Cape Asbestos Factory – a brief history and a deadly legacy

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Novum Law’s specialist asbestos and mesothelioma team recently secured significant compensation for a woman diagnosed with the fatal asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma, after asbestos exposure at the Cape Asbestos Factory.

Tragically, the woman was diagnosed with the disease several decades after playing in badminton matches and tournaments with her husband at the Cape Asbestos Factory in Barking, East London.

The badminton games took place in the factory’s canteen and she remembers all the asbestos dust in and around the site which inevitably, was breathed in by those in the vicinity.

Unfortunately, our client’s story is not an isolated case. Thousands of people have been affected by exposure to deadly asbestos dust at the notorious asbestos plant at Harts Lane, Barking.

The factory closed down in 1969, but tragically it exposed thousands of people, including workers, family members and neighbours to deadly asbestos.

In fact, the factory has put Barking on the map for all the wrong reasons as one of London’s biggest asbestos death blackspots.  A local newspaper has described how Cape Asbestos contaminated “unprotected workmen, wives who washed their overalls and children from Northbury School who played with the asbestos ‘snow’ spewed from its giant fans.”

But what do we know about the Cape Asbestos Company?

The Cape Asbestos Company launched in South Africa back in 1893. Asbestos was mined there and then sent to Europe to be converted into asbestos products.  These products included asbestos boards, ropes and textiles.

The Cape Asbestos factory was built in Harts Lane, Barking in East London in 1913 for the large scale manufacture of asbestos products.

In 1939, Cape was involved in Britain’s war efforts opening a manufacturing site near Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire to manufacture gas mask filters for World War II. The masks were made using blue asbestos. The company also started to produce friction materials.

In the early 1950s, Cape Asbestos started producing Asbestolux, an asbestos board that became hugely popular. It was used extensively until the mid 1970s, as an ideal fire-proof product for insulation, partitioning and roofing.

As a result of the large scale manufacturing of asbestos products at Cape, many thousands of people have been exposed to carcinogenic (cancer causing) asbestos dust.  This includes not only workers at Cape’s factories, but also those who lived and worked in the surrounding areas.

Asbestos fibres would float in the air, settle all around on the ground and be inhaled and ingested by anyone who was there at the time.  Consequently, there have been numerous successful claims for compensation due to the many people who have been injured or died as a result of exposure to Cape’s asbestos.

Compensation has also been paid to thousands of claimants in South Africa, who mined the asbestos on behalf of the Cape Asbestos Company, and subsequently suffered or died from asbestos-related diseases including asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Of course, we cannot forget the thousands of people affected by using manufactured asbestos products themselves. This includes carpenters, plumbers, builders, engineers, mechanics, roofers and anyone who potentially came into contact with asbestos fibres when the products were cut, drilled or damaged in some way.

We may never know the full extent of the damage and suffering caused by the Cape Asbestos Company’s deadly asbestos legacy.

Amid reports that Cape plc has been forced to put aside £40 million for ongoing asbestos and mesothelioma claims, Barking, Dagenham and Havering Trades Union Council (BDHTUC), is planning a new memorial  Barking Town Square to remember all those who have lost their lives to asbestos.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma and lived or worked close to the Cape Asbestos factory, Novum Law’s team of specialist asbestos disease solicitors can help on a ‘no win no fee’ basis. To find out more, contact us on Freephone: 0800 884 0777 or email:

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