Celebrating 145 Years of Successful Trade

Samuel Banner & Co Ltd celebrating 145 years of trading with it’s past and present employees, suppliers, trade partners, customers, bankers, professional advisers and Mrs. Hilary Banner, the Banner family representative.

Speech given by Dr. Tony W. Bastock OBE, Group Managing Director of Contract Chemicals Ltd. representative of the Chemical Industry, at 145th anniversary of Banner Chemicals.

Good Afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have known Mottie Kessler for a considerable time and when he asked me to speak at a 145th anniversary I was flattered, but I wondered if I had just known him too long. I took comfort in the knowledge that it was also a 1 year anniversary of the acquisition of such a well-known and well-respected company as Banner Chemicals.

I was also very pleased that he had decided to hold the event at Catalyst as I think that is entirely appropriate. Catalyst is the Museum of the Chemical Industry and as such, its exhibits span much of the time that Banner has been in business. But more so because Catalyst is rejuvenating to become a unique science discovery centre for young and old alike and is, therefore looking forward to a very exciting future, and I know from Mottie’s plans so is Banner.

Can you imagine the progress we have made and the changes we have seen since 1860 when Banner was formed?

The Crimean War had just finished, which had led to the beginnings of modern health care, with Florence Nightingale walking the disgusting wards of the hospital at Scutari and demanding levels of cleanliness that were unheard of at that time. This and other demands for better hygiene led to the development of better soaps and cleaning products and where we are now was the headquarters of Gossard’s Soap works which undoubtedly use as raw materials, the oils refined by Samuel Banner.

One year before the formation of Samuel Banner in 1859, Charles Darwin published “The Origin of the Species” and, of course phases such as “Survival of the Fittest” came into the language. I am not sure that Darwin meant this to apply to businesses as well, but if he did Banner has been proof of his theory.

Mottie, of course, spent a big part of his working life to date with Dead Sea Bromine Group who are the world’s largest producer of bromine and this is where I met him. Contract acquired a company in 1995 using around 500 tonnes per year of bromine, but none from Mottie’s company. We got on immediately and I knew that I was doing business with a straightforward and fair man who I have come to like and respect greatly. Until Mottie moved away Dead Sea were our exclusive supplier and the business had grown, with his support, 5x, to 2500 tonnes. I mention this because we use bromine for the Hell, Volards, Zelinski reaction and, Zelinski, the foremost of these famous chemists was born, yes you’ve guessed it, in 1860!

And I can’t forget Maggie Kessler, the support and some might say the brains of the family. Those who know her will also know of the groundbreaking work she has done as part of the team at the Weizmann Institute into investigating large molecular structures using x-ray crystallography. Of course, the father of this science was William Henry Bragg, famous for Bragg’s Law. And he was born, well nearly, 1862.

Forgive me for a plug for this wonderful facility here. The Chemical Industry has sometimes blighted Widnes, but it has brought enormous benefits as well. Catalyst in its new colours will bring some of those benefits in bringing the wonders and discovery of science to the kids and their families in this area and in the wider Northwest. We have being granted by Millenium Rediscover nearly £700,000 to build a Discovery Laboratory, Interactive Theatre and a Careers Showcase, called a World of Opportunity, since we are told that kids don’t respond to the word “careers”. When you consider that the budget for the whole country for elementary education in 1860 was only £800,000 you will see how far we have come.

By the way in 1860 there were 54,000 civil servants most of whom were employed in collecting taxes, some things never change!!

Of course Banner has led a massive development in the formation of Chemical Companies, Bayer 1863, BASF 1865 many of which will have been the customers or suppliers of Banner, but these are among the few who remain with the same name as the industry changes, in some cases shrinks or moves east. However, the new challenges will certainly provide new opportunities, which Banner will take.

Look behind you at the Bridge, built in a past great age, soon to be supported, we hope by the second Mersey crossing, out there, which will, no doubt be a miracle of modern engineering. I will certainly have Banner products used in its construction and these are the new opportunities of which I speak.

Good companies are like bridges, they span the technology of the past to the future. They are about history and culture yes, but they are more about people and future. I wonder what we will see in the next 20 years let alone 145, with the modern pace of technology. Some of the younger people here, may still be working in the industry, may even be working for Banner Chemicals. Whatever this future holds it will need efficient, but stable companies with the culture, history, and the people, with the same entrepreneurial spirit, shown by the founders of Samuel Banner.

Can I ask you to raise your glasses in a toast. I give you “the Company and the staff of Samuel Banner, a future as successful as the past.”

Posted 21 September 2005