Object of the Month

Take a look at our latest 'Object of the Month', chosen by a member of the museum team!

Izal Toilet Roll

This month's object has been chosen by our Front of House, Rae.

IZAL Toilet Tissue

Who would have thought that Izal toilet paper had something in common with an iconic bridge and a coastal building?

Believe it, or not, they were both made by the same company that was originally set up in 1793 by George Newton and Thomas Chambers. They started their business of mining coal and smelting and casting iron, in Sheffield. The company went from strength to strength throughout the 1800's and by the end of the 19th century the company was able to produce heavy section iron. In the 1880's they provided large sections of iron that went into the building of Tower Bridge in London and the Eddystone Lighthouse in Cornwall.

There were various by-products that came about while creating the iron and coal tar was one of them. Coal tar was known to have antiseptic qualities and when it was distilled it produced carbolic acid. Newton, Chambers & Co., were keen to use, and sell, any by-products in a variety of forms and hygiene, including disinfectants, soaps and toilet paper, was one of the areas that they went in to.

Toilet paper on a continuous roll had been in existence since the early 19th century but Izal, as it became known, was the first medicated toilet paper to be created by impregnating it with the carbolic acid.

In the 1890's, perforated toilet paper came into being and IZAL perforated toilet paper either on a roll or in a box was born. To boost initial sales of the scratchy toilet paper it was, at first, given away to local authorities who were used to buying hygiene products in bulk. Once established as being a good reliable product Izal was then marketed as a commodity in its own right and put on sale to the general public.

Izal may well be familiar to people of a certain age who can recall reading,  "Government Property", "Property of British Rail" or "Now wash your hands" while breathing in the heady fumes of coal tar whilst going about their business but I think the abiding memory will be how similar it was to greaseproof paper and how ineffective it was for the job for which it was intended.