Tag Archives: dentist

White Teeth to Blue Bottle: the Domestos story

If you’re a stickler for cleanliness (or a local historian), you might well know that Domestos originated in Newcastle. You might even remember the factory in the Ouseburn, where it was bottled until the then owners, Lever Brothers, moved production to Warrington in 1973. But perhaps you don’t know that its story began in a Heaton garden shed.

Origins

Wilfred (sometimes spelt Wilfrid) Augustine Handley was actually born in Essex in 1901 but his parents were both from co Durham and his older sister, Catherine, had been born in Heaton in 1893. By the time his younger sister, Doris Ruby, came along in 1905, the family (father George William, an insurance agent, mother, Dorothy Ann Elizabeth Jane, and older siblings, Robert William, Ruth Primrose , George Ingram Pope and Catherine Violet Beatrice, as well as young Wilfred) had returned to the north east. By 1911, they were living in Gateshead. Father, George, was no longer in insurance. He now worked as a ship’s blacksmith.

Dentistry

It’s something of a surprise then to move forward a decade or so and find trade directories listing both Wilfred and his father as dentists. This was around the time (1922) when the right to call yourself a dentist became regulated for the first time in the UK. Certainly there are sources which give Wilfred’s profession as ‘dental mechanic’ rather than ‘dentist‘. At the moment we can’t be sure but Wilfred’s younger brother, Cecil, followed in their footsteps and, like them, practised from the family home at 309 Chillingham Road for many years.

An article in the Evening Chronicle on 1 November 1945 states that ‘the Joint War Committee of Dental Associations announces that Captain C Handley, having been released from service of the Army Dental Corps is resuming practice at 309 Chillingham Road, Heaton on 5 November 1945’.

Directories list him as a graduate of Kings College University of Durham School of Dental Sciences, which was based in Newcastle. Some local people may remember him: his practice was at the same address on Chillingham Road until the late 1960s. He died at Heddon on the Wall in 1989.

Electoral registers show that Wilfred himself resided at 309 Chillingham Road from at least 1922 to 1934 (with the exception of 1932, when they show him living with his sister Catherine and her husband in nearby Portland Road, then part of Heaton ward). In 1935, he was at 152 Simonside Terrace.

Eau de Heaton

But it was while living at 309 Chillingham Road that the entrepreneurial Wilfred had his big idea. According to Unilever, which still produces it, Wilfred was a 25 year old dental mechanic when he started to dilute and bottle sodium hypochlorite,  a waste product bought from the chemical works, ICI Billingham, in the family’s garden shed. We can only guess that originally he was using the compound to whiten dentures (or even teeth?) but saw its wider potential.

In fact, bleach had been around since the eighteenth century when Claude Louis Berthollet produced potassium hypochlorite in his laboratory on the Quai de Javel in Paris. Hence it became known as ‘Eau de Javel‘. A hundred or so years later, in the late nineteenth century, an E S Smith patented the chloralkali process of producing sodium hypochlorite, which then started to be sold as a bleach under a number of brand names.

So Wilfred didn’t invent bleach but what he seems to have got right from the beginning was the marketing and distribution of his product. He set up the Hygiene Disinfectant Company and, according to Unilever, in 1929, chose the brand name ‘Domestos’, from the Latin ‘domus’ meaning house and the Greek ‘osteon’ meaning bone, suggesting ‘backbone of the home’.

The Handley family tells it a little differently: Wilfred asked his mother what his product should be called. When she enquired what it was for and he replied, ‘Domestic use,‘ the name ‘Domestos’ suggested itself.

Home delivery

At first, Domestos was marketed to local housewives and sold in large brown earthenware jars.

DomestosjarIMG_0113edresized

Domestos jar (Copyright: William Morris)

Perhaps inspired by the success of Ringtons Tea, established in Heaton in 1907, Handley set up a system of home delivery. (Interestingly, the 1939 Register shows Robert E Sturdy, Sam Smith’s trusted sales manager at Ringtons, who we have written about previously, living next door to Cecil in the Handley family home on Chillingham Road). The jars were refilled by door to door salesmen pushing hand carts or riding bicycle carts. The photograph below was supplied by descendants but we don’t know whether it’s Wilfred himself in the picture. It’s certainly a very early picture of door to door Domestos sales, when the Hygiene Disinfectant Company would have been very small.

