Monday, December 30, 2013

Dad's first job

A hundred years ago this Christmas my dad left school at the age of thirteen.  He never explained why he hadn't left at the age of twelve like most working class kids at the time.

 So early in the new year he started his first job at Gibbs soap factory on Green Bank Wapping.
For anyone familiar with Gibbs products they will probably think of SR toothpaste, and older generations will remember Gibbs dentifrice.  Dentifrice was a cake of dental soap (there is no other word) in a metal tin.  The taste was dreadful, and no matter how little you tried to get on the brush, your mouth stilled filled up with soapy foam, but there were not that many toothpastes around at the time, and when you think about it those little round metal tins were quite convenient for when travelling.  Except that people didn't travel as much then !

Apart from the dentifrice Gibbs also made a toilet soap and this was the section that thirteen year old Dad went to work.  His main memories of those days was first of all the smell from the boiling vats and secondly the sheer hard work of cutting up large slabs of hard soap into small tablets.

Most people are probably aware that soap in days gone by had as it's main ingredient boiled bones of all kinds with the addition of lye and various sodas.  The smell given off from the boiling process could not be imagined by anybody who had not experienced it

Later Dad progressed to the cutting department.  He said that when solidified the soap was in large blocks about the size of a tea chest which were then cut into slices and then into tablet size.

The cutting was done with a length length of wire which was pulled through the soap.  Although the soap itself was not hard at this stage, it was still hard work for a thirteen year old who was not even fully grown.   (Even when fully grown he was not that tall anyway)

There was also another cutting device which contained a blade whist I'll had to be pulled through the soap 

And still requiring a great deal of effort for a young boy.