Frank Brian Mercer
Frank Brian Mercer, O.B.E., was an engineer, inventor and businessman who was born in Blackburn on 22nd December, 1927. His mother worked as a cotton spinner, and his father was an office worker at a cotton mill and rose to become the mill owner. Brian Mercer (he was always known by his middle name) was educated at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School in Blackburn. The death of his father in 1952 resulted in Brian taking control of Pioneer Mill at the age of 25. In 1956, he invented the Netlon process in which he made a net, not by weaving, but by the integral extrusion of molten plastic into mesh structures. This won him the Queen's Award for Technological Achievement. He tried to sell his invention to ICI who weren't interested so, as the cotton industry was failing, he took the courageous step of converting the Pioneer Mill from a cotton mill to the manufacturing base for Netlon. With his inspiration, leadership and drive he founded Netlon Ltd. in 1959 to manufacture the products but, most importantly, to commercialise the concept.
The Netlon process has become accepted as only the ninth generic textile process since the dawn of civilization. Global interest in the process resulted in Netlon being rapidly licensed to many of the largest international companies in more than 30 countries around the world. Netlon products are used for the packaging of fruit and vegetables, gardening meshes for plant support and fencing, and in the field of Civil Engineering for land stabilisation. A later invention in 1983 led to the use of Netlon for reinforcing grass sports surfaces and in particular horse racing tracks.
In 1978, he became a Fellow of the Institute of Materials and the second person to receive the Institute's Prince Philip award. He was elected a Fellow of the Textile Institute in 1973 and, in 1988, was bestowed with an Honorary Fellowship. In 1981, he received the O.B.E. and, in 1984, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society. All of Brian Mercer's inventions have originated, been developed and manufactured in Blackburn to the benefit of the town's economy; we should be very proud of him. His inventions have been protected by hundreds of patents around the world, making him one of Britain's most prolific and well respected inventors, he was still inventing when he died on 22nd November 1998. He made a bequest to the Royal Society to establish the Brian Mercer Award for Feasibility, which allows researchers to investigate the technical and economic feasibility of commercialising an aspect of their scientific research. A portrait of Brian Mercer painted by Salvador Dali was also bequeathed to the Royal Society.
The Tensar Corporation in the United States was initially formed in 1983, as a joint venture between Gulf Canada Limited, Netlon Limited and Dr Brian Mercer. The Company is still based in Blackburn at Shadsworth Estate and is known as Tensar International; they sold off the original Netlon brand and the associated range of non-construction related product in 2005. Research into strengthening Netlon through molecular re-orientation by stretching resulted in the invention of Tensar, a plastic grid as strong as steel. Tensar is widely used within civil engineering for reinforcing the earth structures such as road and railway embankments and is used worldwide.
Images of the Netlon building During demolition.
All above images © Jeffrey Booth
Article and images by Jeffrey Booth (Library Volunteer), March 2017.