AT the start of the First World War, the first country to use a full-scale deployment of poison gas was Germany in 1915 during the first battle of Ypres, although the French had earlier used experimental but weaker tear gas.

Gas was a terrible weapon that once unleashed caused havoc on the battlefield. Eventually, gas masks were introduced, and this helped.

In 1915 the allies retaliated using chlorine gas and later phosgene which was more effective and invisible.

While this was going on all sides were developing much deadlier gasses until 1917 when the Germans discharged mustard gas. This gas defied the gas masks as it attacked the skin and caused blindness.

At the end of the war, Lance Corporal Hitler was hospitalised after suffering the effects of gas. Some say this influenced him in not using it in the Second World War.

Because of the horrendous effect upon the body that poison gas had in the First World War, in the early stage of the Second World War, everyone had to possess and carry a gas mask at all times.

Winsford Guardian:

Troops wearing gas masks during the First World War

Both sides considered using gas, but the Germans were the first to realise that if they did, the allies would do likewise. The thought of mutual destruction meant that gas was never used on civilians or the military and gas mask cases became lunch boxes.

Since the war, the Geneva Protocol forbidding the use of poison gas has been contravened around the world.

But what you ask has this got to do with Middlewich?

In 1899, the Electrolytic Alkali Company was established and set up in Middlewich. They obtained the patents for the manufacture of alkali, chlorine bleaching powder and other similar products.

A large factory was built on a 73-acre site at Cledford Bridge, near Middlewich where production began. The company went into liquidation in 1913 and in 1914 Thomas William Stanier Hutchings reformed the company under the name of Electro Bleach and By-Products Ltd 1914.

Winsford Guardian:

An Electro Bleach Vulcan truck

It was in the business of producing chlorine-based bleaches, and gaseous chlorine so would be ideally placed to manufacture poison gas for the battlefield.

In 1917-18 it was nationalised by the Ministry of Munitions and became one of three factories producing phosgene gas.

The Middlewich factory was to boost the manufacture of such gas as there was at the time unsatisfactory levels of production.

By the end of the war, 124,000 tons of poison gas had been produced in total.

In 1920, Electro Bleach and By-Products Ltd was bought by Brunner Mond and was closed in 1928. In 1936 John Steventon & Sons took over the site, it became known as The Royal Venton Works, but the usual title was ‘the pot bank’.

Sanitary ware was manufactured until the 1960s when Ideal Standard took over the company.

The factory finally closed in 2013 with a loss of 249 jobs.

Winsford Guardian:

The Ideal Standard building, with ‘AD1917’ engraved on its wall

Note the redbrick building, part of the old pot bank – it has the date 1917 on the front. This will be a building dating back to the days when the Ministry of Munitions nationalised the factory to increase the production of poison gas, mainly phosgene.