23 January 2016

Dubarry Perfumery, Hove Park Villas

Judy Middleton 2002 (revised 2016)

copyright © J.Middleton
The Dubarry structure is an elegant industrial building enhanced by the lovely mosaic work

A Variety of Landowners and Leaseholders

The land on which the factory stood belonged originally to the Stanford Estate who sold two parcels of land in 1882 and 1892 to Frederick Napper, Brighton Miller. Land from the latter deal was leased to Horace Saunders, Brighton timber merchant, who in 1907 exercised the option to purchase. Napper sold the south part to Adolphe Drincqbier and the western portion to George and Frederick Parsons. The remaining part was leased to George Kelsey, coachbuilder, and Clarence J. Kerridge, builder, and this part of the land was gradually sold off.

Although the land was fragmented between different owners and leaseholders for a few years, the Standard Tablet Company gradually managed to purchase the freehold of the entire site between 1910 and 1923. This included the site of the capsule factory in 1910 and 1911, the site of Cook’s factory in 1915, the south portion of Napper’s land in 1916, and the remaining portion from Saunders in 1923.

The Standard Tablet Factory

copyright © J.Middleton
copyright © J.Middleton
The extent of the Dubarry works can best be appreciated from the platform of Hove Railway Station. These two photographs were taken on 12 January 2016

Harry William Kilby Pears, son of a retail chemist, established the Standard Tablet Factory at Western Road, Hove, and later the company moved to new premises near Hove Railway Station. Hove Council approved a number of plans drawn up for the factory, which was eventually housed in four separate units on the site.

1907 – Parnacott & Son’s plans were approved in December 1907.
1910 – A.W. Nye’s plans for a new factory approved.
1916 – A.C. Udney’s plans approved.
1916 – Clayton & Black’s plans approved.
1917 – Clayton & Black’s plans for a factory extension approved.
1923 – C.J. Kerridge’s plans for an extension to the packing factory approved.
1928 – A.C. Udney, 142 Springfield Road, Brighton, plans approved in September.
1930 – E. Wallis Long, 6 Old Steine, Brighton, extension plan approved in July.

Dubarry

Mr Kilby Pears started out with a limited range of toiletries. During the Great War he launched Dubarry Cosmetics and the name was especially chosen as a tribute to our French allies. Madame du Barry (1741-1793) was undoubtedly a glamorous lady and a favourite of King Louis XV. But it is also a fact that the unhappy lady was guillotined ‘vainly whimpering’.

It is amusing to note that this solid English-based company liked to flaunt its supposed French credentials when opening an outlet at 81 Brompton Road, London, by calling itself ‘Dubarry et Cie Parfumeurs’.

In Canada and in countries outside the Commonwealth Dubarry’s products were sold under the name of Dalcrose.

Dubarry’s became celebrated for its elegant packaging and today their beautiful Art Deco-style bottles are highly collectable objects. But it was the Standard Tablet Company that first registered a design for a glass bottle on 22 October 1921.

In 1923 the Standard Tablet Company went into liquidation and a new company trading as Dubarry purchased all the assets. At the same time an agreement was reached whereby Dubarry employed H.W. Kilby Pears of 4 Hamilton Mansions, King’s Gardens, Hove, (founder of the original firm) as managing director. Dubarry was registered as a company in January 1924.

In 1926 Dubarry’s applied to Hove Council for a Fire Safety Certificate stating that there were sufficient means of escape in the event of a fire breaking out. The Borough Surveyor went along to inspect the premises. In his report to the council he recorded that there were four buildings covering an area of 14,817 feet. There were four internal staircases (two wooden and two concrete) and three external iron staircases. A certificate was duly issued.

Mosaic

A.C. Udney’s 1930 plans clearly show the extensive mosaic panels in Art Deco style that run along the exterior façade. The lettering runs as follows:

Dubarry Perfumery Co.
Dubarry’s Shalimar Complexion Cream for Loveliness that Lasts
Shalimar Manicure Preparations
Dubarry’s Silkashave soap for a Luxurious Shave
Perfumes and Toilet Luxuries
Crème Shalimar for Dainty Soft White Hands
Flower Scented Flower Crystals

 copyright © J.Middleton
The exotic lettering of the mosaic suits the romantic word ‘Shalimar’

The romantic-sounding word ‘Shalimar’ comes from a poem by Laurence Hope (1865-1904) called Kashmiri Song and the first line runs

Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar

The poem appeared in Garden of Karma (1901) and it became a song in 1902 that remained popular right up until the Second World War. Two lines from the poem seem especially relevant to a beauty product.

