The entrepreneurial vision of two brothers saw a product created and manufactured in Chiswick become a globally recognised brand
Have you ever wondered why there is a Dan Mason Drive in Chiswick? Or Cherry Blossom Court? Or Cherry Blossom Mews? The answer is shoe polish. Those addresses commemorate a hugely successful businessman and an industry that put W4 on the map.
Brothers Charles and Dan Mason moved to West London from Canterbury and, in 1878, they founded the Chiswick Soap Company, building a factory at the junction of Hogarth Lane and Burlington Lane. Having expanded into manufacturing boot and metal polish, the enterprising duo then spotted a gap in the market and commissioned a chemist to devise a formula for a new type of polish that wouldn’t rub off immediately.
The result was Cherry Blossom. The boot polish was launched in 1906 and, another innovation, it was packaged in handy tins. The name was supposedly chosen because Chiswick House was famous for its cherryblossom (then as now, the design on the tin actually shows stylised cherries). Cherry Blossom proved very popular with the public. In 1911 the Masons hired the Exhibition at Crystal Palace for a day, offering free admission on presentation of a Cherry Blossom lid. The event was a major marketing coup, attracting 200,000 visitors.
By 1907 the process of mixing the polish and filling the tins had been mechanised (it had hitherto been done by hand) and in 1913 all soap production was transferred out of London to Kent.
The Chiswick Polish Company (Cherry Blossom) was formed. The business was owned by the Masons and Reckitt & Sons Ltd and, in 1923, it acquired land on Dukes Meadows for a new factory. Construction cost around £13,000 and the factory was instantly recognisable from the giant thermometer and barometer erected on the chimney face.
Dan and Charles Mason proved to be enlightened employers. In 1918 they introduced a 44-hour five-day week; they set up a company pension scheme and opened a ‘dispensary’ comprising a surgery, rest rooms and dental and chiropody clinic; in 1925 a 10-acre sports ground in Dukes Meadows was created for the use of employees; and, in 1930, 50 semi-detached houses in Staveley Gardens were provided for the workforce.
The Masons also bought Boston House in Chiswick Square for use as a social club and Afton House in Bourne Place. After renovation works on the latter, it was let to The Chiswick Memorial Club at a peppercorn rent and was later handed over to trustees to remain in perpetuity as a club for ex-service men.
Dan Mason’s greatest philanthropic work, however, was the establishment of Chiswick Hospital. In 1911 he purchased Rothbury House on Chiswick Mall for £1,900 (he had previously been the anonymous donor funding the Cottage Hospital in Burlington Lane) as the site for a larger general hospital with 32 beds. It opened in October 1912.
At the outbreak of WW1, Mason set aside a ward for wounded soldiers and he often collected them himself from the station in an ambulance he had acquired for the purpose.
In 1930, the Chiswick Polish Company amalgamated with the Nugget Polish Company to become Chiswick Products Ltd. In 1954 Chiswick Products Ltd merged into Reckitt & Colman Holdings Ltd and, in 1994, Grangers International of Alfreton acquired the Cherry Blossom name.
Photographs reproduced by kind permission of RB Heritage and Chiswick Local Studies Collection