled onto some more rolls.

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    Obviously with chemicals comes labs, and I love a good lab. Inside were various chemicals, lots of paperwork and a manual on how to run the entire CS2 plant. It smelt funny, so god knows how many noxious fumes we breathed. :eek:

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    The Power Station

    One for Dempsey this. After the massive strop he threw when no one checked out the Cwm Coke power station I thought it would be rude not to check out the one here. :p

    The building with the large raised skylights, near the chimney is the power station (see below). The rest of this remains unexplored.

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    Inside, there are two sections. In the first are a couple of generators, obviously of different ages - a more modern one...

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    ...and this older English Electric one. I was annoyed; someone had removed the English Electric plaque. :(

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    (Lousy picture I know.)

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    But upstairs I could see there was another hall that had been totally blocked off. I climbed up onto some pipework and joists above the newer turbines, and peered through a fenced-off wall into this...

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    Sorry about the photo, it's through a 2cm gap in the fence. But you get the idea - check out those retro gennies! And look at that tiled floor! I want it as my house! There also looked to be a control room around the corner, so I have endeavoured to return to properly get into that bit.

    And to finish, here's a nice picture of St. Johns Cemetery from the roof of the Cellophane Production Plant.

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    So, that just about sums up what we saw. Which was no where near all of the site. A return visit is on the cards! Team:Cheltenham, fancy it? ;)

     
  3. Joe.

    Joe. 28DL Regular User
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    At risk of hijacking clebby's thread Heres a few of the power station photos Dave mentioned from 2007.



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