Pale hands, pink tipped, like lotus buds that float
On those cool waters where we used to dwell.

It comes as a surprise for such romantic verse to discover that Laurence Hope was in fact a pseudonym for Adela Florence Nicolson. She lived in Lahore where there was a famous garden known as the Shalimar Bagh but perhaps her inspiration was the Shalimar Bagh in Kashmir. 

Dubarry’s products were certainly popular with the ladies of the British Raj in the sub-continent and the company placed large advertisements in the Times of India.

When Dubarry’s moved away from Hove in the 1960s, some of the mosaic lettering was painted over and perhaps forgotten. But in 1991 they were re-discovered by builders engaged on the refurbishment of the premises. The new owners, Collmain Customer Services, decided the mosaics should be restored to their former glory.

Second World War

During this time a firm known as RFD occupied the top floor of the Dubarry building. The female workers were engaged on various activities in aid of the war effort. This included the repair of lifebelts after the D-Day operation, making and repairing inflatable dinghies, inflatable grey panels, fins and rudders for large barrage balloons and possibly components for weather balloons. The women earned the grand sum of ten pence and a halfpenny per hour.

The conditions under which the female workers laboured could be compared to what their forebears endured during the Great War working in munitions. The reason was that acetone and a mixture of other noxious chemicals were used to coat the balloons and lifebelts. An indication of the seriousness of the situation lies in the fact there was a room equipped with several beds and a full-time nurse who would attend to those who were overcome by the fumes and felt sick and nauseous. An unexpected hazard was because the mixture resembled ordinary nail varnish and some girls took advantage and painted their nails. But if they also had a habit of biting their nails, it made them ill.

Although Dubarry products could hardly be classed as war work, it seems that business continued as usual in the rest of the factory. A 14-year old girl who began working there in 1941 worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and earned 12/6d a week with four pence having to go to National Insurance. One of her tasks was to bind cork sachet rings with coloured ribbon and the length had to be exactly right. All work was scrutinised with rigour to ensure standards were maintained. When the air-raid siren sounded all the workers trooped downstairs to take refuge in the basement packaging area.

Although the girls worked hard and the supervision was strict, many of them in later years had happy memories of their time at Dubarry’s, remembering especially the happy atmosphere. 

Profits

It seems the war did not dent Dubarry’s profits at all – in fact the reverse was true. In May 1945 the 22nd A.G.M. of the Dubarry Perfumery Company was held at the Royal Pavilion with Mr H.W.K. Pears in the chair. Prices were kept the same as in the pre-war years but there had been an increase in profit.

1943 – trading profit was £35,654
1944 – trading profit was £69,790

Popular Culture

By 1945 of course Dubarry’s was a household name and it was mentioned in a review that toured the country during the war years. The revue was Jane in the Mirror and Chrystabel Leighton Porter was the star; she was also the model for Norman Pett when he created the famous strip cartoon Jane whose saucy goings-on was a morale booster during bleak times. One of her songs in the review was entitled Wouldn’t you like to be My Little Dog?’ and the lyrics went

Fritz is very, very clean, a lovely sort of form
He doesn’t smell like any other dog,
As a matter of fact, I always use Dubarry’s Golden Morn
And once a month I bath my little dog.
I soak him all over,
Then I rinse him with a hose,
And he runs around and shakes himself,
Like all dogs, I suppose.
I undress before I bath him,
Or I’d ruin all my clothes.
Wouldn’t you like to be my little dog?

Elegant Packaging
 copyright © J.Middleton
This metal badge was one of the many souvenirs 
produced to celebrate the Festival of Britain in 1951

People remember with nostalgia the elegant little scent bottles, which were imported from France or Belgium, frosted or clear, and customised at Dubarry’s. One of the most popular designs was the sunburst featuring a rising sun at the bottom left side with rays reaching up to the neck of an opaque glass bottle. This design was registered on 11 June 1930. The six favourite Dubarry perfumes were:

The Heart of the Rose
A Bunch of Violets
Golden Morn
The Blue Lagoon
Romance
Dancing Times

The first five fragrances were also to be found in talcum powder. The last two had only been launched recently by 1951 and came complete with fascinating little statuettes. In 1951 to celebrate the Festival of Britain a special new perfume called ‘Greetings’ was created.
 (Brighton Standard 29 August 1951)
This machine dispensed talcum
 powder into its container

A lengthy article published in the same year (Brighton Standard 29 August 1951) mentions that talcum powder was put into ‘intriguing fluted bottles of blue and pink’.

