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My first encounter with Holmes Chapel and my love for it.

I was born in Crewe in 1947 and my first recollection of the Village of Holmes Chapel was as a youngster (then about age 6) travelling with my father, Harry Slinn (then a GPO telephone engineer) and sat in his small, khaki-green GPO Morris van, to the local telephone exchange to correct faults and also connect lines and instal new home telephones. I can remember the small shops then on the square, specifically the one opposite the church from where one Christmas he purchased a very large box of Smith’s Christmas crackers. However, very sadly and later in 1956, while on inspection at a local farm, he developed a pain in his eye and very rapidly over that weekend ended up totally losing his eyesight in both eyes due to glaucoma. This didn’t deter him though and he later retrained, transferring as a telephonist on a modified switchboard to the then M.A.F.F., based at Wistaston in Crewe.

Anyway, through my father’s GPO former work trainee, we found a very good friend who used to take us (the boys) on Saturdays to Crewe Alex ‘away’ fixtures from the late 1950s and on one occasion I remember a cafe, also on the square and next to the shop from where the crackers were purchased. We had a quick snack there and It had a jukebox and I remember that I kept asking for coins to repeatedly play the 1958 song ‘Sugartime’, perhaps to the annoyment of the locals but I don’t believe so in those happy days.

Since then, I can honestly say that I’ve spent my most happiest working days in Holmes Chapel, working first as a trainee Chemist in the late 1960s for Fisons Pharmaceuticals in R & D on the anti-asthmatic Sodium cromoglycate (INTAL) project, and later in the early 1980s for the British Pepper & Spice Co (BPS) who were based in Manor Lane and part of S & W Berisford and Haven Foods Ltd. In both cases, I sadly happened to be relocated to Loughborough with Fisons R & D and to Northampton with BPS. In Holmes Chapel, I have always loved the friendliness of the village people and centre, and the beautiful scenery outside, including the iconic Lovell Telescope and Twemlow Viaduct. In fact, my father met the then Dr (later Sir) Bernard Lovell around 1955 when he installed new telephones and lines at Jodrell Bank, just before its role in detecting the Russian satellite Sputnik in 1957, but throughout radio astronomy was Jodrell Bank’s forte and it has just received the UNESCO World Heritage Site honour and status, and deservedly so.

But my most happiest time in Holmes Chapel was around 1967-8 before the Fisons R & D relocation to a new complex at Bakewell Rd in Loughborough. It was the days of the great 60s music era and the excitement of working on a major project first initiated by Dr Roger Altounyan, a Manchester GP and asthma sufferer. He happened to discover, through several years of his own clinical trials on himself (as a human ‘guinea pig’), that inhalation of an Egyptian herb extract before a self-induced asthma attack (triggered by inhalation of guinea pig hairs in a ‘soup’) relieved his asthma attacks when taken each day in advance, but as a physician he didn’t know the Chemistry behind it and Fisons Pharmaceuticals took on the project (with Roger affiliated to it and also employed by Fisons).

At first, Fisons chemists had to isolate and identify the active component of the herb that had relieved the asthma attacks and then synthesise it in the R & D labs. Following several years of research on a large number of likely drug candidates, they were fortunate in discovering that the antiasthmatic action was due to a bischromone compound (FPL 670) which was later called sodium cromoglycate with later trade name INTAL, and a 670 production plant was built for the full clinical trials needed for the new drug registration. Roger later developed the dry powder SPINHALER inhalation device for delivering INTAL to the lungs. For me, it was a very pivotal and exciting time in my early career and we worked in annexes adjoined to the beautiful Fisons ( previous Bengers) Art Deco building. I worked for senior qualified organic chemists and was also allowed Day release to Mid-Cheshire College and later Leicester Polytechnic to study for higher qualifications up to degree level as part of my apprenticeship there. Later, and independently through British Pepper & Spice Co, I completed my graduate studies to research Masters (MPhil) level at North Staffordshire Polytechnic (later Staffordshire University)

Social life outside work at Fisons was brilliant through local parties, an active sports club and sports Ground, and annual car treasure hunts which I particularly enjoyed. It was a time of working as a team along with biochemists, zoologists, analysts, and other disciplines all involved on the project. The main function of the research chemists and trainees was synthesising related compounds to see if the antiasthmatic property could be enhanced working on analogues of cromoglycate. Anyway, after relocation to Loughborough the rest is History since INTAL became a blockbuster drug for a Fisons and saved thousands of lives. In some small way I feel proud and privileged having worked on such a project.

Since then I have written blogs elsewhere about Roger Altounyan and anybody can search for him on both Wikipedia and via Google. The man was my hero and inspiration for my future career for life. For illustration, I’ve attached some photos of the time and hope that the admin and moderators will accept this very long blog. That is why I love Holmes Chapel and will never forget it.

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