Friday, 14 December 2012

P B Cow: Deptford, waterproof tweed and the Goldfish Club

The marvellously-named Peter Brusey Cow was born in Deptford in 1815. Although he would work in Chelsea and the City of London from the age of 15, it was to Deptford that he returned both to marry and to set up his first factory. 

Cow's early career had been in drapery, but he also had contact with Charles Macintosh & Co, known for their waterproof goods. In 1846, he accepted a share in the company's Cheapside branch and for a while, lived and worked at the premises. In 1850, he bought the Macintoshes' share for £4,000 and renamed the business P B Cow, Rubber Manufacturer. 

It was perhaps his early connection with the town, as well as its industrial activity, which encouraged Cow to open his first factory at Deptford Creek. He moved back there, along with his wife and five children. The year was thus a very busy one, because P B Cow also exhibited their waterproof tweed at the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace, winning an award. 

In fact, the company's move was so successful that larger premises were soon needed - meaning another move, to Streatham. Cow would live there until his death in 1890. Deptford's association with waterproof tweed was thus fairly brief, but fruitful. 

As for the company, it went on to create the Li-Lo inflatable air-bed as well as manufacturing a wide range of rubber goods from hot water bottles to air-sea rescue equipment. The latter led to the founding of the Goldfish Club: during the Second World War, the company heard from a number of aircraft crew who had been rescued in P B Cow dinghies after ditching in water. Its Chief Draughtsman 'Robbie' Robertson set up the club so that members could exchange experiences; the company gave financial backing. There were over 9,000 members by the end of the war and although the company's direct link to the club ended in 1947 when Robertson left, the Goldfish Club is still going strong today



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