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GES006 - British Cellophane Factory, Bridgwater

January 2010

WARNING: This write up is very long and contains lots and lots of pictures.

British Cellophane Ltd (BCL) was a joint venture company formed in 1935 between La Cellophane SA and Courtaulds, when they began building a major factory for producing Cellophane in Bridgwater, Somerset, England. The new buildings covered 59 acres (240,000 m2) of the former Sydenham Manor fields, and had direct railway access. The factory produced cellophane up until late 1940 during World War II, when it started switching production to war munitions and specifically bailey bridges for the pending invasion of Europe. These was first used in Italy in 1943 by the Royal Engineers. Production ramped up through early-1944 for D-Day.

After the war the Bridgwater factory returned to producing cellophane, with its products exported worldwide. In 1962 it was employing 750+ people. In 1974 the company won the Queen's Award to Industry and by the late 1970s the site produced 40,000 tonnes of cellophane packaging film a year, employing 3,000 people. In 2004, due to dwindling sales of cellophane as a result of alternative packaging options, and the fact that viscose was becoming less favoured because of the polluting effects of carbon disulfide and other by-products of the process. Innovia, the current owner decided to close one of it's plants, Kansas offered 16 times more money to keep the Tecumseh Plant running than the UK. As a result, the profit-making Bridgwater factory closed in the summer of 2005, while the loss-making factory in Tecumsah remained open. And that folks is Globalisation, corporations win, workers lose.

I'd been wanting to do this one for awhile, after seeing Urbanity's report go up. So it was good to hear that Urbanity was willing to offer me a chance to visit. I was somewhat sceptical, as He had recently been caught at the site with GE033 by the Somerset version of MC Hammer (notoriously good Security Guard at West Park Asylum (see my post on it in the Archive)), Dennis. I didn't want to meet Dennis.

I hopped on a bus which conveniently left Hammersmith Bus Station, and journeyed across the country to meet up with GE031. After crashing on his floor, we woke up I think it was just after stupid O'clock, and shuffled into the car. Urbanity drove us in his white chariot through the night until we got to the depressing dump that is Bridgwater. I say this with first hand knowledge as my grandfather had lived here, and I visited numerous times. I always knew when I was close to Bridgwater coming down the M5, as the smell of cellophane would shoot up your nasal canals.

The site is vast, and lies next to the main railway line into Bridgwater. It's currently being slowly eaten up by the demolition ball and sledgehammer massive. (Copyright Bing Maps) For an idea of the route and the buildings I refer too, an annotated version is here.

We actually passed Dennis cycling on his way home as we drove up to park, so a small sense of relief passed over us. At this point I'd still never been caught exploring, and had no desire for that status to change. On that front, the most common way in was from the South side, I had studied the satellite view of the site, and worked out a different way in, from the Northern side. GE031 agreed to go my way, and I removed the electric shock devices from his balls.

We wandered around the back of various live buildings, and then hopped the hop into the site. Dawn hadn't broken yet, but the sky was much lighter and we could see without torch light. We first went up some buildings with corrugated metal sides and fan blocks on the roof.

I was keen to start here to get a perspective of the site, and also see if there was any activity. As I took this shot I was sure there was no activity or hi-vis warriors of doom scouring the site.

When I took a second pic here I was perplexed at a small bit of light in the middle of the photo. As I compared shots, I realised that a light must have just gone on, and I then noticed a transit van in front of a small hut. You can see it near the tall vats by the chimney. "Shiiiiiit", I thought quietly, not good. We got down from our vantage point, and creeped up to the place where the transit van was. As we got closer we could see a team of 6 or so people going into the small hut for some kind of briefing. As the last one walked in, we legged it across a 10m gap to another pile of earth. And then bent double walked to the next building. There were scraps of metal all along the makeshift road here. We got inside the building and it had a large open hall on the first floor.

We came out on the Eastern side of this building near the chimney that dominates the site. Looking in the smaller buildings around us we found little. As we decided on the next direction, we heard a bulldozer roaring in our direction. It didn't come too close, but enough to make life difficult. It sat parked up chugging away near a silver set of pipes going high above the ground.

After 5 minutes I became bored, and decided to sneak up closer to see what was going on. The demo team appeared to be working on the area just south of the chimney. I ran across to a portacabin style building and took cover. It turned out to be a temporary wash room/toilet for the the demo team.  GE031 came running over and dived in with me. I pointed out this wasn't a good place to be, and we darted behind it and over a tough looking 'keep out' strip into the main factory building.

What greeted my eyes was the same sense of wonder that I'd experienced at Pyestock. It was a Willy Wonka land of metal pipe gorgeousness. I didn't know where to start, or when to stop drooling.

Pipes ran everywhere, straight lines twisting around bends then whizzing up vertically.

Pipes criss crossing like a mesh, reminding me of the '3D Pipes' screensaver on Windows.

An inspection sheet and circuit details

I then walked South of this area into a storage area for what I assume were where massive rolls of cellophane had been stored.

The floor above was just the same. The windows were heavy with condensation and grime, as I looked out to see if Dennis's colleagues were walking about.

I found a door on the first floor, and walked out to the roof.

And then over towards the rail line direction, where a taller building stole my interest. At a whopping 5 floors high, it dominated the skyline for miles around.

I popped back inside and made my way across to the production lines.

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There were several of them above all the pipe madness on the floor below.