Domestos Bike

Expansion

Sales were buoyant enough for production to move to a small factory on the Quayside in 1932 and to expand into a wide range of polishes, disinfectants, shampoos and detergents. By 1933, goods were being shipped south to Hull by sea and, within two years, supply depots had opened in both Hull and Middlesbrough.

In 1936, Wilfred married Ivy Isabella Cissie Halliday, the daughter of a Gateshead publican, who was herself born in Walker. She was a typist with the Post Office in Newcastle. The same year the company was renamed ‘Domestos’ after its original and most successful line. Records show the subscribers or directors as both Wilfred and Ivy.

In 1938, the company acquired larger premises, the College Works, a former toffee factory on Albion Row, Byker. By now, Domestos was sold in brown glass bottles with specially designed caps that allowed gas to escape. The cost of a bottle in 1938 was 6d with a 1d returnable deposit on the bottle.

After the war, the company was unable to acquire enough delivery vehicles so, again like Ringtons before them, it bought the St Ann’s Works at Heaton Junction and set up its own coach building division. This was soon renamed Modern Coachcraft Limited and by 1965 had a van sales force of over 150 salesmen.

Domestor150999

An advertisement from 1951 (Copyright: John Moreels, Photo Memories Organisation)

The bleach wasn’t only promoted as a cleaning agent and to ‘sweeten’ drains. It was also used as a cure for sore feet and, during the war, a treatment for burns. By 1952 there was national distribution with offices in London, Manchester, Cardiff, York and Glasgow and a national research laboratory.

Stergene (launched in 1948 and specially designed for washing woollens) and Sqezy (launched in 1957, the first washing up liquid to come in a squeezable plastic bottle) were other well known products developed by Handley and his staff. But there were specialist brands too – a variant of Stergene, called Hytox was used in hospitals and garages. And it was now that the slogan ‘Domestos kills all known germs’ was first coined.

Domestos151011

A window display from 1950. (Copyright: John Moreels, Photo Memories organisation)

Philanthropist

In 1961, Wilfred sold the brand to Lever Brothers Ltd. The 33 years of success and eventual sale of the company meant that Wilfred found himself a wealthy man. In 1963, he established a charitable foundation, the W A Handley Charity Trust, with a large donation. The charity is still in existence today and gives money to good causes throughout the North East and Cumbria. The charity says that it tries to follow the wishes of its founder and support those who are disadvantaged, young, elderly or disabled; maritime and service causes; education, training and employment; communities; historic and religious buildings, the environment, music and the arts.

In the financial year 2015-16, the 100 plus beneficiaries included: Percy Hedley Association, St Oswald’s Hospice, the Lit and Phil, Northern Sinfonia, Shelter, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Bede’s World and Newcastle Cathedral.  Whatever your interests, if you live in the north east, you have good reason to be grateful to Wilfred Handley.

After the sale

After the sale to Lever Brothers (now Unilever), Newcastle at first continued to be the centre of production. There were by now 800 workers on the College Works site and a £100,000 four storey office building was commissioned. Nevertheless a  number of production lines, though not those of Domestos itself, were soon moved to Port Sunlight and Warrington.

In the 1970s, the bleach itself went from strength to strength (so to speak). It became thicker, the familiar blue plastic bottle was introduced and perfume was added for the first time. But in 1973, production was moved from Newcastle to Warrington ending Domestos’s long association with Newcastle. This must have greatly saddened Wilfred, who died in Low Fell on 8 May 1975.

Domestosfactory1970s

Domestos Factory, Albion Row in the 1970s (Thank you to Ouseburn Trust for permission to use)

However, the product first developed in a Heaton garden shed by the young dental mechanic, Wilfred Handley,  lives on. It is now sold in 35 countries right across the world. Think about that, as well as the many local good causes it has supported, while you’re whitening your dentures!

