In the early years of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), chemical research problems which did not fall within the scope of any existing research station were mainly undertaken under the auspices of the Chemistry Co-ordinating Research Board. The board initiated investigations that were carried out by a number of different institutions, such as the synthesis of formaldehyde at Oxford University, work on synthetic resins at Birmingham University and on the corrosion of metals at Imperial College.
In 1923 the DSIR decided to create a laboratory for chemical research. This new establishment was set up in 1925 at Teddington, Middlesex, in geographical association with the National Physical Laboratory, and was at first known as the Chemical Research Laboratory.
The laboratory's remit did not cover the whole range of chemical research, as this laboratory was intended to fill a gap in the available laboratory resources of the department, and to undertake such chemical investigations as the department thought desirable in the public interest. The laboratory was organised in a varying number of research groups, described by the titles of their most important projects, rather than by the branches of chemistry with which their work was principally concerned.
The laboratory's work was supervised by a Chemistry Research Board, which replaced the co-ordinating board in 1927. The board also supervised any other research referred to it on the recommendation of the Advisory Council, and submitted annually a programme of work for the ensuing year and a report on the work of the laboratory. Research undertaken at the laboratory initially included work on a number of minerals and gases.
In 1943 the work of the laboratory on road tar, which since 1931 had been carried out in co-operation with the British Road Tar Association under the supervision of the Road Tar Research Committee, was transferred to the Road Research Laboratory.
Following the report of a committee set up by the department's Research Council to review the work and functions of the Chemical Research Laboratory, its title was changed in 1958 to the National Chemical Laboratory; at the same time the research board was replaced by a National Chemical Laboratory Steering Committee with similar terms of reference. The following year the National Collection of Industrial Bacteria, which the laboratory had taken over in 1950, was transferred to the Torry Research Station, and the laboratory's Chemical Engineering Group, formed in 1957, passed to the laboratory. In 1964 the Extraction of Metals Group was also transferred to the laboratory and the steering committee was dissolved.
In 1965 the National Chemical Laboratory was absorbed by the National Physical Laboratory, on the transfer of the latter to the control of the Ministry of Technology.