Saturday, August 20, 2011

Brushes with my Past

The long eleven weeks off that spread before me on leaving school after completing my exams, and before I started the course I had chosen to study at college, back in the early 80's, I worked for GB Kent in their factory.

GB Kent and Sons were/are brushmakers by royal warrant to the Queen. In those early years, before I moved to Somerset, the factory was within easy walking distance from my family home. The tall chimney that stood on its roof, with 'Kents Brushes' written in large white letters down its length, could be seen from my bedroom window. I think the building dated from around 1901, although Kents have produced brushes since 1777.
(I found this lovely short video on You Tube here)


This was my first proper job; I earned a very minimum wage, and found the long days a challenge! Clocking-in was at 8am (until 5pm), with wages docked if you were more than 3 minutes late - I was assigned to the toothbrush department.
I learned a variety of jobs within the factory. My 'favourite' if I can call it that, was stamping the Kents log onto the toothbrush handles with real gold leaf, using a machine that reassembled a one-arm-bandit which heat sealed the letters into the plastic.
Another machine required me to push toothbrushes head first into apertures on a moving conveyor belt, which then trimmed the bristles flat. Working so quickly and concentrating hard, this machine often gave me motion sickness!
Occasionally I was put alongside some of the women who had worked in the factory for all their working lives - Sometimes 'picking', which was rather labour intensive. Stray bristles had to be trimmed away with a small knife to give the toothbrush head an immaculate finished look. Other times I worked feeding the finished boxes of toothbrushes into a heat sealing machine that shrink-wrapped a plastic film around them for delivery.
It was an experience to say the least, and I learned the value of a day-off when the factory was closed for one day, for the Royal Wedding.
(A special gift of handmade his and hers hair brushes, in a sumptuous presentation box, was sent to the happy couple by GB. Kents!)
At the end of my 11 weeks, I was offered a job at the factory...but I declined and took my place at college!
A few years later the factory needed upgrading, so was demolished. I remember going down to the site to watch the tall chimney fall to the ground. A huge crowd had gathered on the main A41 to see this end to an era. John Dickensons (of Basildon Bond writing paper fame) was also demolished around the same time, and this area of Hertfordshire would never be quite the same.
When I return now, its a very busy place from the one I remember; full up with riverside and canal-side apartments (with easy access into London by rail) and a large Sainsburys supermarket in the place of the brick built factories!
My time at GB Kents was not one I particularly look back on with fondness - It was a tiny part of my life, where I earned a few pennies to see me through college, but I learned the importance of producing a good quality, beautiful product and working hard to keep the company's good reputation.
Many of the brushes were hand-finished and were made from fine materials. Badger hair brushes were a speciality, particularly men's shaving brushes . It was even possible to buy a badger hair toothbrush...but I can't say that ever appealed to me!
Knowing that the brushes produced were of a very good quality and made to last, I am somewhat surprised that I've not come across any antique or vintage ones on my travels.
I've bought a lot of hair brushes over the years, but I can't recall one having the Kent logo on it.
I've trawled through my archives and have found quite a few photos of different brushes that I've found over the years...
Some I have kept...
And others have been sold and have new homes.

Thanks for indulging me in another of my stories from my past...
I'll leave you with the photos that I found - I hope you will enjoy seeing some of them again...
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*

*
*
*
*
Enjoy the rest of your weekend,
Niki x

6 comments:

  1. It's lovely to hear stories from the past and see the images of the gorgeous hairbrushes :-)

    Jem xXx

    ReplyDelete
  2. You have so many interesting goodies to show. Love your story. So interesting about the toothbrushes.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Very interesting post and lovely pictures.
    Liz @ Shortbread & Ginger

    ReplyDelete
  4. A great post. Interesting how these things don't tend to turn up. I suppose something like a brush is very personal so if someone dies or buys a new one do they throw them away? Great photos.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Just lovely, Niki! Thank you for sharing the story and photos. Have a marvelous week! Mary

    ReplyDelete
  6. From your descriptions I should think those brushes would last forever! Lovely photos as always, Niki.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for finding the time to visit me...
Niki xx