The Hartlepool factory which was decades ahead of its time

An old view of  the Cerebos factory.
An old view of the Cerebos factory.

A caring father - with a daughter suffering from brittle bones - started an industry which would have a huge effect on Hartlepool’s history.

The story of the Cerebos works (which provided employment in Greatham for decades), has been brought to life for us thanks to Sandra McKay and the team at the Central Library.

The factory’s roots go back to the early 1900s when George Weddell, a chemist with a company called Mawson, Swan and Weddell, was trying to find a cure for his daughter’s osteoporosis.

George began experimenting with common salt by adding magnesium carbonate and calcium phosphate. He hoped it would strengthen bones and teeth.

The results were encouraging and it led to premises being bought in Newcastle for a new venture.

Salt was produced, transported from Haverton Hill, but the early trade was limited.

That all changed when the public became aware that the enriched salt was moisture proof, free-flowing and much better than the coarse variety they’d used up until then.

As soon as word got out, public demand soared and bigger premises had to be bought to handle it.

By 1906, the Greatham Salt Works were bought by Cerebos and what an effect the company had on the town.

Women workers were given transport to work on the back of a wagonette each day. They would start at 7.20am each day and finish at 5.40pm on weekdays. It was 7.20am to 12pm on Saturdays.

The men, meanwhile, began at 6am on a brine pumping site.

Even a fire in 1912 could not stop Cerebos.

They simply rebuilt the premises on the old site, and moved temporarily into a jam factory while it was under construction.

War came soon after and Cerebos did its bit by making fuse containers. Then, when it was over, Cerebos was back and making goods such as blancmange, custard powder and jellies.

The firm was known for its go-ahead outlook such as free transport to work for the staff, one week’s paid holiday a year, and weekday working of 8am to 5pm with a one-hour lunchbreak.

It had its own pension scheme and regularly replaced machinery with modern alternatives.

There were social events and sports for the workers and Cerebos had its own sports day at Lamb’s Field, at Brierton Lane.

There were setbacks along the way. In the Second World War, Cerebos was targeted by the Luftwaffe. One one night in July 1942, the factory was hit by German bombs and the high explosives caused extensive damage.

But Cerebos was resilient and fought back in its inimitable style. Production was only halted for a short while.

There’s more to come next week. To find out more about its history - as well as lots of other Hartlepool nostalgia - contact the library at Community Hub Central on (01429) 272905.