Midland Tar Distillers Limited

The company, one of the first British tar distillers, was founded in 1857 by John Clarkson Major who developed pioneering technology for the distillation of tar. He was born in Flamborough, Yorkshire on 22nd March, 1826 and educated at Wesley College in Sheffield, from where he proceeded to London to complete his education in chemistry. He started his business career in Chester, and then moved to Wolverhampton where he became a successful manufacturing chemist, and Mayor of the town.

John Clarkson Major in his mayoral robes.

He founded Major & Company Limited with his partner E. L. Turner, alongside the canal in Wolverhampton to distil a range of products from coal tar, a by-product from the local gas works.

Coal tar is a by-product of the carbonisation of coal and is produced by heating coal in a closed retort. Approximately 10 to 15 gallons of coal tar were produced from each ton of coal. The tar was transported from the gas works by canal boat.

Major based his process on German technology and produced a wide range of products including: creosote, disinfectants, foundry pitch, liquid fuels, naphthas, protective coatings, road tars, and solvents.

John Clarkson Major married Elizabeth Jones (from Chester) in 1859, and they had one son, John Lewis Major, born in 1861.

Around 1870 the family moved in a large house in Bhylls Lane called 'The Bhylls', later known as 'Bellencroft'.

It was purchased from local brewer William Butler who moved into 'The Cedars' on Compton Road.

The Bhylls.

In November 1875 Major was elected Mayor of Wolverhampton, and became Chairman of the Sanitary Committee, an important role which oversaw the provision of a clean water supply, and proper drainage in the town. He died at the Bhylls on 21st December, 1895, after which his son took over the running of his company.

On the 1881 Ordnance Survey map the site is shown in two halves, the upper half is marked as a chemical works, which would have been Major & Company Limited, and the lower half an iron tube works, which was Edwin Lewis' gas tube factory. It appears that at a later date the whole site was occupied by the tar distillery. Business flourished, and several depots were opened in different parts of the country. In 1921 the firm joined Midland Tar Distillers, with a head office at Oldbury. In 1969 the company became part of the Burmah Castrol Chemicals Group.

In the late 1950s the Midlands Electricity Board (MEB) obtained the site and built their offices, stores and workshops along the Major Street boundary. The building company, T & G Construction, a part of Tarmac, ended-up constructing the buildings on concrete rafts because it was said at the time that the ground was a sort of tar lake. The original buildings along Dixon Street were converted into garages for the company's vehicles, stores and workshops.

The MEB disappeared in the late 1990s as part of the reorganisation of the industry. As a result the Major Street site closed and remained derelict for many years. In 2005 the site was cleared to make way for a public park. Luckily, thanks to Sue Whitehouse, the City's Conservation Officer, we were allowed access onto the site to photograph the buildings just before demolition. Some of the photographs can be seen below.

An advert from 1949.

The view of the buildings from Dixon Street in October, 2005.
On the left-hand side of the main building were the remains of what appeared to be a large chimney.

The front of the main building.

A side view of the main building.

The interior of the main building.

Two other buildings on the site.
The interior of one of the buildings shown above.
The interior of the other building.

A rear view of the MEB buildings, just prior to demolition.

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