Port Elizabeth of Yore: Richardson’s Wool Washery & Carbonising Works

When I first saw the photograph with this prominent sign on the building in North End, presumably Queen Street, advertising “Richardson’s Wool Washery and Carbonising Works”, I was perplexed. How does the process of carbonising operate and why is it performed?

I sent my ever-willing technical editor scurrying off to answer another inane question and this is the result.

Main picture: Richardson’s works

Carbonising process

Apparently carbonising is the process whereby burrs, straw and other organic matter are removed from wool by treating it with acid. This is followed by heat, which reduces the foreign matter to a carbon-like form that can be removed by dusting or shaking.

Presumably before the development of this process, such inconvenient and unwanted attachments to the wool had to be manually removed subsequent to the wool washing process? If so, then this process would surely be more productive and hence economical.

Wool washing

Unlike many of its competitors, Richardson’s operated an automated wool washing process. The other such processors would select a stretch of flowing water to clean the wool by the movement of the water, hence the establishment of wool washeries along the Baakens River and at Shark River in Humewood. It is self-explanatory that wool has to be washed to remove grease, dirt and grime from the wool but more intrinsic or germane is why it had to be performed in Port Elizabeth and not at its destination. As the ship’s constraint was volumetric and not mass based, there was no economic consideration in the shipping tariff to preferably wash the wool prior to export.

Maybe that should be Blaine’s next assignment!



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