Richardson’s Chemical Manure Works
Isaac Richardson was a Quaker with family roots in Great Ayton. Born in 1738, Isaac first moved to London before settling in York in 1780. He established a tannery at Cherry Hill House, in an orchard that he had purchased. Isaac was the second son of Isaac (Senior), from whom he learned his trade.
Following his death in 1791 the tannery business was continued by his sons Samuel and William, under the trading name of William Henry Richardson & Co Agricultural Merchants.
William had married Martha Mildred, and they lived at Cherry Hill House. One of their children, Henry Richardson, inherited the agricultural merchant’s business and began manufacturing chemical fertilisers. At this stage, the company traded under the name of Henry Richardson & Co. (York) Ltd. Henry lived from 1814 to 1893.
Henry founded the York branch of the RSPCA and the horse trough in Bishopgate Street is dedicated to him – incorrectly giving his dates as 1813-1895.
Richardson’s factory lay just south of Skeldergate Bridge along the Ouse frontage. Part of the site had been earlier occupied by a Bone Mill. Bone meal or bone manure is a mixture of ground animal bones and slaughterhouse waste. It was used as an organic fertiliser in agriculture, and later as a feed supplement for livestock. At one time it was also used as a dietary source of calcium for humans.
The processes carried on at Richardson’s were clearly rather unpleasant, and gave rise to a continuing series of complaints from residents. For example:
The 11 January 1868 edition of the York Herald reported that a City Council inspector had visited Clementhorpe. At the premises occupied by Mr Henry Richardson, described as a guano manufacturer, he found a quantity of pulverised bones which the workers were mixing with vitriol. Local residents had complained about the foul stench.
The 6 February 1869 edition of the York Herald described a report by the Local Board of Health saying that ten inhabitants of Clementhorpe had complained “of a nuisance occasioned by the process of manufacturing super-phosphate of lime by the application of vitriol to bones.”
The Bone Mill was replaced by a much larger Chemical Manure Works. Chemical manure involved the treatment of calcium phosphate with sulphuric acid to produce the more soluble calcium superphosphate. This method, providing fertilisers for mainly agricultural use, was developed by Justus von Liebig in 1840, and introduced into Britain by John Bennett Lawes in 1841. It made use of bones left over from other processes, the abattoirs or collected by rag and bone men.
A press cutting describes one such collector: On 21 August 1886 the Yorkshire Gazette reported that the police had arrested a man for stealing “four stones of rags and bones, the property of James Kearns, rag gatherer of Clementhorpe.”
On 31 July 1906 the Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail reported a lethal accident at the premises of Messrs. Henry Richardson. A man called Lambert fell from scaffolding while repairing a chimney “owing to a plank on which he was working tilting up.”
This early view of Richardson’s from across the Ouse shows a tall brick chimney. The name across the façade reads “Henry Richardson & Co. Ltd. Chemical Manure Manufacturers & Agricultural Supplies.” (Photo from Hugh Murray, date unknown).
This more recent photo, taken from Skeldergate Bridge shows Richardson’s Chemical Manure Works with its tall metal chimney. On the left and running behind Richardson’s is the Terry’s Confectionery Works. (Photo from Hugh Murray, probably early 1970s).
The following entry appeared in the 1914 edition of Who’s Who In Business:
“Richardson (Henry) & Company. Agricultural Merchants and Manufacturers of Chemical Fertilisers, Skeldergate Bridge Works, York. Hours of Business: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.. Established in 1824 by William Richardson. Succeeded by Henry Richardson; joined by Richard Thompson and John William Procter in 1870. Present Principals: Richard Thompson, John William Procter, J.P. and Tyndale Procter (son) and Geoffrey Thompson MA (son of Richard Thompson). Premises: Are on the site of the old Tannery founded by the Richardson family, who purchased the ‘Cherry Hill’ estate in 1780, and built Cherry Hill House adjoining. The Works cover about an acre, equipped with modern appliances. Specialities: Manufacturers of Superphosphates and Vitriolised Bone, and Special Fertilisers for the various crops. Dealers in Sulphate of Ammonia, Nitrate of Soda, Nitrate of Lime, Peruvian Guano, Fish Meals, Bono Meals, Potash Salts, Basic Slags and all leading Fertilisers; Linseed and Cotton Cakes, and other Feeding Materials for Agricultural use; also Agricultural Seeds. Published a Booklet on ‘Artificial Fertilisers, their uses and the best sources of Supply’, in 1895. Mr Thompson was Sheriff of York, 1881. Mr J. W. Procter is a Justice of the Peace for the City of York.”
(Images courtesy of Geoff Shearsmith)
Henry Richardson appeared in Whittaker’s Red Book for 1914, listed both under Chemical Manufacturing and Fertilisers. Richardson’s continued in business until 1973, when it seems to have been taken over by Hargreaves Fertilisers Limited. It was closed and demolished shortly thereafter, and part of the site was used for car parking until being redeveloped for housing.
 The map of York in 1830 showed a tannery on the Richardson’s site.