It was early in 1940, after answering an advertisement in the local paper that at 15 years of age I began work as an Office Junior at Dove Chemical Products (previously Spic & Span Shoe Polishes). For the first 12 months after leaving school I had worked in the ‘modern’ offices of the B.R.C. Engineering Co. Ltd on the Lichfield Road and when I first saw the surroundings at Glover Street in which I might be working I though “Oh, what a difference”. However, my interview went O.K., I was offered the position, I took it, and had no regrets.
Our office was in the corner of a large building. It was just partitioned off (not to the ceiling) so it was sometimes rather noisy, especially when the tins for the polish were tipped on to the long tables and assembled for filling. I was fascinated when I first saw these tins being filled. I also wondered how the Shoe White got into the tubes! I had been watching this filling process and wanted “to have a go”, and what a mess I got myself into!!
There were four of us in the office - Mrs Wood (Company Secretary), Mr John Forman (Director), Enid (Shorthand Typist) and me. I worked mainly for Mrs Wood typing invoices, Account letters, and many gummed labels which were used to send out the tins of shoe and furniture polish. The cartons were picked up daily for delivery - mainly into the Staffs and Birmingham area (Cottage Homes and Hospitals, also to small corner shops).
We did not see much of Dr. Simon then. He was always in his laboratory at the far end of the building or out on the factory floor. He would come into the office and discuss the mail with Mr Forman (in German) and Mr Forman would then dictate to Enid (in English of course!). I would be filing or typing away, Mrs Wood would be doing her ‘book-keeping’ - how did we concentrate?! I remember so well the time Dr. Simon was taken away from the office for internment. We were sad for him and his family. Naturally we wondered what would happen to us (would we have to find new jobs?), especially when after a short while, Mr Forman was also interned.
Men from the Board of Trade in London came down. They stayed for a short time, then visited once a week.
We were on our own really (three in the office, Dr. Simon’s assistant in the lab., and a few workers in the Polish Section). There was a Sales Manager for the Chemical side of the business - he resided in the London Area, and a rep who lived locally bought in orders for the polishes.
And Dove Chemical Products managed to keep going.
I often had to go to the Bank to pay-in cheques and cash and also draw the money for the wages on Fridays. I would do this on my way back to the office after going home for lunch. I’d prop my cycle outside the District Bank (now Nat-West), pick up the cash and return to work! I enjoyed doing this but my Mother worried about me carrying “so much money”. Can’t remember the amount - perhaps about £200/300 (we didn’t need Securicor in those days!)
Apart from going to the Bank I had to cycle over to the Lotus & Delta offices to get a second signature on all out-going cheques (this was whilst Dr. Simon and Mr Forman were away). Sometimes the gentleman concerned would be at his home - then I would have to cycle to Baswich!
Eventually the Company had to vacate the building in Glover Street (we were next to the Gas and Electricity Works), and Mrs Wood found premises to rent at 22 Stone road, Stafford, to which we moved.
Enid had to leave us - she had been “called-up” into the A.T.S. I was sorry to see her go - we had worked well together and I really missed her, but I did get to have her more up to date typewriter (hitherto I had used a very old Underwood machine). Mrs Wood used to tap away on a portable typewriter which had some German symbols (I’m glad I didn’t get that!)
More staff came along - Eric (straight from school). Can’t remember how long Dr. Simon and Mr Forman were away but when they returned we were kept busy.
Thousands of gallons of FROST PROTECTIVE 101 were being sent out to R.A.F. Stations all over the country. This product was used to facilitate the laying of miles and miles of concrete runways during freezing weather conditions.
I can remember other products at that time - MELLITOL, Mn124 SILVERFILM. and the Roof Waterproofing materials, but we were so short of floor space at Stone Road. Looking back one wonders how the Company managed to keep going.
The Polish Department was on the ground floor and our offices (now three) were on the next together with Lab. Equipment. The top floor was used for the “Chemical Products”. Here the Frost Protective liquid was prepared which necessitated constant stirring, manually. A few part time workers were engaged for this purpose - they were in full time employment elsewhere in town working mornings or afternoons and their availability suited our needs! Labour was hard to find during the War.
My desk was directly above the vats in which the polish was “brewing” and the fumes were quite strong sometimes. I’m afraid we took the smell of the polish home with us on our clothes. My family were always complaining about this.
The girls downstairs were always singing especially when the daily programme of “Music while you work” came on the radio. They would turn up the volume but this annoyed Dr. Simon if he was dictating. He would immediately reach for the internal phone and shout “please switch off the wireless, I am at the dictating”! Well, - we didn’t have “Soundproofing” and it was difficult to concentrate, but I liked the music too! Needless to say - silence reigned!
Dr. Simon was very keen on sending out circular letters to introduce the company’s products (I suppose in later years such letters would be referred to as “mailing shots”) Out would come “The Concrete Year book” - a publication which contained the names of all the City and Borough Engineers and Surveyors in the British Isles! I would type the “letter of the day” onto a stencil which went onto our “printing press”. This consisted of a box like an attaché case. On the levered lid was a piece of gauze to which we affixed our stencil; letter-headings were placed underneath and the gauze was brought down. By the side of the box we had a tray with a roller and an enormous tube of black ink! We ‘rolled’ over the gauze and printed our letter. Each one had to have a blotter placed over it to prevent smudging. I’m afraid it was the ‘operator’ who became smudged - it was a dreadfully messy job and very time consuming but, I guess, well worth the effort!
