Difference between revisions of "Whiffen Drug Factory"

From London's Ghost Acres

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Latest revision as of 14:55, 12 May 2016

Around 1850, Edward Herring and Jacob Hulle started a chemical factory for the production of alkaloids and similar fine chemicals, possibly known as the British and Foreign Alkaloid Company. In 1854 they were joined by Thomas Whiffen. In 1858 Hulle bought out Herring and they moved to company to the Battersea premises. Hulle retired in 1868 and Whiffen’s sons joined the business. Whiffen won many gold medals for his products at various trade exhibitions. In 1887 Whiffen took over the business of George Atkinson & Co. on Aldersgate Street.The Battersea factory was shut down in 1933.

Product Information: “Thomas Whiffen did much to develop the use of quinine and its related products and was responsible for coining the name 'Quinetum' for the 'Pure Alkaloids of East India Red Bark' (chinchona succirubra), and at this time his factory was known as 'Quinine Works Battersea'. The introduction of Hulles Strychnine was notable as, previously, pure strychnine had not been avail­able on the British market. A contemporary account states that all earlier preparations had always been contaminated with brucine and 'frequently contained some grosser adulteration'. Brucine occurs with strychnine in the nux vomica bean from which it is extracted. The third son of Thomas Whiffen, Alfred, went out to Australia to represent the company, and set up with a Mr Harrison a small business, Harrison & Whiffen, to distribute Hulle's Strychnine for the parent company. As already mentioned, the strychnine was used to control rabbits and it was found that the skins of these rabbits were particularly suitable for making top hats and very good business was done with the USA in these skins. In 1876 Dr T. J. Maclagen discovered the value of salicin in the treatment of acute rheumatism, and in the same year Thomas Whiffen started making it from the bark of a certain species of willow tree at that time plentiful in Belgium. When the young shoots had been gathered, a party of men from the works would go over to Belgium, strip the bark from the young shoots, and make a concentrated extract from it and ship this to England for purification, at the same time disposing of the stripped shoots to the local basket makers. The acquisition of George Atkinson & Co. not only brought with it a range of new chemicals but a long established reputation as drug grinders, oil pressers, and saltpetre refiners. The new chemicals added to the Whiffen list included antimony compounds, clove oil, almond oil, mercury sublimate and vermilion, iodine, iodides, iodoform, bromides and camphor. Atkinsons were renowned for their Camphor Bells which they made by subliming the camphor into specially made bell shaped glass containers blown by their own glass blowers on the site. The glass was then broken from the bells and re‑blown for the next charge. Sandalwood oil was another product of Atkinsons, and up to 1914 the distillation and sale of this was an important part of their trade. Just before 1914 however, the Mysore Government of India from whom the majority of the sandalwood was obtained, decided to start distillation of the oil themselves, and sent an English chemist to Whiffens to investigate the production and market for this oil. Whiffens cooperated fully and as a result Atkinsons were appointed sole agents for distribution in Europe and the USA. It was not for many years after the war however that supplies of oil from India were sufficient to meet world demands and for the Atkinson plant to be closed. At about the turn of the century several more important alkaloids were developed by the company, including theobromine (from cocoa), caffeine (from tea), emetine and cephaeline (from ipecacuanha root), and nicotine (from tobacco waste).”

Closing of Battersea Factory: “At home after 1918 the company settled down to further growth and it soon became apparent that new premises would be needed, particularly as the Southall site was required for an extension to the neigh­bouring gas works. A new site was chosen at Fulham on the other bank of the Thames near the Hurling­ham Club, and opposite the Wandsworth gas works. A new and modern factory, office and warehouse were erected in Carnwath Road, Fulham, in 1923. The office and warehouse staff were moved from the City at the same time, and the new factory was of course named 'Aldersgate Chemical Works' The Battersea factory which by now occupied most of what had been a large garden, had overflowed on to an adjacent site as well as onto another piece of ground on the other side of the road, continued in being until 1933 when it also had to give way to allow the expansion of the local Electricity undertaking. The plant was therefore moved to the new Fulham premises and so, at last all the operations, works, offices and warehouses came together on the one site. During the time that both Battersea and Fulham were manufacturing, transport and communications between the two was by steamboat and old fashioned horse‑drawn tumbrils were used to convey the by­product iron muds from the bromides and iodides manufacture to the nearby gas works. A peep at the Battersea works just before its move would have shown most of the large garden absorbed by the works and the house itself used for storage, except for a boardroom and dining room for the directors downstairs and some accommodation for the sergeant caretaker upstairs. The old house and the oldest part of the factory, with what remained of the garden in between where the pigeons came fluttering down from the old trees, had a very Dickensian atmosphere; an ancient mulberry tree which had stood there for 300 years was unfortunately blown down in 1928 during a gale.”

All above information from “Commemorative brochure produced by Fisons Ltd in 1972 to mark the cessation of manufacturing at Whiffen and Sons (who had been absorbed into Fisons Fine Chemicals in 1966) former Loughborough site. Covers period 1654 - 1972. No illustrations.”

“In the late 1850s the site comprised an old roadside house (Lombard House), with the large former sugar-house in its garden by the river, where Whiffen and Hulle made strychnine and quinine. Hulle retired in 1868 and thereafter the business expanded under Whiffen until by 1910 so many buildings had been added that barely any open space remained. Between 1875 and 1915 Whiffens spilled over into land adjoining to the north, at Lombard Wharf, but by 1933 had moved to Fulham, where they had built a modern factory in the 1920s.”

1858 partnership dissolved


1858 to 1933


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Located in



Quinine, Strychnine, salicin, antimony compounds, clove oil, almond oil, mercury sublimate and vermilion, iodine, iodides, iodoform, bromides, camphor, Sandalwood oil, theobromine, caffeine, emetine, cephaelin, nicotine

Used Raw Materials

Cinchona, Strychnos nux-vomica, willow bark, cocoa, tea, Ipecacuanha


From To Owner
1858 1868 Edward Herring & Company
1868 1933 Whiffen & Sons


From To Industry
1858 1933 Chemical Industry