Record

Ref NoGB1752.LBL/DM
TitleDomestos Limited
DescriptionDomestos Limited originates from Newcastle and the garden shed of Wilfred Augustine Handley, who in 1929 was a 25 year old dental mechanic. Handley bought Sodium hypochlorite, which was a waste product, from local chemical industries, including ICI Billingham, and manufactured a powerful disinfectant and sterilizer. He called this new product Domestos, the name is derived from the Latin, domus meaning house and home and osteon meaning bone, Domestos literally meaning backbone of the home. Domestos was sold as an all purpose cleaner, but it was used as a sterilizer, a deodorant, germ killer, bleach and cure for sore feet. The product was sold in large stoneware jars that were refilled by door to door salesmen with special bicycle and hand carts. To this he added other disinfectants, liquid detergents, shampoos and polishes. Starting manufacture in a tiny deserted warehouse by the edge of the River Tyne Handley began selling his new product under the name of the Hygiene Disinfectant Services.

By 1933 the business was growing in spite of surrounding poverty. Goods were now shipped by sea south to Hull. The range of lines available had developed and now included liquid soaps, disinfectants, shampoos and polishes.

In 1935 the first two supply depots opened in Hull and Middlesborough.

In 1936 the Hygiene Disinfectant Services was incorporated as a company under the name Domestos Limited, company no. 322452, the subscribers being Wilfrid Handley and his wife Ivy C. Handley. Two years later the company acquired the College Works, a former Toffee factory in the Byker area of Newcastle for £8000, which became the main premises of the company until its acquisition by Unilever.

At the outbreak of the second world war in 1939 the stocks of Domestos increased as the product was used as a treatment for burns, and by 1941 the company had switched to retail operation.
A further six supply depots were opened in 1941, providing the company with greater coverage further south, expanding in to the prospering Midlands.

In 1948 Domestos Limited launched Stergene. Initially sold in brown glass bottles it was specially designed for washing woolens, and for use in laundries and garages, a variant Hytox, was used in Hospitals and food processing plants.

At the end of the war because of a shortage in supplies the company was unable to acquire enough delivery vehicles, they could however purchase commercial chassis'. They therefore acquired the St Ann's Works in Heaton Junction and set up a coach building division. Under the Domestos name the coach building division could not get any work from the trade. Therefore the coach building division including St Ann's works was incorporated as a separate subsidiary company under the name Modern Coachcraft Limited, which by 1965 had a large van selling force of over 150 salesmen (see LBL/DM/MC).

By 1952 Domestos had grown to nationwide distribution and a purpose built laboratory was installed at the College Works and a full time chemist was employed.

The company's claim of being 'specialists in industrial hygiene' was cemented in 1953 with the introduction of the Technical Advisory Service. The service offered industrial users the benefit of their experience, with the Newcastle City Council enquiring about cleansing problems in the planning of a new abattoir. The members of the technical service were also active in giving lectures and demonstrations, as wells as advising at industrial exhibitions and agricultural shows.

During 1953 to 1954 a legal challenge was brought against Domestos Limited on behalf of a Mrs. Mossop (see LBL/DM/7/1/1). Mrs. Mossop had received burns on her hands and arm following prolonged exposure to un-diluted bleach, which she had spilt over her hands. Although the court ruled in favour of Domestos Limited, the company did make changes to their labels warning against exposure to undiluted Domestos.

In 1954 Stergene Limited was incorporated as a subsidiary company of Domestos Limited by Mr. and Mrs. Handley in order to prevent its registration by any third party group.

1957 saw Domestos launch Sqezy, the first dishwashing liquid in a squeezy plastic bottle.

In 1961 Domestos Limited was acquired by Lever Brothers limited, Lever Brothers provided greater capital and management and it was under the Lever Brothers name that the Domestos brand was developed ( see Lever Brothers). The first major change was the introduction of the Domestos blue plastic bottle in 1963.

By 1964 the company held a chain of sixty five main and 'feeder' depots throughout Britain, grouped together in six sales regions. Despite the vastly expanding size of its operations, sales were still conducted direct to customers by over two hundred van salesmen and saleswomen. Also this year a newly created product called Dot, a powder lavatory cleanser, was entering the test marketing stage. The company had gained more freedom, through joining Unilever, to develop its existing specialised hygiene products and to create new ones. Staff on the College Works site had grown to eight hundred, with four hundred comprising of female process workers alone. Construction of a new £100,000 four-storey building was also underway this year. The lower floors were designed to house the enlarged Industrial Products Division, whilst the top floor was dedicated to provide additional space for offices.

In 1965 Domestos Limited became part of the Port Sunlight group when production of several of the non-distributive Domestos lines such as bulk detergents for use in hotels, hospitals and factories were moved to the Port Sunlight and Warrington sites. The product Domestos did however continue to be manufactured in Newcastle. Following the transfer of several production lines, research and development of Domestos Limited products was moved to the Port Sunlight and Warrington sites.

Beginning in 1972 exercises were undertaken to determine what savings would result from transferring Domestos production from Newcastle to Port Sunlight. In September of the following year the board of Unilever took the decision to close the Domestos factory by Spring 1975. September 1974 saw the first Domestos production line start at the Warrington site composed of entirely new equipment. Production of Domestos at the Newcastle College works ceased early March 1975 and the College Works were transferred to the Unilever Property department, ending the long association between Newcastle and Domestos manufacture.

In the mid 1970's new thick Domestos was launched and by the end of the 1970's Domestos bleach was sold throughout Europe. Following the launch of perfumed bleach variants in the 1980's, Domestos introduced a range of specialist toilet and home products such as Domestos hygienic wipes. As a core brand of Lever Brothers (see LBL) and later Lever Faberge (see LFL) Domestos is currently sold in 35 countries throughout the world, with the UK still it's biggest market.

The Domestos Limited archive includes administration and policy records, including the company minutes which end in 1955, financial records and records relating to plant and premises. There are no plans of the Domestos Limited premises and nothing of interest to family historians . For further information about this collection please contact archives@unilever.com
Date1927-1975
LevelSub collection
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