John Oakey who was born in 1814 founded John Oakey & Sons Ltd in 1833. As an apprentice to piano manufacturers one of his tasks was to prepare sanded paper to rub down the wood and coatings. Pages from old account books were coated with glue and then sand or powered glass was sifted over them. Oakey acquired a secret process that made the coatings bond firmly to the paper and his business was based on this process.
Using the Duke of Wellingtons likeness as a trade mark his business soon expanded and he left his premises in and around Francis Street and built a large factory called Wellington Works on Blackfriars Road. By 1872 additional land had been acquired from the Royal Female Orphan Asylum and others and a new factory and mill built. John Oakey died in 1887 and his youngest son Herbert took over the reigns. In 1893 the firm was made into a public company.
As already mentioned the process of making glass paper and emery cloth was initially done by hand an needed a five year apprenticeship! The paper was carefully and evenly pasted with hot animal glue that was then allowed to cool slightly so that it was tacky. At precisely the right moment the abrasive powder was sprinkled on, taking care to get an even coating, the coated paper was then reheated to soften the glue and let the abrasive sink into the glue to provide a better bond. After cooling the paper was hand cut to size. Over time Oakey mechanized the process with machines many that he invented and patented. The mechanization enabled larger sizes of paper and cloth to be handled and rolls of 50 yards by 48inches were commonly made. Waterproof papers and cloths required a slightly different process, which was kept secret for many years.
The company manufactured papers and cloths using many abrasives including:
Oakey also produced black lead for the household market and introduced Wellington Knife Polish in 1858, which was a great success and had many imitators. Silversmith's Soap and Plate Powder and Furniture Polish were also introduced in Victorian times. Liquid Metal Polish, Liquid Silver Polish, Floor Polish, Stove Polish, Furniture Cream were to follow. Oakey's products were used in most industries from furniture, metal and stonework, to leather production and telescope lens manufacture.