AstraZeneca has celebrated the 50th anniversary of its Hursdfield plant.

The pharmaceutical giant marked the occasion with a special lunch for staff past and present, as well as local dignitaries including Councillor Rachel Bailey, leader of Cheshire East Council.

Councillor Bailey called the anniversary ‘a magnificent milestone’.

She said: “To have this company’s second largest site in Europe, situated here in Cheshire East and employing 2,500 people, fills us with a great sense of pride and I wish the company many more successful years here in Macclesfield.”

Former staff who attended the event included: Frank Fildes, head of the pharmaceutical department, 1985-1994; John Earthy, works manager, 1972 to 1980; Chris Potter, director of project management, 1990-2007; David Gartside, head of UK manufacturing, 1995 to 2004; Paul Reynolds, vice president (VP) of projects management, 1999-2009; Barrie Thorpe, executive VP for operations 1999-2006; Arthur Dicken, site manager during the 1980s; and Julian Amey, project manager 1990-1992.

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The lunch was attended by apprentices working at the site including: Elliott Kirton, Isabel Bowyer, Charlotte Lorains, Ben Cespon, Edward Baines and Ryan Coram.

Other special guests included Mark Payne from Fallibroome Academy, Simon Hyde from Kings School, Manny Otwe from Tytherington School, Tracy Cosgrave from Macclesfield College and Tony Billings from All Hallows.

Andy Evans, current head of the Hurdsfield site, said: “If you looked at the site by time-lapse photography over these 50 years it would have appeared almost organic. Buildings come, serve their useful life and then go. Signs change, people join as apprentices and retire - some with as much as 40 years service. For the company the focus is firmly on the future and continued involvement in Macclesfield.”

The history of AstraZeneca

The manufacturing centre was officially opened on April 26, 1966, to link up with the medicines being researched at its laboratories in Alderley Park.

The factory - then owned by ICI - took four years and £7m to build on a 80-acre green field site on the Hurdsfield industrial estate.

Architects Harry S Fairhurst & Sons designed the pharmaceutical building, offices, restaurant, laboratories and medical centre.

Initially only half the site was developed with future expansion in mind.

By 1964 the laboratories and warehouse were up and running and the following year manufacturing began, creating 1,000 jobs.

Drugs were created in bulk, tested, and then processed into tablets, creams, injectables or solutions. The products were then packed and stored in the warehouse on racks up to 21 feet high.

It wasn’t long before there was a need to expand and in 1971 a £3.5 million extension was completed.

Further new plants were built including a new pharmaceutical production building in 1984 and a special tablets facility in 1985, meaning the site then employed 2,500 employees.

Following the launch of a drug for prostate and breast cancer in 1987 a special sterile plant was constructed and opened in 1990. Growth continued with three further sterile plants being built – the last in 1999.

By 1993 ICI had been sold off and reorganised and the plant’s owners Zeneca were producing drugs to treat cancers, heart, nervous system, respiratory and gastrointestinal conditions.

It was now focussed on production, packing and distribution, but also starting to grow its development team, who tested the best method of production for drugs, creating a bridge between the science and manufacturing.

By 1996 goods left Macclesfield for 5,000 UK customers and 120 overseas markets.

In 1999 the Swedish pharmaceutical firm Astra merged with Zeneca, creating one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

More recently investment has continued with a £120 million upgrade to medicines production, £60 million on a new warehouse and packing hall due in 2017 and £20 million on new offices.

The site now employs more than 3,000 people, including 1,000 in manufacturing, 800 development and 500 IT staff.