Tarmac – a fortunate accident

Edgar Purnell Hooley was the county surveyor for Nottingham. One day in 1901 he was travelling along a road, close to the Denby ironworks in Derbyshire. He saw that a barrel of tar had fallen from a cart and had burst open onto the road, someone had then covered the sticky mess with slag from the nearby iron works. Hooley noticed that the effected section of road was now dust-free and unrutted by the traffic.

Inspired by this, Hooley went away and experimented, mixing tar and slag to produce a durable road surface. In 1902 he obtained a British patent for a new road surfacing material which he named Tarmac and on 17th June, 1903 he founded the Tar Macadam (Purnell Hooley’s Patent) Syndicate Limited.

Hooley set up a works to manufacture tarmac at Ettingshall in Derbyshire utilising the waste slag from two local ironworks. Unfortunately Hooley was not a very good business man and the business ran into financial difficulties due lack of promotion and the failure to attract orders for the new product.

In 1905  Sir Alfred Hickman, Ironmaster and MP for Wolverhampton, realised the potential of the new product and bought the company from Hooley. Hickman re-launched the company as Tarmac Ltd. Orders then began to pour in to the point where demand began to outstrip production. In 1914, a new factory was opened at Middlesbrough, near to the North Eastern Steel Company.