Within my teenage autobiography I speak of my working in the soft furnishing department of Lewis's Department Store in Birmingham.
Twice a year we had stocktaking. Our department was so busy it was impossible to stock take during opening hours. Instead we were paid triple time to come in on a Sunday, the store was not open on a Sunday. We also had or travel costs paid and were given free lunch.
Two members of our department were given a tasks outside the drudgery of measuring rolls of fabric and putting labels on said rolls. An assistant manager by the name of Jack Meddings and Yours Truly. Jack had a unique copperplate style of handwriting so he was in charge of writing up the stock sheets. I did not speak with a Brumme accent, some even said I was posh, so it was my role to read the stock tickets to Jack while he wrote them down.
Jack was a unique character, he had a number of personal catch phrases. One came from Bizet's opera Carmen. Hey Torredore don't spit on the floor, use the spittoon that's what's it's for !
When he was busy and a little stressed he could be heard saying to himself: I don't know if I am on this earth or if I am on Fullers Earth !
As a seventeen year old teenager did I know what Fullers Earth was. I think I probably did. Do you know what it is ? Allow Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge, to explain. Fuller's earth is any clay material that has the capability to decolourise oil or other liquids without the use of harsh chemical treatment.
If either Jack Meddings or I had been told it was dug out of the ground at Woburn Sands we would have said: Where ? We could not have been told it was near Milton Keynes for Milton Keynes as a new city did not exist back then.
Go to Wobun Sands, drive up Church Road to Aspley Heath. Park at the end of the road then take the path on the left to walk into the woods. You will see the ground looks different.
It is not the clay of Milton Keynes, the clay that was used by The London Brick Company. Nor is it the rich garden soil enjoyed by homes on this flank of Milton Keynes. Fullers Earth was mined at the back of these woods until 2005.
So what is Fullers Earth used for ? Again let's turn to Wikipedia.
- Treatment for poisoning. Even given the risk of salmonella, the clay content of soil could save the life of a person exposed to paraquat, for example, as paraquat is intended to break down in soil.
- Decontamination: Fuller's Earth is used by military and civil emergency service personnel to decontaminate the clothing and equipment of servicemen and CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) responders who have been contaminated with chemical agents.
- Cleaning agent: In the Indian subcontinent, it has been used to clean marble. As a good absorbent, it removes dust, dirt, impurities and stains from the surface and replenishes the shine of the marble. It has been used numerous times to clean the Taj Mahal, India with positive results.
- Litter box: Since the late 1940s, Fuller's Earth has been used in commercial cat litter.
- Cosmetology and dermatology: The same properties that make fuller's earth effective at removing oils, dirt, and impurities from wool are also effective on human hair and skin. Fuller's Earth has had extensive uses in the beauty industry, both as a cosmetic and as a treatment for acne and other skin problems.
- Fuller's Earth has been used extensively for many years in motion pictures for a variety of applications. In the area of special effects, it is used in pyrotechnics explosions and dust clouds, because it spreads farther and higher than most natural soils, resulting in a blast that looks larger. It is also safer than naturally occurring soil, should the blast spray hit actors. The material was used in the tornado sequence in The Wizard of Oz as the artificial twister plowed its way toward the farmhouse. Fuller's Earth is also widely used by the make-up, props, wardrobe, and set dresser departments, because it is considered a "clean" dirt, safer to use around people, and it cleans up easily.
Well I never knew that. I bet Jack Meddings did not know what his being on Fullers Earth implied. I came to live in the area where Fullers Earth was once mined and where it has become something of a legend