G.H.Zeal, Ltd.

Making thermometers

Taking risks to save money

Jean Creagh remembers

Photo:Bill Betts at work at Zeals

Bill Betts at work at Zeals

Jean Betts

Memories from Jean Betts

I used to do glass blowing there, making clinical and chemical thermometers.  Some were filled with mercury, some with red spirit, but ours were mostly filled with mercury.  We had a bunsen burner in front of us and we'd melt the glass making it molten hot and then we would put it on a tube and blow a small bubble and pull this bubble out until we got a thin strand of glass.  Then we would cut that glass and join on the bulb which goes into the mouth.  Then it would go on to be filled with mercury, which I didn't touch,  and then it would be engraved with the temperatures up the side and could go to be packed and sealed and everything.

There was no health and safety in those days -  I'm going back to 1951.  The only thing that you couldn't wear was like a wedding ring, because if the mercury touched your  gold, it would just eat it away, so we never wore wedding rings because of the mercury getting onto the gold. We used to wear cheap, Woolworths rings to work because of this.

I had quite a pleasant time working there. I enjoyed it and that's where I met my husband. He was a journeyman there.  He did more intricate work than we did making hydrometers and things. He would get a long cylinder of glass with a bore up the middle and he would cut the thermometer in half and insert little wires in that went down the bore and came out at the end of the thermometer and seal it up again and go on several spaces up this glass tube, and then join a bulb on the end. When that was filled with mercury, the mercury would rise and touch these wires that would be joined to different instruments that would set bells and lights going. 

Whilst I was there they started to bring in automation.  Whereas we used to have to turn these glass tubes by hand, we had a gadget brought in that was on wheels and we could do four or five of these thermometers that were turning. As long as you were quick enough and didn't let them melt too much, you could take them off and be a lot quicker on them because they were beginning to get hot for you.  So they did start to bring in automation, and  automation comes in and you don't need so many staff, so I think that was beginning of the end of them at at Deer Park Road. I was the first one on it.

Health and safety issues

I've had hot glass go down my shoes before now - down your jumper and it really is hot! (Jean Creagh)

There was another factory on the estate and two of my sisters went there to work. It was called Zeals and they made thermometers. The interesting thing about that was, because my sisters were involved in the manufacture of mercury thermometers, they had to drink a certain amount of milk a day as an antidote to this. (Fred Yule) 

This page was added by Cheryl Bailey on 20/08/2010.
Comments about this page

Jean's and Cheryl's accounts reminded me of a couple of expeditions around 1941, when a crowd of us urchins from the Garendon Road area went on an expedition out of our home area, to the back of Zeal's. There were piles of discarded broken bits of thermometer glass tubes in which, after a good rummage, we found some with both red (?alcohol) liquid and, (highly-prized) mercury! We amused ourselves (rather unwisely, in retrospect) by sucking the liquids up the tube like a straw, or blowing the liquids into our hands, and offering them round for our mates to smell! Prize specimens contained mercury; I took home one such, with a bulb on the end, and on returning home my brother and I amused ourselves pushing the globules of mercury back and forth along the kitchen table! On another expedition we managed to "salvage" small, black Bakelite containers with a screw cap. We called them "fuse-caps" believing they were from some sort of anti-aircraft missile. We used them as "secret message containers" but several of them were later requisitioned by our parents, as ashtrays!

By Bill Mallion
On 20/09/2011

I worked at Zeals for a few months . but there was a girl there and she would put her foot out and trip me up . so i would brake all the thermometer. so never got paid.so my Father said Marian you will have to leave the Job. As you will Never have any Pay .,

By Marian Hawkins Nee Harris
On 24/09/2011

I left Welbeck Road school in 1949, and my first employment was at Zeals. I was paid £2 and 5 shillings a week. I was a glass blower, filling thermometers with alcohol.  

By Harry Mitchell
On 02/10/2015

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