Toilet brush drawer?

20 December 2013

Having spent the past few days coming up with mathematical puzzles for you all, this morning we turned our minds back to the 1911 census. But, I cannot quite remember how we landed up looking up this particular occupation?! Clearly we are now flushed with success though…. (audible groan….)….

In 1911, there are fourteen toilet brush drawers. Firstly, the question is: what the devil is a toilet brush drawer!? Way back in 1999, Jeff Knaggs posted on the subject on GENBRIT: ”Before decent glues were invented the only way of “sticking” bristles to a brush-stock was by using hot pitch. This method was used up until this century for brooms and household brushes. However, this was no good for small personal brushes as the pitch would get in your hair. Also, it was very limited in its water resistant qualities when used with hot water etc.

The way around this was “drawing”. In drawing, a brush back is made and holes drilled through it to take the knots of bristle…. Toothbrushes were also “drawn” in this way, and a very fiddly business it was! As a result the brush manufacturers employed lots of women (smaller fingers!) as factory staff and out-workers to carry out this job. In the late nineteenth century, you will find lots of women describing themselves as brush-drawers. Of course, they also made drawn toilet brushes (i.e. for hair, body, nails etc.) as well.”

The more pertinent question is perhaps: why are thirteen out of fourteen toilet brush drawers in 1911 residing in Combe St Nicholas or Combe St Nicholas and Buckland St Mary? Was there a cottage industry, factory or similar? And how did Louisa Grummett, aged 37 of 91 Larkhall Lane, Clapham come to be a toilet brush maker?

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