9 December 2020

Archaeology online: William Butler and the Coal-Tar Distillery at Crew’s Hole

In 1843 Isambard Kingdom Brunel appointed William Butler to manage the coal-tar distillery in Crew’s Hole .

The distillery had been set up by Brunel to supply creosote for preserving the sleepers for the tracks of the Bristol and Exeter Railway. 20 years later, a large fire at the works led Brunel’s financial backers to pull out of the business. Butler bought and rebuilt the factory. The business prospered and Butler’s company supplied a large range of chemicals for various industries.

After William Butler retired in 1889, three of his sons took over business, with subsequent members of the family retaining control until after World War II. In 1952 the business was split into two. One part was renamed “The Bristol and West Tar Distillers Ltd” (with the family initially retaining 75% of the shares); this company essentially supplied materials for the road-tar business.

The general chemicals business, which retained the Butler name, at first shared the facility at Crew’s Hole, but eventually moved to a separate site in Avonmouth in 1964. The Crew’s Hole works closed in 1981, but there is still a company operating at Avonmouth called “Butler Fuels”, which supplies domestic and commercial heating oil.

As well as telling the story of the Butler family and company, this lecture will also discuss the very significant contributions William Butler made to the wider social and political life of Bristol.

Speaker: Brian Vincent, University of Bristol

Brian is an emeritus professor and senior research fellow in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol, having officially “retired” in 2008 as the Leverhulme Professor of Physical Chemistry.

Brian has a long-standing interest in the history of science, engineering and medicine, particularly in the Greater Bristol Region. He has written several books and articles, as well as given numerous lectures, on this topic. Until recently, Brian served on the Committee of the Friends of Bristol Museum, Galleries and Archives.

Archaeology Online:

This talk is part of Archaeology Online, a new series of monthly digital talks brought to you by Bristol Museums, Bath and Counties Archaeological Society, Bristol and Avon Archaeological Society and Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society.

How to take part:

Due to COVID-19, this winter lecture season will take place over Zoom.

Book your place below. Details of how to join the session will be in your registration email. Please check your spam folder if the email does not arrive.

Bookings close at 3pm on Wednesday 9 December.

Visit the Zoom website for guidance on joining webinars. Please allow extra time before the talk begins to make sure everything is working correctly.