Spence, Peter

SUBJECT AREA: Chemical technology
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b. 19 February 1806 Brechin, Forfarshire, Scotland
d. 5 July 1883 Manchester, England
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Scottish industrial chemist.
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Spence was first apprenticed to a grocer and then joined his uncle's business. When that failed, he found work in a Dundee gasworks. During his spare time he had been studying chemistry, and in 1834 he established a small chemical works in London, which was none too successful. It was after a move to Burgh, near Carlisle, that his prospects brightened, with an improved method for making alum, a substance much used in the dyeing and textile industries. Spence obtained a patent in 1845 for extracting the substance from alum-containing shale by treating the burned shale and iron pyrites with sulphuric acid. He set up a plant at Pendleton, near Manchester, and enlarged the scale of his operation to become the largest manufacturer of alum in the world. The most profitable product was a crude form of alum known as aluminoferric. This came to be much in demand by the paper industry and in the treatment of sewage, an activity of growing importance in mid-Victorian Britain.
Not all of Spence's ventures met with success; his attempts to exploit the phosphate deposits on the island of Redmonds in the West Indies lost heavily. He was an active citizen of Manchester, with a strongly Nonconformist tendency. He supported the cause against atmospheric pollution, although he himself was successfully prosecuted for pollution from his alum works at Pendleton; that prompted a move to Miles Platting, also near Manchester. In 1900, his firm became part of Laporte Industries Ltd.
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Further Reading
J.Fenwick Allen, 1907, Some Founders of the Chemical Industry, London.
Proc. Manchester Lit. Phil. Soc. (1883–4) 23:121.
LRD

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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