RETRO: Boom time for Acheson

British Acheson Col. Ltd., Claywheels Lane, Sheffield 1965
British Acheson Col. Ltd., Claywheels Lane, Sheffield 1965
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There was a level site at Wadsley Bridge in 1958 where a quarter of a million tons of rock was ripped out. There was a hole there too which took almost four million bricks to fill.

The level site was once a hillside and the hole an old furnace bay on the factory site of British Acheson Electrodes Ltd.

British Acheson Col. Ltd., Claywheels Lane, Sheffield, from the air - balloon flight over Sheffield'18th January 1980

British Acheson Col. Ltd., Claywheels Lane, Sheffield, from the air - balloon flight over Sheffield'18th January 1980

Back then, the firm had eyes set firmly on the future as it produced graphite electrodes. Now, that may not seem like the most remarkable product, even though they were used in huge quantities by the steel and chemical industries, but it was a priority for another emerging field.

Atomic energy demanded extremely high purity blocks of artificial graphite - great news for this Sheffield firm.

To make sure supply could keep up with demand, British Acheson underwent a £4 million expansion.

As the foreman of shipping and transport, Peter Bisatt said at the time: “This is a new industry and has definite possibilities.

British Acheson Co. Ltd., Claywheels Lane, Sheffield'Machine Shop and Inspection Rails for finishing large diameter electrodes for arc furnace operation -1965

British Acheson Co. Ltd., Claywheels Lane, Sheffield'Machine Shop and Inspection Rails for finishing large diameter electrodes for arc furnace operation -1965

“With atomic energy coming to the fore there definitely should be a future here. There is a lot of work at the moment for everyone and expansion means bigger and better jobs.”

The company had started in 1916 as the old Electrode Company of Sheffield. In 1942 a plant was built at Wadsley Bridge for the Ministry of Supply and operated through the war until it was bought by the company in 1950. By 1958 production had increased to the point where it was creaking 16 tons of graphite a year. The extension doubled that output.

There was big news in 1969 when a Virginian was given the role of managing director. Mr O.P. Johnson brought with him a very American frankness.

“I came here because of the job. I expect to stay here two or three years and then go home - to a better job than the one I left, I hope.

“My wife thought Sheffield was a dreary and dismal place. But remember she saw it in the snow and I think she might change her opinion when she sees it again.”

In 1976, the factory at Clay Wheels Lane was employing 850 people, with another 150 working at Wincobank.

It was still one of just two companies in the country making graphite electrodes for the steel industry.