Dubarry’s produced a large range of elegant powder compacts while the compacts containing compressed powder were called ‘powdrettes’. Some of the compacts were embellished with head and shoulder portraits of elegant ladies such as those painted by George Romney; a more modern design depicted ballerinas against slanting rays or a fairy. There was one design with distinct echoes of Wedgewood with a white figure on a blue background. But there were also plainer gold-toned compacts and even an ivory-lidded case with a small, enamelled central medallion. Brilliantine came in an embossed pewter tin featuring a fuchsia flower.

One attribute of the company that must have increased profits was that with the exception of glass bottles, everything else was produced on site. Thus Dubarry’s had its own printing works with colour presses that could produce anything from the tiny labels to go on bath cubes to a luxury catalogue in full colour. Dubarry’s also produced labels for the products of other companies, for example, Epsom Salts. The company had its own box-making and packaging department too. It was skilled work and new workers took six months to learn their trade. But it was artistic too because some boxes were like a miniature chest of drawers, covered with gold paper and with silk-lined drawers that opened by pulling a little tassel. These were luxury items mostly send abroad. The one drawback was the dreadful smelling glue that was heated up for use in what was called a font.

A general view of the box-making department at Dubarry’  (Brighton Standard 29 August 1951)

The machines popping out bath cubes could produce 48 cubes a minute; Dubarry soap was made in round or oval shapes. In the 1930s the packaging was done by hand and involved hand-pleating the cellophane around the bar of soap with the aid of a damp sponge and sticking the little label centrally on the converging pleats. By 1951 this work was mechanised.

Brighton Standard 29 August 1951
Top Left:- This fearsome-looking machine compressed the bath cubes. Top Right:- By 1951 a soap-wrapping machine had replaced the hand-pleating.  Lower:- These bath cubes are being wrapped and labelled by ingenious machines

The cost of substances for producing perfume were not cheap; for example, ‘absolute rose’ and ‘absolute jasmine’ cost £15 an ounce. The scented atmosphere in those rooms where perfume was added to the products could be somewhat overpowering to those unused to it. When the female employees went home on the bus, nobody had to ask where they worked because they were still surrounded by an aura of perfume. 

It is interesting to note that by 1951 Dubarry’s covered some 80,000 square feet whereas in 1926 it had been 14,817 feet. Mr D.W. Hudson was chairman of the company in 1951 and he was also head of the well-known Hove chemist Parris & Greening. Directors were Mrs K.I. Pears (widow of the founder) Mrs V. Parry, Mr Frank Gates and Mr Keith von der Hyde who was also general manager of the works. Dubarry’s employed from 300 to 400 people.

Demise

In 1962 William R. Warner acquired Dubarry’s and he kept the name but in 1964 the company moved from Hove to Hampshire; into 1982 it went into liquidation.

Meanwhile, Metropolitan Estates & Property Corporation plc acquired the Hove site.

Recent Developments

The Dubarry buildings are still in existence and they are now known as Hove Business Centre and occupied by a number of businesses, both small and large. Crunch Accounting is one of the largest and has some 160 employees while a school of dance and drama strikes a more exotic note.

In November 2014 Lewis MacMillan Architects submitted a planning application to Brighton & Hove City Council to build luxury flats on top of the flat roofs of Hove Business Centre. There was an immediate outcry from the businesses involved as well as nearby residents who would be affected by the development. In fact the decision was shelved in February 2015 for extensive reports on such items as acoustics and impact. According to the developers the noise of music could be easily contained by the use of double-glazing and sound insulation.

Some businesses were upset because they had signed a new lease and there had been no mention of rooftop development. They questioned whether or not the roof was sufficiently strong to support such a development. The business community also felt the council was not according sufficient importance to their place in the local economy and feared the ‘gentrification’ of the building. While it might mean more rates payable to the council, there would be a loss of employment if businesses were forced to re-locate outside of Brighton and Hove due to the loss of large office space.

In December 2015 there came the surprising news that the council had passed the plans and that the building of nine luxury flats would go ahead; there would be four one-bedroom flats, four two-bedroom flats and a three-bedroom apartment. But it was by no means a unanimous decision because seven councillors voted for the plans and five councillors voted against them.

Sources

Argus 6/8/2009 / 10/8/2009 / 12/8/2009 / 14/8/2009 / 15/8/2009 / 22/8/2009 / 31/8/2009 / 5/9/2009 / 18/9/2009 / 19/9/2009 / 7/12/2015 / 10/12/2015 / 7/12/2015 / 10/12/2015
Brighton & Hove Independent 11 December 2015
Brighton Standard 29 August 1951
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Hove Council Minutes

The Keep

AMS 6153 – Deeds relating to the Dubarry site

Copyright © J.Middleton 2016
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