House­wife who in­vented the dis­pos­able nappy

The Week Middle East - - Obituaries -

In 1947, Va­lerie Hunter Gor­don was mar­ried to an Army of­fi­cer, liv­ing in Cam­ber­ley, in Sur­rey, and ex­pect­ing a baby, said The Daily Tele­graph. With two older chil­dren, she’d al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced the “aw­ful labour” of wash­ing, dry­ing and iron­ing nap­pies, and, aged 26, was dread­ing the prospect of re­turn­ing to it. Surely, she thought, there must be some kind of dis­pos­able va­ri­ety she could use in­stead. But her re­search re­vealed that even in the US, there was no such thing. “It was ex­tra­or­di­nary,” she said. “No one had thought about it.”

Va­lerie Hunter Gor­don 1921-2016

So Hunter Gor­don de­cided to cre­ate her own. “I thought, it’s easy, I’ll make them. But it wasn’t easy.” Ini­tially ex­per­i­ment­ing with para­chute ny­lon – which was eas­ily sourced in those post­war years – she came up with a pair of PVC pants, fas­tened with a cord and pop­pers, and con­tain­ing a cel­lu­lose pad, and a layer of cot­ton wool. There was no need for safety pins; the plas­tic holder could be rinsed and reused; while the rest was dis­pos­able, and largely biodegrad­able. So her nappy cre­ated lit­tle ex­tra waste, and used far less water and en­ergy than the old tow­elling ones. They worked bril­liantly on her son Nigel – and soon, all the other Army wives wanted them for their ba­bies. “And so I ended up mak­ing over 600 of these wretched things.” It was, she ob­served, far more work than wash­ing nap­pies had been. But her hus­band helped, and in 1948, they ap­plied for a patent. The first Paddi Pads – and ac­com­pa­ny­ing Pad­diPants – went on the mar­ket in 1949. The idea of throw­ing things away sat un­easily with a pub­lic ac­cus­tomed to the make-do-and­mend spirit of the War years, and sales were slow. But af­ter the nap­pies were pro­moted in The Lancet, they were stocked in Boots, and the tide turned: by 1960 they were sell­ing mil­lions per year. Hunter Gor­don had not been able to patent the pads (only the pants) – so Pad­dis didn’t make her a for­tune. But with six chil­dren even­tu­ally, she cer­tainly found the roy­al­ties use­ful. The com­pany later di­ver­si­fied, pro­duc­ing pads for women – which sold even bet­ter. In the 1960s, how­ever, a US firm launched Pam­pers. More ab­sorbent than Pad­dis, and fully dis­pos­able, they took over the mar­ket, and Pad­dis went into slow de­cline. Born in 1921, Hunter Gor­don was the daugh­ter of Sir Vin­cent de Fer­ranti, of the Fer­ranti elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing firm. Aged 19, she mar­ried Patrick Hunter Gor­don, who’d won an MC in the re­treat from Dunkirk. In the 1950s, the fam­ily moved to In­ver­ness-shire, where she cre­ated a high-tech home, com­plete with self-clos­ing cur­tains. Ad­di­tion­ally, af­ter be­ing told by Lord Lo­vat that her daugh­ters – wear­ing iden­ti­cal Gor­don tar­tan dresses – looked like sponge bags, she re­searched the archives, and re­con­structed an al­ter­na­tive pat­tern that had been made by Gor­don weavers. Mar­keted as Red Gor­don, it proved hugely pop­u­lar.

Gor­don with three of her chil­dren

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