Fringe Box



Please Return Me To My Home

Published on: 27 Feb, 2012
Updated on: 27 Feb, 2012

by David Rose

Litter louts were just as much a nuisance over one hundred years ago as they are today – and that includes places such as St Catherine’s Hill the scene of busy fairs, with commensurate rubbish, until the First World War.
While out with Martin Giles, taking some photos for our new history and guide book – St Catherine’s – A Walk Through Time (watch this website for more details soon), we walked down the wooded west slope of the hill that seems to have been a bit of a dumping ground for many years. Oyster shells, almost certainly tipped there from the days of the annual fair, are regularly exposed as the rabbit colony dig new holes in the sand.

‘Necked’ Codd’s bottle & one of many oyster shell’s found on St Catherine’s Hill.

As a collector of old bottles for more years than I care to remember, while out walking in the countryside I always keep a look out for the odd example thrown away many years ago. The theory being – wherever humans have gathered, they have always left their rubbish behind!
I soon spied a piece of glass half buried in the sand and glinting in the sunlight. Pulling it out I recognised it as a broken part of an old fizzy pop bottle dating back to about the 1890s.
“It’s necked,” I said to Martin. Meaning (in bottle collectors’ language) the top had been broken off. Martin decided to keep the bottle and I promised to reveal all about it here…

The bottle in question would have contained a carbonated soft drink (probably lemonade) and is known as a ‘Codd’s bottle’. It’s named after a man called Hiram Codd who invented a bottle that successfully prevented the fizzy pop from going flat and the liquid from leaking out the top.
Previous to his invention, that was patented in 1870, most fizzy drinks bottles had a cork in them. Unfortunately, unless the cork was kept moist by the liquid inside, in time the cork dried out, resulting in a gap between it and the glass thus letting the carbonated gas out resulting in the drink going ‘flat’ and not tasting as appetising as it should.

Codd’s bottles still in tact – with marbles.

Hiram Codd’s invention consisted of a glass marble trapped inside a chamber within the neck of a bottle. When the bottle was filled carbonated liquid the gas pressure forced the marble against a rubber ring in the head of the bottle, thus keeping the fizz in and dust and dirt out. Amazingly the invention worked very well, and by the 1890s it was the most popular bottle in use for such drinks in Britain and its colonies.
In those days, most towns had several firms producing soft drinks – long before Coca Cola and all the other national brands came on the scene that we are used to today. In fact, they were often sold not just as thirst quenchers, but as a purer drink than a sometimes dodgy water supply. And they were also promoted as an alternative to the ‘demon drink’ – alcohol.
The Victorians and Edwardian enjoyed all kinds of artificially aerated mineral waters, made with all kinds of artificial flavours – from the most popular being lemonade, to the more exotic oranageade, cherryade and cream soda, for example.

Wheeler’s High Street chemist’s shop.

The bottle we found on the hill was filled with pop by a Guildford chemist by the name of Frederick Wheeler. He had his pharmacy in the High Street (a few shops down on the opposite side of the High Street to the Guildhall) with his mineral water manufactory next to the River Wey, near where today’s Electric Theatre stands.
He was in business from 1872 to 1904 and I like to think that he was a kindly man who had the health and wellbeing of his customers as his primary concern.
In 1888 he was elected to the town council representing the Liberal party. He secured his seat by one vote over his Tory opponent. One of his aims was to make sure the people of Guildford had a better drainage system and a cleaner water supply.
As a pharmacist, he was someone who obviously knew a thing or two about the benefits of clean water and was also keen to promote his soft drinks for their medicinal purposes.
A clue to this is found in a local guide book, the General and Business Guide to Guildford, that was published in 1892. In it is states: “All descriptions of (Wheeler’s) mineral waters are manufactured. Only the finest ingredients being used in their production and these highly refreshing beverages enjoy an unequalled reputation for purity, uniform quality, and fine flavour and aroma.
“Patients suffering from that dreaded disease diabetes, on whom sugar acts as a poison, can obtain from this factory such refreshing beverages such as lemonade, ginger ale, etc., sweetened with saccharin, a substance which has not the slightest effect on the human economy, and in fact passes through the system unchanged.”

But Mr Wheeler, like all his competitors, was also determined that as many of his bottles of pop that were sold were returned empty, to be cleaned, re-filled and sold again. This was essential to maintain a profit.In fact, the Victorians were very good at recycling – not for reasons of helping to save the planet as today – but for sound financial purposes.

Many firms offered a deposit on their bottles – a system that was still in use up until a few decades ago. You may recall the ‘Corona man’ coming round for his empties or you getting a few pence back returning an empty bottle to a shop that sold that particular brand of soft drinks.
Mr Wheeler also sold ginger beer in stoneware bottles. Some of these are printed with the delightful wording ‘Please return me to my home’.

Ginger beer bottles showing the ‘Please return me to my home’ message.

This polite appeal is a bit unusual. A Brighton mineral water maker is known to have put on his bottles the wording: ‘Master wants me home’. Often the wording on such bottles went something like: ‘This bottle is the property of….’ or ‘Buying and selling this bottle is illegal’. It was not uncommon for rival firms to ‘steal’ each other’s bottles, such was the desperate need to get back some empties when business was brisk during the hot summer months.

Wheeler’s factory by the River Wey in Guildford.

Mr Wheeler used all kinds of bottles for his soft drinks. I wonder whether he bought batches of bottles from different makers, always trying to get the cheapest price available at the time and then perhaps passing that on to his customers by charging a little less than other firms in Guildford who at the time also included the London-based firm of R. White’s? Unfortunately, we will probably never know. But one thing is for sure, many customers were just too lazy to return bottles to the shop where they had bought them and just chucked them away.
However, the Codd’s bottle was another factor altogether. That glass ball inside was very tempting to young children for the popular game of marbles which they played. After they’d slaked their thirst with that sweet-tasting fizzy drink it was a toss up whether to return that bottle, perhaps for a small pence deposit, or smash it for the ‘prize’ inside.
I can’t helping thinking that the latter was chosen for the bottle we found on St Catherine’s Hill.

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