Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Ten Most Wanted

Ten Most Wanted is a research project supported by Nesta, Arts and Humanities Research Council and public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England being undertaken by MoDiP in collaboration with the University of Brighton and Adaptive Technologies (builders of the MoDiP website), to create an online game to encourage the public to engage with musem collections in a new way by researching wanted facts about objects. The project is being piloted on objects in MoDiP's collection but the intention is that the methodology should work for a wide range of different kinds of museum objects and heritage sites. 

The first Ten Most Wanted selection displayed at MoDiP
The website is now up and running, albeit still in development. People are playing and verifiable facts are beginning to flow in from as far away as Canada. It was some stair carpet clips that first caught people's attention. We knew they were made by a firm called Byson because of lettering on them but we knew nothing about the firm or who designed them. This is the story of how the designer was identified.

Rupert Radcliffe set the trail going with the information that clips were  patented on 10 September 1932 by Ernest Harrison, of Lathom Street in Bury and provided the full patent listing. Lewis Orchard  connected Byson and Ernest Harrison. Both were located in Bury and are co-assignees on at least nine patents. Stephen Hill  told us that 'about 15-years ago I was renovating a 1920s house in Wolverhampton and found a box of these in a local junk shop. Some were broken and most had paint on them. Over the years I've picked up more as and when I've seen then for sale with the intention of making up a good complete set. The 'box' is just an old biscuit tin, not the original packaging unfortunately' and sent us this photograph of his collection.

Phil Blume then took up the trail and found a Canadian website - - written by Rosemary Phillips in which she tells of her grandfather, Ernest Harrison, inventing a bread slicer in 1927 and this being the "beginning of an inventors creative career". He emailed her asking if she knew of any connection between her grandfather Ernest Harrison and the Ernest Harrison of Bury, Lancashire and this is how she replied:

'Thank you so much for your e-mail – this really means a lot to me.

Yes, Ernest Harrison, my grandfather, was the designer of those plastic stair treads, through his company Byson, in Bury, Lancashire. Byson also produced plastic buttons, and helmets for the war, and toilet seats.

Ernest’s biggest contribution to the design world (besides creating one of the first automatic bread slicers) was the introduction of foam rubber (then only used as an insulation) to replace horsehair in upholstery. My attempts at finding the source of this in 1981 were at Dunlopillo in Wales, where they were unable to provide that information, but did give me a formal luncheon that left the Dunlopillo scientists and staff wondering about why I was there – that my visit was evidently very important. (See the attached Finding Ernest)

So in effect, you could say, that Ernest Harrison was also the initiator of the foam revolution... this will not be shown in the historic documentation of the industry... but I know about it because I lived with the chairs that Ernest used to demonstrate to Dunlop how to use their foam insulation for upholstery. They were not comfortable to sit on, because the foam they had at the time, that was used in those chairs, was in open squares, not a whole slab.

I spent a fair bit of time trying to research this information, but without much success... and when Ernest died, all I was able to rescue from his belongings was a few drawings of items he was still trying to patent in the 1950’s...'

Thanks to Lewis Orchard we know also that the clips were in production by 1934 as he found out that Byson Appliance are listed at the White City Industries Fair, as producers of "Stair-Carpet-Holders (non-metal_ Made from Bysonite in Oak, Walnut, Mahogany, Black, Green and Orange Colours.  I suspect from the patterning on those in the MoDiP collection:,  they are walnut examples. It would be wonderful to have some in different colourways.

Susan Lambert
Head of MoDiP

No comments:

Post a comment