War on the Banks of the Tyne

Haltwhistle Partnership © Use of images is permitted for non commercial purposes   | Heritage Lottery Funded   Made with Serif software       

Perhaps the cleverest idea was Hadrian reflex paint – a brilliant system for factories. Light bulbs were painted orange, windows were painted blue. During the day, light could enter – at night the orange light from the bulbs was filtered out by the blue of the windows providing a complete blackout.

Local Industries

Alston Foundry

Alston Foundry Co. Ltd formed at the outbreak of war as a subsidiary of the Sunderland crane makers, Steel Co. Ltd in the old buildings of the Alston Carpet and Woollen Mill opposite the station. It produced 3” mortar bomb casings which were sent to Oldham for filling with explosives. It operated two iron furnaces and two Bessemer steel converters and was managed by metallurgist Tom Hunter assisted by Jim Murphy under chairman Eric Steel. The workforce of farmers and women produced a weekly average of 6,000 shells, on one occasion achieving an astounding 20,000 in a single week. In total 1 million bomb cases were made.

The foundry also produced chain links for massive, sixty- foot- long, 20 link, boom defence chains for protection against submarines.  It was also involved in the construction of Mulberry harbours which were used for the D Day landings

Circular casting tables – “Bomb rings”

Photograph by kind permission of Peter  Wilkinson

Pouring molten metal into triple mortar shell casing moulds.

Photograph by kind permission of Peter  Wilkinson

As the war progressed, industries all over the country began to develop and change their production to support the war effort. Vital industries were moved to safe locations away from risk of bombing. In Haltwhistle the paint manufacturers Smith and Walton and the newly arrived Kilfrost developed new products which played a significant role in the battle while, hidden in the hills further south, the Alston Foundry fired up its furnaces ......

Components for Lancaster bombers were made at a second foundry run by North East Coast Aircraft Components Limited (NECACO). Known as “Top Factory”, it was located in the Butts opposite High Mill.

Boom Defence mooring chain and Manager Tom Hunter.
photograph by kind permission of Peter Wilkinson

“Preliminary tests of this new Kilfrost would indicate that a practical test on ships in convoy in northern waters would be desirable....it is comparatively easy to manufacture and the necessary raw materials are in ample supply. It should not cost more than 4d. or 5d. per lb. in bulk”


The Kilfrost company was set up in the 1930s by Joseph Halbert, a chemist who had developed a de-icing compound inspired by his observation that snowdrops  were able to grow in frozen ground. By 1938, years of research had resulted in the development of a Kilfrost which could prevent icing on aircraft. It was required to adhere at speeds of 400mph and be entirely non-corrosive, non toxic and non- flammable. Kilfrost V for wings and Kilfrost Mark A1 for propellers were immediately adopted for use by the RAF, around 500 tons a year being used from 1940 onwards. Kilfrost was of national importance in keeping the RAF in the air during the war.

About 1,300,000 gallons of Kilfrost F 9 for the removal of hoar frost have been supplied to the R.A.F. since September 1942 .”

By early 1941 it became obvious that the Kilfrost laboratory and factory in Albion Road near Kings Cross Station was vulnerable to attack and, as it was of such national importance, a new site was found safely hidden away at Hadrian Works in Haltwhistle.

After the war the Kilfrost works moved, by degrees, to the present riverside site which was renamed The Albion Works in September 1950 in recognition of the original site in London.

Smith and Walton

During the war, as well as continuing with their usual range of paints, Smith and Walton’s Hadrian Works developed a very clever range of products to support the war effort: