PDM's Silvertown plant celebrates 130 years heritage


Leading renderer, John Knights in Silvertown, London, part of the PDM Group, celebrates 130 years at its current site this month. The company which started out in candle manufacturing and evolved into a full time renderer in the 1960s has been an intrinsic part of the cultural and social history of London’s East End.

Over the 130 years, the Silvertown site has been using other people’s waste to produce new products. Today’s message of sustainability at the site - with PDM providing an environmentally sustainable disposal service for a wide range of bio-degradable food chain waste from retailers, restaurants and businesses – mirrors the spirit that shaped John Knights' success back in the 1800’s.

In the early 19th century, there was an excise duty on soap which made it largely the monopoly of the wealthier classes. While John Knight was working for a grocer on the Mile End Road, now the University of London, he learned the art of tallow candle dipping. While making the candles for his employer to sell, John had the idea of making soap from the waste materials. He went on to start his own candle dipping factory where he continued experimenting with soap making. Through his hard work and determination Knight became one of the pioneers of affordable soap, suitable for washing clothes, and John Knight’s ‘Primrose Soap’ became one of the most popular brands in the world. By 1880, the business had expanded to such an extent that larger premises were sourced and the move was made to Silvertown.

Over the years the site has evolved and facilities have included an oil mill, seed and cake warehouses, a glue factory and even a fat melting plant. The site was taken over by Unilever and sold on to Prosper De Mulder family (PDM Group) in 1969. With the site in Silvertown, PDM was able to significantly increase its rendering and animal waste collection capacity, enabling the business to transform into a national organisation with processing plants strategically placed around the country.

Alan Robinson, current Silvertown site manager, said: “It is an honour to have the opportunity to play a part in the running of a site with such a fascinating background that has been able to continue operating through times of economic strain. 130 years is a fantastic achievement and we look forward to the next 130!”

Today, the plant processes more than 100,000 tonnes a year of food chain by-products, from local butchers, abattoirs and other meat producers. PDM’s portfolio of recycling solutions enables valuable products to be made including renewable power, pet food ingredients, edible fats as well as ingredients for the organic chemical manufacturing.

The Silvertown site still includes part of the original office buildings and at one time employed more than 1,200 local people.

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