Dr. Brian Mercer (1927-98) was born in Blackburn towards the end of the British textile industry’s golden age. Fortunately, he was inspired to convert the resources of the cotton mill he inherited to the manufacture of his 1956 ‘geotextile’ invention called Netlon. This utilised up-and-coming plastics technology to make strong netting that provided an easy, cost-effective solution for both commercial and domestic activities. For example, building contractors use it for soil retention alongside motorways while gardeners protect their plants and ponds with it.
Mercer continued to experiment and in 1978 invented Tensar geogrids, the rigid version of Netlon. Having the high tensile strength of steel, this has a vast range of applications in solidifying the ground for railways, roads, pavements, housing estates, stadia, runways, warehouses and office blocks, to name a few. The aggregate is pressed into the spaces of the grid and locks together, making it even stronger.
The Tensar company is still based in Blackburn today. It produces systems for any situation where stabilisation of a weak or uneven ground is required, including coastal locations subject to erosion. Mercer’s ingenuity, reflected in the hundreds of patents registered in his name, was rewarded with an OBE in 1981, among many other honours.
(Image: Robin Stott at geograph.org.uk / CC BY-SA 2.0)