Clean sweep:

Dur­ing Vic­to­rian times brush-mak­ing was at the heart of south Nor­folk’s econ­omy and so­cial pros­per­ity. Now a new project cel­e­brates the legacy of this once thriv­ing in­dus­try

EDP Norfolk - - Inside - WORDS: Rachel Buller

The in­dus­trial her­itage of Diss and Wymondham

At 8am prompt, the sound of the fac­tory hooter echoed across the rooftops. For the peo­ple of Diss, it sig­nalled the be­gin­ning of another work­ing day pro­duc­ing brushes of all shapes and sizes to be shipped off around the world. From its hey­day in Vic­to­rian times through to the mid 20th cen­tury, the brush in­dus­try dom­i­nated the town and nearby Wymondham.

Not only did the large fac­to­ries in the two towns pro­vide steady em­ploy­ment for hun­dreds of lo­cal peo­ple who trooped to the pro­duc­tion line each day, the in­dus­try was a key part of the com­mu­ni­ties’ so­cial and eco­nomic iden­tity.

This month sees the launch of a ma­jor her­itage project ‘A Brush with the Past’ to cel­e­brate and bring to life the towns’ brush-mak­ing past. Run­ning from July 4 to Septem­ber 15, the Her­itage Lottery funded project, co-or­di­nated by East­ern Re­gion Me­dia (ERM) Com­mu­nity In­ter­est Com­pany, will see a range of ex­hi­bi­tions, events and ac­tiv­i­ties hap­pen­ing across the two towns. School pupils from Wymondham, Roy­don and Diss have also played a key role in the project, work­ing with his­to­ri­ans and artists to learn more about the his­tory of brush-mak­ing.

“The idea was de­vel­oped last year by ERM di­rec­tors Tim Ed­wards and Fiona Muller. They re­alised there was a re­ally in­ter­est­ing story to tell about the brush in­dus­try and its eco­nomic im­por­tance and also the place it has in peo­ple’s hearts,” says project co-or­di­na­tor Jess John­ston. “Wymondham and Diss had two huge brush fac­to­ries and would have em­ployed hun­dreds of peo­ple. In­ter­est­ingly, that in­dus­trial her­itage hasn’t al­ways been some­thing that peo­ple have been that in­ter­ested in but be­cause things have changed so much in to­day’s so­ci­ety and we feel so re­moved from that time, peo­ple are re­al­is­ing it is some­thing which needs doc­u­ment­ing and ex­plor­ing.”

Ini­tially the skilled trade orig­i­nated in small work­shops, but dur­ing the early Vic­to­rian pe­riod the in­dus­try grew, with brushes of all shapes and sizes made for very spe­cific tasks. Be­fore the ad­vent of mod­ern elec­tri­cal gad­gets, brushes were es­sen­tial tools in keep­ing a house, work place and all man­ner of goods clean.

“Prior to the Vic­to­rian pe­riod there was a his­tory of

brush mak­ing in the area with jour­ney­men mov­ing be­tween towns to get work and this was part of their brush mak­ing tramp­ing route. Nor­folk also had a good sup­ply of the wood used for the brush backs.”

As man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­niques de­vel­oped and de­mand grew, S D Page and Sons, which started in Nor­wich’s city cen­tre, moved to larger premises in Wymondham, later be­com­ing Bri­ton Brush Co, and Aldrich Bros Ltd opened a fac­tory in Roy­don, near Diss.

Both re­mained at the heart of the area’s econ­omy for decades, be­com­ing the largest em­ploy­ers with many work­ers cy­cling in from sur­round­ing vil­lages.

The two fac­to­ries fo­cused on dif­fer­ent ar­eas – at Wymondham the fac­tory fo­cused on paint brushes and house­hold brushes, whereas at Diss they made brushes for in­dus­trial and house­hold uses.

“The fac­to­ries were im­port­ing ma­te­ri­als from all over to use in the man­u­fac­tur­ing process, such as hogs’ hair and many dif­fer­ent types of grasses, and they were then send­ing these brushes out world­wide. At Wymondham they were mak­ing more than 2,000 dif­fer­ent types of brushes.

“At Diss, some of their best sellers in­cluded the fa­mous Jolly Farmer, which was a big broom used in farm yards, the Vene­tian car­pet brush and also the churn brush, used for clean­ing the in­side of the milk churns. It also made mat­ting and they sup­plied mats for ev­ery­one from 10 Down­ing Street to the Hip­po­drome circus in Yar­mouth.”

Jess says part of the project in­volved ex­plor­ing the sto­ries of those who worked in the fac­to­ries and lived in the area.

“The hooter in Diss which would call the work­ers in the morn­ing and sig­nal lunch hours could be heard ev­ery­where, peo­ple would set their watches to it and even if they didn’t work there, lots of peo­ple re­mem­ber that sound as part of their child­hoods and it showed how en­twined peo­ple’s lives were with the in­dus­try.”

“The oral his­to­ries show what it was re­ally like to work in those fac­to­ries. It wasn’t very well paid, but it did of­fer pro­vide a reg­u­lar job and the sto­ries talk of the ca­ma­raderie.

“But it was tough work. There were a lot of woman work­ing on the line and the con­di­tions were of­ten dan­ger­ous, such as dip­ping the brushes in boil­ing hot pitch. There were a lot of burns. For the young peo­ple it was re­ally in­ter­est­ing to hear about the re­al­i­ties of that life and to un­der­stand that it re­ally was not that long ago.”

“At Wymondham they were mak­ing more than 2,000 dif­fer­ent types of brushes”

TOP: Women at the brush fill­ing ma­chines in Wymondham, c1900; pho­to­graph Wymondham Her­itage Mu­seum

ABOVE LEFT: Wire draw­ing bris­tles to brush stocks, Diss c1950; pho­to­graph from Diss Mu­seum

ABOVE: Women around the pitch pan, Diss

TOP RIGHT: Mak­ing paint brush han­dles, Wymondham, c1950; pho­to­graph from Wymondham Her­itage Cen­tre

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.