These reminiscences were written by Mr A T Brooks during his long stay in hospital and will, we feel sure, be of interest to readers both old and new. First Published in the Company Forward Magazine 1943
Out of employment for months and my meager savings exhausted, was the unhappy position in which I found myself in early June, 1904. There was no such tide-over for a lean period in those days as the "Dole". I had not been improvident but the death of my father when I was 14 years of age sapped my earnings, which all went to the upkeep of the home. Prior to this compulsory spell of idleness, I earned at one time 7s per week, of which I retained 1d as pocket money. Nevertheless, I managed to get a little pleasure out of life. I have always found that the greatest pleasures I have enjoyed in life have been those gained by my own efforts, not those for which I have paid in cash.
An opportunity to leave the ranks of the unemployed came at the period at which these memoirs open early June 1904. I even remember the hour, 1.45 pm. I had just returned from my usual morning tramp in search of work with the usual result of non-success. Aware of my plight a friend called and told me of a job going at The Chiswick Soap Company, and I was told to enquire for a Mr Burdett. With all haste I arrived at the place named and awaited the return of that gentleman from dinner. Mr Burdett offered me a job as a pipe fitter's mate. Let it be confessed right away that I did not know the difference between a pair of tongs and a spanner, but confidence conquered any misgivings I may have had as to my ability to retain the job. So there was I a pipe fitter's mate and proud of it! Little did I dream that in 1947 I should be a member of the same firm and have witnessed its change from The Chiswick Soap Company to The Chiswick Polish Co Ltd, and then to Chiswick Products Ltd, as we know it today.
My first job was to assist in the fitting of a pipe for a new oil separating plant used in conjunction with the manufacture of soft soap. This plant stood at the back of the warehouse where the present stores are now situated. This job lasted six weeks and our next task was to dismantle an iron store used by the Printing Department as a varnish and paint store. This had to be re-erected at a spot close by. My suggestion to the late Mr Dan Mason that a coat of paint before re-erection would be advisable was agreed to, and I then became a Painter and was glad to give up engineering.
In those days the Tinshop and Printing Departments were adjoining each other, underneath what is now the Nugget Department, and at present used as a Tin Store. A comparison with the Printing Department at the Great Chertsey Road Factory shows that rapid strides have been made. "Cherry Blossom" had not arrived at that time. Floral names played a prominent part in those days in this line of business. We had "Red Poppy" and "Primrose" soft-soaps, "Forget-me-not" furniture polish, "Buttercup" metal polish and finally "Cherry Blossom Boot Polish".
The Iron Store finished and my zest for painting increasing, I suggested that the windows of the buildings could do with a coat of paint. This was agreed to and I first tackled the sky-lights in the roof of what is now the Nugget Department. I managed to find a duck ladder of sufficient length to reach the sky-lights; it was a little unsafe but thinking a request for a new one might lead to the job being cancelled and myself out of employment I took the risk.
Early in 1905 the first factory experiments in the manufacture of boot polish were started and frequently my painting work was interrupted to assist in these experiments. These were stirring times with myself as the chief stirrer! "Cherry Blacking" failed to get registered by that name but "Cherry Blossom Boot Polish" was sanctioned.
Mr Dan Mason devoted most of his time to the soft-soap departments and the metal polish room, Mr Charles Mason, his brother, attending to the office work and the advertising side of a steadily growing business. Woe betide a man if caught idling by Mr Dan: a terrific worker himself, he expected that his staff should be equally energetic.
It was customary in those days to have an Annual Tea followed by a concert. To this function each employee was allowed to bring one friend. The decision to go into the market with Cherry Blossom Boot Polish was announced at the function held in January, 1906. The tea and concert were held in the Polish Department (now the Nugget Department) and the cloak room which is at the far end was the original rest room and meal room in fact the only girls' room of any description in the factory. This was erected late in 1905. Preparations for the tea were made months before. Outside caterers served the tea and supplied the necessary tables and chairs. The concert artistes were all employees, the programme consisting of songs, tableaux, duets and a sketch. The erection of the stage, the painting of the scenery, and the making of dresses was all a labour of love and overtime without pay. Hours and hours of work were put in by some of us and there was of course as in all time, alas those who could not or would not spare the time to assist.
I personally always looked forward to this annual function and thoroughly enjoyed the fun it gave us.
When not engaged in painting I was given other tasks such as helping the carpenter and I remember assisting him in the preparation of our Stand used in the Capetown Exhibition of 1906. Then I assisted in the decoration of Mr Dan and Mr Charles' office, which was at the end of the Polish Room. The windows of the office were there until quite recently and so was the passageway which we prepared from the fire exit facing the Time Office.
It may be of interested to mention that when I first started with the firm there were no buildings from the Girls' Time Office gate to Hogarth House: just an old wooden fence immediately on roadway. The entire building including The Lodge and down to Hogarth House has been erected since 1906.
Another job that I can recall was assisting, with any labour that could be obtained, in scaling the pipes and interior of the boiler. We worked on it for about two weeks and finally it had to go away for new fire boxes.
Polish mixing was now occupying much of my time and a new formula was being used. Incidentally, I might mention that this formula, with only very small alterations, was used up to 1914.