History Feature: Walthamstow - The birthplace of soft toilet paper (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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History Feature: Walthamstow - The birthplace of soft toilet paper
Walthamstow is home of the British car and site of the country's first plane flight. But the birthplace of soft toilet paper is perhaps its crowning achievement. Reporter DANIEL BINNS gets to the bottom of the story.
The Andrex Puppy is arguably one of the most famous dogs in the country. But few know the little dog owes its name to a quiet street in Walthamstow off Blackhorse Lane.
It all began back in 1932 when a small paper manufacturing business, called St Andrew Mills Ltd, opened in Walthamstow's St Andrews Road.
Despite the outbreak of World War Two in 1939 the firm rolled on with its business until it hit a breakthrough in 1942 – production of two-ply toilet roll.
The firm hoped to wipe out the competition with the new 'Androll' brand – an amalgamation of 'St Andrews Road' and 'toilet roll' – by comparing it to the softness of cotton wool.
The design was soon tweaked with a new version, given the futuristic-sounding name 'Andrex' – and an iconic brand was born.
By 1947 the company was proudly displaying its extensive range of products at the British Industries Fair at Olympia, including Santex, Camelia sanitary towels, paper towels and all-purpose wadding.
Amateur historian Bill Bayliss, of Chingford, has researched the history of Andrex in Walthamstow.
He said: “I don't think you could exactly say it's a source of pride for many people, but they did used to be a big employer locally.”
In the post-war era business boomed, with a new factory being built by the mill in 1949.
By 1955 it had around 400 employees and was taken over by the Bowater Company, the first of many times that the Andrex brand would change hands.
A year later it turned into a global force when Bowater merged with the Scott Paper Company of Philadelphia.
There is uncertainty over exactly when production was moved out of Walthamstow – even the Andrex itself was unable to provide a date to the Guardian – but by 1995 its main centre of production had transferred to Barrow.
Another milestone in the brand's history is, of course, the introduction of the Andrex Puppy TV adverts in 1972.
Today the Walthamstow factory is long gone, replaced by flats on a side road called “Paper Mill Place” just off St Andrews Road.
Andrex marketing manager Sophie Woodford told the Guardian: “we are very proud of our East London heritage.
"Beginning production in Walthamstow in 1942 signified the start of our now 71-year journey.
“Andrex has gone on to become one of the UK’s most recognisable and celebrated brands and now, we supply UK households with over 8.25 million miles worth of Andrex every year.”