Jobs blow at iconic Hull Isis factory site as Cargill closes

Hull has been dealt another blow after one of its most iconic factories confirmed to be closed with job losses.

The Cargill oilseed pressing plant off Stoneferry Road is due to close with 36 jobs now at risk. It marks the end of the seed pressing industry in central Hull after nearly 500 years.

The news comes just hours after Smith and Nephew also announced plans to close its Hull plant. The global medical equipment manufacturer is moving to a new site in Melton, East Yorkshire.

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Cargill operates a sprawling site in Morley Street which will now be permanently closed. It includes the historic ‘Isis’ Oil Mills building which dates back to 1912. But oil oppression and grain crushing, which rivaled fishing as one of Hull’s most successful industries, dates back to the 16 e century.

Cargill said it was closing its Hull plant due to “current market conditions”, which would be a sharp drop in rapeseed oil prices and increased costs.

Cargill said the closure of the Hull seed oil plant was due to ‘market conditions’ and said 36 employees would be affected

A Cargill spokesperson told Farmers Weekly: “We can confirm that Cargill has announced its intention to close its crushing plant in Hull, UK, due to current market conditions. This would impact 36 positions as of the end of December 2022. We are working closely with affected employees and will provide support throughout the transition.

Cargill has been operating in Hull since 1985 when it took over the plant from Croda Premier Oils. It grinds up to 750 tonnes of rapeseed and other crops every day to extract crude oil and meal which is then used to make margarine, biodiesel and animal feed.

Farmer’s Weekly described Cargill’s closure as “a significant loss of processing capacity in the UK”. The loss of Cargill in Hull means there will only be three similar factories left in the UK, in Liverpool, Kent and Warwickshire.

In 2019, demolition of part of the Cargill site began to clear old historic factory works around the Grade II listed Isis factory. Adjacent abandoned refinery buildings dating from the 1950s have been cleared for safety. It is now unclear what will happen to the Isis factory building, which still dominates the area, now that Cargill is leaving the site.

Cargill's sprawling site along the River Hull includes demolished old refineries and the iconic
Cargill’s sprawling site along the River Hull includes demolished old refineries and the iconic ‘Isis mills’ building

The move is also another blow to Hull after medical supplies maker Smith & Nephew announced on Friday that they were closing their iconic Hessle Road factory for a move to a new state-of-the-art facility at Melton West Business Park, eight miles a way.

Although the move is likely to secure over 800 Smith & Nephew employees, it is a major loss for Hull, including the significant revenue from commercial rates it has paid to Hull City Council. Today Hull Live revealed that Smith & Nephew, which was founded in Hull over 160 years ago, has considered pulling out of the UK altogether and moving to a new factory in Penang, Malaysia.

What is seed grinding and why was it important in Hull?

A scene dated to around 1810 in Hull with a seed oil windmill visible along the River Hull
A scene dated to around 1810 in Hull with a seed oil windmill visible along the River Hull

Seed oil, along with timber and fishing, was one of the key industries that made Hull one of the most important port cities in the world. The industry employed thousands of people in mills and factories on the River Hull where seeds were imported to be ground, processed and sold.

Local historian Paul Gibson has traced the rise and fall of Hull’s seed oil industry. He wrote: “It is almost impossible to write of the history of Hull without mentioning the seed-crushing industry, as its effects were felt so widespread throughout the city, its industries, its commercial success and more largely – his social condition.”

Mr Gibson wrote that Hull’s role in the industry dates back to the 16th century, when Russia began importing rapeseed to Hull, which was then ground into oil by windmills. By the 1920s, “Hull had become the world’s largest seed-oil crushing and extraction center” with nearly 700,000 tonnes of oilseed imported into the city each year.

His study revealed in 1937 that there were over 60 companies based largely around the River Hull and East Hull dealing in the seed oil industry. You can find Paul Gibson’s full article here.

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