Acknowledgements

This article was researched and written by Chris Jackson, Heaton History Group.

Thank you to Jacob Corbin, Archivist and Records Manager, Unilever; Arthur Andrews, Michael Byrne and Allen Mulliss, Heaton History Group; John Moreels, Photo Memories Organisation; Michael Patten and William Morris, descendants of Wilfred Handley; Lesley Turner, Ouseburn Trust for their help. It’s much appreciated.

Sources

‘The Development of Domestos: a product of the Ouseburn valley’ / Michael Byrne in ‘Tyne and Tweed’ no 58, 2004 (Association of Northumberland Local History Societies)

Can you help?

If you know more about Wilfred Handley and the early history of Domestos or anybody mentioned in this article or if you have any photos you are willing to share, please get in touch, either by clicking on the link immediately below this article title or by emailing chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

And if you have any memories or photos of work in the Domestos factory in Ouseburn please contact Lesley Turner at the Ouseburn Trust on 0191 261 6596 or by email at lesley.turner@ouseburntrust.org.uk

We are always interested to receive information, memories and photos relevant to Heaton’s history.

 

Castles of Heaton

Heaton History Group member, Arthur Andrews, has been researching his family tree. Luckily for us, although Arthur lives in Whitley Bay, a number of his family members lived in Heaton, including during World War One, the period we’re researching for our ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ project. Here is Arthur’s poignant account of the life of William Castle and his family.

‘My great-grandfather, William Castle was born in London on 24 July 1858.  He was the third of the six children of John and Susan Castle. Susan came from Southborough in Kent and John from Letcombe in Berkshire. We know that by 1861, when William was two, his father was a domestic servant/valet and the family were living in Lillington Place, London. Ten years later, with William still a schoolboy, they were in Paddington.

William Castle

William Castle

Country estate

‘However by 1878, for reasons I haven’t yet discovered, 19 year old William had moved to the other end of the country. He had followed his father into domestic service and was, at the age of 19, employed as a footman to a wealthy Northumberland couple, Watson Askew Esquire and the Honourable Sarah Askew. His new home was what can only be described as a stately home, Pallinsburn, near the Scottish border. A bit different from Paddington!

Pallinsburn, Northumberland

Pallinsburn, Northumberland

‘I managed to find records relating to William’s time at Pallinsburn in the Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn and so know that his starting wage was £26 a year but that within a year, he’d been promoted to the role of First Footman and earned an extra £2pa. The Askew family’s expenditure books show that he received an advance on his wages occasionally.

‘While at Pallinsburn, William was presented with a small, personally inscribed, leather bound bible, which I still have. The bible has gilt edging on all the pages and a decorative metal clasp and ornate metal corner protectors, which make it quite special. Expenditure records suggest it cost £3 to purchase, quite a lot of money at that time. The inscription says “William Castle, from honourable Sarah Askew March 10th 1880“. We can only speculate as to what prompted the gift.

Bible presented to William Castle

Bible presented to William Castle

Inscription in William Castle's Bible

The 1881 census shows that William was still living and working at Pallinsburn but the final reference to him in the family expenditure records is in May of that year, when his annual pay of £30 is recorded.

Heaton home

‘The next I know of William, he was working as a tobacconist on Shields Road and living above the shop at number 145. On 31 July 1884, he married 22 year old Elizabeth Stanners, a shepherd’s daughter from the small hamlet of New Etal in North Northumberland. The wedding took place in a Primitive Methodist chapel in Milfield, a few miles north of Wooler, which is still used for worship today. The newly-weds seem to have immediately come to live in Heaton, which must have been as big a shock for Elizabeth as the move from London to rural North Northumberland had been for William.

‘Between 1886 and 1900, Elizabeth and William had four children, John, Eleanor Susan (known as Nellie), Winifred (‘Winnie’) and Ruth. During this period, the family lived at various addresses not too far from the Shields Road shop, including 172 Tynemouth Road and 5 Charles Street, before moving, by 1900, to 47 Tenth Avenue. William kept his tobacconist’s shop until  September 1915, when he retired, receiving a silver fruit bowl from his staff. I still have the bowl.

