In the 19th century it was found that the fibrous quality of the rock enabled it to be broken down, spun into thread and then woven into cloth.
It could also be mixed with other materials to make a plaster or compressed into boards. In these forms, it could be used to delay the spread of fire, to keep heat in or to protect from heat. It could also act as an insulator against noise.
By the end of the 19th century, asbestos was big business. The major asbestos companies in the UK competed to find ever more uses for the material.
Factories opened up and down the country to manufacture different products. Large quantities of raw asbestos were imported through the major ports in London, Liverpool and Glasgow.
Specialist contracting firms were established to apply insulation in ships, factories, engineering works, power stations and foundries. Asbestos products also became more widely used in the construction industry.
As the health risks associated with asbestos became more clearly understood, by the 1950's and 1960's alternative materials began to come into use. Crocidolite, the blue asbestos was considered to be the most dangerous form of the mineral.
Import into the UK was banned in 1970 but Amosite or brown asbestos continued to be imported until 1985 and a total ban on the use of Chrysotile, or white asbestos, was not imposed until 1999. A huge quantity remains in buildings as roof or wall cladding, as fire protection or sound insulation, in floor coverings and pipe lagging.
Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006, the use or reuse of asbestos materials is banned.
Any operations involving work on asbestos or the removal of asbestos is prohibited other than under strictly controlled or licensed conditions.
The regulations also provide rules for the management of non-domestic premises which contain asbestos to ensure that asbestos materials are identified, recorded and labelled.