The North British Rubber Company started life in January 1856 when an American investor called Henry Lee Norris arrived in Scotland as a passenger aboard the SS Harmonia. The ship was carrying as cargo some rather specialised equipment, and among the other passengers were four skilled American workers called Louise Dixon, Sophia Terry, Hannah Dixon and Walter P. Dunn. With the specialised equipment, these five people were to found the first vulcanized rubber plant in Scotland for the manufacture of India-rubber boots and overshoes.
The Three Founders of North British Rubber All were American Citizens involved with the Rubber industry in the USA. (Image: NBR Wrinklies)
As I was researching for the book I came across a rather interesting copy of the labour contract which was entered into by one of the American workers, Louise Dixon, and her employer in 1855. It gives a revealing glimpse of the working conditions at the time, and were probably considered to be quite reasonable back then in 1855.
I was intrigued to discover that the North British Rubber Company is the subject of a very interesting exhibition currently being held by the Edinburgh Printmakers, Remembering the North British Rubber Company. I certainly do remember the old manufacturing company and the Castle Mill Works in Fountainbridge very well indeed because I worked there as an engineer from 1957 till 1960. In our house as I was growing up ‘The Mill’ was often a frequent topic of conversation as my mother, Elizabeth Robb, had worked in the hot water bottle department there from leaving school in 1912 till she married my father in 1926. Every Wednesday an old friend and colleague of my mother from ‘The Mill’, Isa McNeil, came and had tea with us, and the gift she brought was always a packet of Toblerone chocolate. My mother’s Uncle, Willie Gilbert (my Great Uncle), also worked there so when I joined the company I became the third generation to work there.
Women at the North British Rubber Company working on the hot water bottles, 1900 (Image reproduction: Evening News via STV/NBR Wrinklies)