Rampant Scotland Directory

Scottish Inventions and Discoveries
- Textile Bleaching - Charles Tennant (1768-1838)

Born in Alloway in Ayrshire, Charles Tennant's family had farmed there for generations - and had been friends of the local poet Robert Burns. Charles was the 9th of 16 children, and became a weaver in the village of Kilbarchan in Renfrewshire. He saw that the weaving industry was being constrained by the method used to bleach cloth which involved crude chemicals and long exposure to sunlight for many months. He started his own bleaching fields in Ayrshire and looked at the methods used for bleaching. There had already been progress (times had been reduced from 18 months to four) but in 1799 Tennant (in partnership with Charles Macintosh who is best known for his technique of macintosh waterproofing clothing) patented a new method to create a dry bleaching powder that could be used indoors. He built a factory at St Rollox in Glasgow and demand for his bleaching powder soared. By the 1830s and 1840s it was the largest chemical plant in the world, with over 1,000 workers.

Later, he was to become a social reformer, helping to create one of the most productive periods of social progress and reform in Scotland's history. His works needed large quantities of coal and as he was a good friend George Stephenson, the great railway engineer, Tennant was one of the prime movers in railway expansion. He was mainly responsible for getting a railway into Glasgow. The chemical business founded by Tennant eventually merged with others in 1926 to form the chemical giant Imperial Chemical Industries.

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