Widnes and Runcorn lie on opposite banks of the River Mersey at the lowest point where the river has been bridged. In the nineteenth century the two towns became the principal centre in Britain for the manufacture of sulphuric acid, chlorine, alkali, and a range of associated products.
The Catalyst museum is based in a tower, once the office of a soap-manufacturing company, that provides wide-ranging view of the industrial landscapes along the Mersey. The open-air part of Catalyst includes the remains of condensing cisterns used in the manufacture of hydrochloric acid, pyrites kilns used in making sulphuric acid, a Gay-Lussac acid-absorption tower, and bases of Weldon chlorine stills. There are also four interactive gallery displays, and a documentation centre that holds important collections relating to the zinc, alkali and soap industries, together with archives and files of employee publications from Imperial Chemical Industries, the principal British chemical company during most of the twentieth century.