Presumably all the chemicals came together and were flattened out into film in these bits of the factory. The stench around here must have been dreadful, lord knows how they coped.

To say there were a few bits of machinery here that baffled me would be an understatement, there were shedloads of things I had no clue what they did. This was just one.

One thing I do know is, that the film was wound round these rollers, stored up nearby to the production lines above.

Disused factories are full of hazards, and if this tank leaked I wouldn't want to encounter its contents.

Some colourful wheels nearby to the Acid Tanks.

Manoeuvring around below the production lines, amongst lots of pipes and other items wasn't at all easy. I came to this area at the far end of the building directly below the far end of the production lines.

A Carbon Disulphide warning sign in the dark and dingy areas below the production lines. If CS2 is released, one can expect nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, headache, mood changes, lethargy, blurred vision, delirium, and convulsions. Other affects can include altering the brain's chemistry and toxic attacks of major organs. Moving on swiftly...

We left the main factory area, and pushed on. On the way we passed some odd diving bell like features. It's staggering to think that someone designed all these various bits to work together.

Clearly not an area where you don't want to be smoking.

again, no idea what this is, but I found it photogenic.

We then stumbled into a large open area, possibly used for storage of goods before being shipped off somewhere.

Finished with the main factory block, we went over to the 'tall' building, and climbed all 5 of the massive floors. I could have killed for oxygen at the top! The building seemed to be one long and tall process, with substances added at the top and filtered down through the building.

We found a ladder up, and were on the roof. Between the factory and the lush green fields lies the railway tracks.

The side of what I'll imaginatively call the 'Tall Building', and the main factory spread.

And attempt to be arty, with my newly acquired fisheye lens.

GE031, worried about security, finally pops out as I say I can't see any.

Looking North up the site. Note the orange digger near the chimney (that the fisheye has made like the Tower of Pisa). This is where the workmen were busy. Dumper trucks whizzing in and out of buildings.

We came down off the roof, and skirted around to open warehouse buildings on the southern end of the site. Could have probably done with zooming in a bit here.

After that we came out on the road that runs the other side of the main factory manufacturing area. Even more pipes could be found here, all colour coded to avoid confusion.

Found this in a room off to one side of the road

A shot looking South up the road, near to where the above photo was taken.

We then entered an office like building at the Northern end of the road, that appeared to be full of test labs. This being a photo of the Northern end of this building and some other unknown buildings opposite.

I was quite intrigued by this building, but sadly never got to have a closer look.

Turning around, a shot of the labs building.

A large fuse board of some kind, knob fetishists heaven I'd imagine.

Where some Presses were.

No.3 Press apparently. The yellow sign at the back says "Danger Soda Goggles must be warn."

Downstairs from the Presses above, and in what I'm calling the test lab building. If I called it The Matlock Building, it would make even less sense. Even more pipey valvey pumpey things.

Again my eyes were drawn to the extraordinary blue on this generator, surrounded by pumps and vats.

The huge long conveyor belt, that takes up 3 warehouse like buildings.

We walked across to some out buildings near the Admin blocks. With decay on the walls and mouldy water.

We couldn't find away into the Admin blocks after brief forays, and Urbanity was keen to get some fuel in his belly. So we started to make our way to the Southern side of the site to exit. Along the way we passed these chemical pits, on the Eastern side of the Test lab buildings.

On the edge of the test lab buildings were a few places we'd not seen, so we popped in. I open a door and was literally eyeball to nipple with a load of posters. Clearly not an area where women worked, or HR personnel.

What's left of the office the door of nudes leads into.

An array of colours the original architects hadn't envisaged.

leading on from the above outdoor section, this was indoors and on the southern tip of the Test labs buildings.

From the above buildings we continued South, crossing 'Open Country' where we were easily exposed. A few looks here and there, and we seemed to be ok. We came to a building on the Southern end of the Production buildings, and a room full of generators and you guessed it, more pipes!

Lovely old generator.

More 'modern' generators powering something on the other side of the wall.

A pair of Off Load Isolators, proudly Made In England by Ellisons.

A warning for some of the many dangers on the site.

After sneakily re-attaching the electrodes to Urbanities jingly jangly's, I managed to convince him to just spend 10mins max checking out the buildings that lead up to the Chimney from the Southern side. One of the first had these colourful metal cabinets.

The last building we could enter before waving hello to the workers, was this building. With what looked like a large compressor/extractor in. Clearly GE031 wasn't interested as he looks at the large blue metal lump.

If someone made a small scale model of Pyestock, this is probably what it would look like. Directly behind me on the other side of the wall was the sound of the demo crew at work. We nipped off sharpish, half expecting a digger or large wrecking ball to come bursting through the wall.

My ten minutes up, and we headed back to the Southern end of the site, and managed to reasonably gracefully exit the site narrowly missing the nasty razor wire that rings the site with wild abandon.

It was around 3pm now, so we went in search of food, and found a pub on a road out of Bridgwater. After treating GE031 to a pint and dinner for his kindness, he then went a step further and took me to Somerton, the small town in Somerset where I'd spent the first 5 years of my life. And where I'd given my parents an early heart attack, when at 4 years old, I decided to explore beyond their field of vision on my trusty wooden horse style bike.

Many thanks to the ever hospitable and great company Mr. GE031 provided. And congratulations to you the reader, for making it this far. You should see the number of photos I took here, it's an amazing place and will be sadly missed.