In spite of the dusty, smelly and cramped conditions at Stone Road I enjoyed working there, but it was a bit ‘grim’ sometimes - rickety old stairs winding up to the top floor. At one end of the building there were ‘trap-doors’ between
floors where a winch was operated manually to move drums etc. When we entered the factory through the double doors from the street with our cycles we always had to look up to make sure nothing was coming down such as a 40 gallon drum or a container of Mellitol! We couldn’t have had Factory Inspectors in those days!! No ‘Mod-Cons’ - toilets were outside, across the yard next to the Petroleum Store (that was a must, of course). Oh! We had mice too! Good old days?!
Back at Glover Street our office accommodation seemed palatial after what we’d had hitherto. Mr Forman now had his own Secretary and we were in a general office on the first floor of the old Vik Supplies building. Hence there were two secretaries, a junior for the telephone and a clerk who helped Mrs Wood. Dr. Simon and Mrs Wood had separate offices on this floor too, with access through our general office so we always had to beware!
Accounts were down below and the Polish Section far away in their old ‘shed’ - no bubbling cauldrons and fumes beneath us anymore, and the factory girls could sing along without interruption.
New products were now being marketed and new staff seemed to be arriving weekly. The Sales Force was expanding with reps in various parts of the country and the name of the Company had changed to EVODE.
I remember we had our first social get together in St Paul's church Hall, looking at a very old picture I have we were quite a crowd!
The Roof Waterproofing Department was well established now with contracts being carried out all over the country. One such job was the lighthouse at Trevose Head in Cornwall and when in 1951 I went to Newquay for a holiday Dr. Simon suggested that I should visit the lighthouse and have a look at the work! I did - had a conducted tour by one of the Keepers and it was most interesting.
We used to send out hundreds of small samples with our letters regarding Roof Waterproofing - these samples were strips of concrete (about 4” long and 2” wide) showing the various stages of the treatment - Primer, Paste 1, Membrane, Paste II Sealant, Silverfilm ---- Dr. Simon had photographs taken of some of the larger contracts which I put into an album. He was very pleased with this and said I could buy another album for my own pictures. Needless to say they were not of roofing jobs!!
Mr Forman’s Secretary and I eventually shared an office which was good after being in the general office. The view from our windows was not very special - just mounds of coal for the Electricity Generating Station but we didn’t have much time to spare for gazing out! We always seemed to be busy. I would only have to stop typing for a few seconds and Dr. Simon would open the door and say “are you finished”! There would always be more dictation.
Whenever we were not busy with the day to day correspondence we would always have a circular to send out concerning one or the other of Evode products, but I think by this time we had become ‘mechanised’ in the Printing Department, probably with a Gesttetner Duplicator. I wonder what became of our little ‘printing press’. Perhaps one day I shall see it on the Antiques Road Show!
Although Dr. Simon was a hard task master he was always very fair and I enjoyed working for him. When he was not travelling away he was in the office early (we dare not be late!) He saw all the mail which came in and read most of the out-going mail in those early days. I can look back on some amusing moments. Dr. Simon’s English had improved greatly whilst he had been away but when I first began taking dictation there were times when I could not understand him, He asked me to write to London for Sauerkraut and Pumpernickel. I’d never heard of these before. With John Forman’s help I got over that hurdle. Then there was the first time I was asked to write for tickets for a Ballet in which two Russian dancers were appearing - Alicia Mankova and Anton Dolin - - “Who? Can you spell that please Doctor” In mock disgust he would say “have you not heard of these famous dancers?” Then he would laugh and help me out!
There were times, of course, when he would become angry! Especially when he had been ‘cut-off’ during a telephone call. When we had a second line installed this happened too often until our Junior got used to the new ‘board’!
Copies of all outgoing sales letters had to be made for the reps and there were occasions when a rep would receive copies intended for someone else. This made Dr. Simon very cross and I suggested that we should have a number of pigeonholes with each reps name to facilitate the sorting of the mail each evening. (I’d used this ‘system’ in the Post Dept. Where I had worked before). Within a few days we had a nice piece of furniture delivered (to my “design!”) Lots of pigeonholes, cupboards below for our stationary. We quite enjoyed sorting out our copies etc., into their respective slots (much better than spreading them out over our desks)
I married in 1949 and when I was recently looking for some old photographs I came across a letter which Dr. Simon wrote to me at that time with a present. I also found a postcard which he sent in 1950 when he had returned to Germany for a holiday.
I left Evode in 1952 at about the time when correspondence was being exchanged with people in America regarding Adhesives. I guess that was the beginning of the ‘rapid’ expansion of the Company and their subsequent move to Common Road.
It’s along time since I first met Mrs Wood, Mr Forman and Dr. Simon but, writing this now, it seems like only a few years ago. I enjoyed working with them and I have some happy memories of my days at Stone Road and Glover Street
19 June 2000