William Castle's fruit bowl

Just before then we have found a reference to him in the local newspaper: On 25 March 1915, his gift of cigarettes to the sick and wounded of Armstrong College Hospital was publicly acknowledged.

John

‘The Castle children all attended Chillingham Road School, newly opened in 1893 to accommodate the growing number of children in the rapidly expanding suburbs of Heaton and Byker. Eldest boy John was among its first cohort. He was registered as pupil number 91 on 17 November 1893. He went on to the secondary school, which he left on 21 July 1899 to join his father’s business as a ‘tobacconist’s assistant’. I have at home, a lovely memento of John. In 1904, he was given a fine wooden smoking cabinet, with a small engraved plaque, which reads “Presented to J Castle for meritorious work, by the proprietors of The British Advertiser, Dec 1904″.

John Castle's smoking cabinet

Sadly, less than two years later, John died at home in Tenth Avenue, aged only 20, of appendicitis, not a disease we normally think of as fatal today.

Nellie

‘Nellie also went to work in her father’s shop until, in 1912, she married a young Irishman, Arthur James Andrews, in St Mark’s Byker.

Nellie and Arthur Andrews on their wedding day

Nellie and Arthur on their wedding day

Her husband was a dentist who, at the time of their marriage, worked and lodged in Wallsend. They went on to have five children: Dorothy, Ronald William, Marjorie, Nellie and another Arthur, Arthur James. In 1931, however, seven year old Dorothy and her father died of meningitis within days of each other. Nellie, widowed with four children at the age of 31, left the family home at 137 Heaton Park Road to live in Whitley Bay. Youngest son, Arthur, who you might have guessed was my father, was brought up by his grandparents to ease the burden on his mother.

Winnie

‘Winnie married Frederick Justus Hurdle, a Canadian engine fitter, on 18 October 1916. Within three months, they left for Canada, perhaps to get away from the war, which was causing such distress and hardship at home. Perhaps Winnie found it hard to settle or maybe because the war was over, she and Frederick returned in June 1919 but, in yet another tragedy to hit the family, Winnie died of meningitis just three months later.

Winnie Castle

Winnie Castle outside her Toronto home

Her widowed husband returned to Canada. As I write this, we’re reminded that meningitis is still a killer, with a new vaccine for all babies having just been authorised.

Ruth

‘Youngest daughter, Ruth, is pictured here outside the family home at 47 Tenth Avenue,  in the earliest photograph Heaton History Group has seen of the avenues.

Ruth Castle outside 47 Tenth Avenue

Young Ruth Castle outside 47 Tenth Avenue

Ruth married Leslie Daykin Jeffcoat of 34 Third Avenue in 1925, if not quite the boy next door, then not far off. But theirs is a ‘Heaton Avenues in Wartime’ story which I’ll tell on another occasion.

 Heaton resting place

‘After William’s retirement and with two of their four children having died prematurely, he and Elizabeth continued living on Tenth Avenue for another ten years, before moving in 1920 with youngest daughter, Ruth, to a much larger house in Shotley Bridge. Elizabeth died on 28 February 1929, aged 69 years and William a little over a year later on 5 May 1930, aged 72. William’s estate amounted to almost £10,000, showing how far the footman and the shepherd’s daughter had come.They returned to the area in which they’d spent most of their married life to be buried together in the family grave in Heaton and Byker Cemetery with John, the son, and Winifred, the daughter, who had pre-deceased them.  It was to be less than a year before a son-in-law and granddaughter were to join them.’

Can you help?

This article was researched by Arthur Andrews.

Heaton History Group member, Arthur Andrews

Heaton History Group member, Arthur Andrews

It forms part of our HLF-funded, Heaton Avenues in Wartime project. If you have a story to tell about your family or would like to help us research the history of Heaton, please contact: chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org Arthur would especially like to hear from anyone who has a photograph of William Castle’s tobacconist shop on Shields Road or has any information about the British Advertiser.