During the 1960s, with coal exports in decline, the River Wear Commissioners (RWC) made huge efforts to attract additional trade to help make up for the shortfall in coal revenue.
One success story came in 1964 when the RWC succeeded in attracting a new import trade at Hendon Dock, involving shipment of crude tall oil (a bi-product of woodpulp manufacture) from Finland to a newly constructed terminal.
Sunderland Corporation Planning Committee had approved plans to build two and eventually five 2,000-ton storage tanks (measuring 56 feet in diameter by 31 feet six inches high) on a site on the west side of the dock previously used to stockpile pitwood.
The first cargo was discharged on December 22, 1964, after the arrival of a tanker from Finland. These specialised ships were equipped with heated tanks to prevent the oil from hardening during their voyages from Scandinavia.
The long contract deal resulted from British Oxygen Chemicals Ltd’s decision to build the UK’s first tall oil distillation plant next to its existing chemical works at Vigo Lane, Chester-le-Street. This was due to come on stream towards the end of 1965.
Costing £750,000, the plant featured twin 100-foot distillation columns, which produced a range of tall oil fatty acids, tall oil rosin and low-quality pitch, which previously had to be imported. The facility came into full production in March, 1966, before building up to its initial target of processing 12,000 tons of crude tall oil annually.
Crude oil was distilled into three main parts, each being used in one or more industries. Fatty acids found use in paint and resin manufacture, rosin in the paper industry, with pitch being used as a rubber processing aid.
In 1968, the initial success of the plant led to BOC deciding to boost production to 18,000 tons.
Unfortunately, that year, numerous complaints from local residents over offensive fumes polluting the atmosphere led to the plant being shut down and overhauled after a Statutory Abatement Notice under the Public Health Act, 1936 had been issued by Chester-le-Street Rural District Council.
Sunderland’s tall oil trade ceased during the 1980s, with Northumbrian Water’s Hendon Sewage Treatment Works being opened on the site in 2000.