Making hot water bottles at the North British Rubber Company in November 1951.Making hot water bottles at the North British Rubber Company in November 1951.
Making hot water bottles at the North British Rubber Company in November 1951.

Edinburgh's North British Rubber Company: These 17 pictures from the 1950s and 1960s show what it was like to work in the Capital's largest factory

Responsible for inventions ranging from the Wellington boot to the traffic cone, the company was one of Edinburgh’s largest employers – with a workforce of over 8,000 at its peak.

The history of the North British Rubber Company in Edinburgh dates back to 1856 when American businessmen Henry Lee Norris and Spencer Thomas Parmelee purchased a large piece of land near to the Union Canal at Fountainbridge which was previously the location of a silk mill.

Charles Goodyear had recently invented the process of vulcanisation and the pair of boot-makers were keen to use it to create a range of products, including footwear.

A year later the North British Rubber Company was formed and by 1875 more than 600 employees were working at Castle Mills.

The company’s owners were trailblazers, taking out a patent for one of the first ever conveyor belts and inventing the detachable pneumatic tyre – a patent that was later sold to the Dunlop Tyre Company for around £300million in today’s money.

By the start of the 19th century the company was the largest industrial unit in Edinburgh, making everything from golf balls and hot water bottles, to hoses and rubber sheeting.

During World War One the company kept trenchfoot at bay by producing 1,185,036 pairs of Wellington boots (another North British Rubber invention) for the British Army, while in World War Two they expanded into gas masks, tyres for army vehicles and barrage balloon fabric.

History was made again in 1958 when the company made Britain’s first ever traffic cones.

Due to the processes involved, fires were a common risk in the factory and a particularly bad blaze destroyed part of the mill in January 1962.

In 1966 the North British Rubbery Company was bought by Uniroyal who closed the mill and relocated to Newbridge, with the Fountainbridge property becoming home to McEwan’s new Fountain Brewery.

While there is no longer any rubber production carried out in Edinburgh, the fashionable Hunter Boot Ltd company are still based in the city, selling their premium Wellingtons to everybody from royalty top festival-goers.

Here are 17 pictures to take you back to the North British Rubber Company over half a century ago.

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