|Building at Enderby Wharf with decoration of gutta percha leaves over the door|
sticky sap did not flow easily as the tree trunks were cut or 'tapped' and each tree yielded only a small quantity. However, it was slowly collected and then boiled with water, cleaned and eventually formed into cakes of raw gutta that hardened in the sun. It was in this form that the material was shipped to England in the cakes or balls each weighing around 30 pounds. In its pure form Gutta Percha is quite light and, as was discovered during the laying of the first Dover - Calais cable in 1850, it actually floats in seawater
When plunged into boiling water gutta percha softens into a putty-like consistency and can be moulded into any shape quite easily by hand, and when allowed to cool becomes again quite hard and durable. It was the first natural thermos plastic material and it is this characteristic that differentiates it from rubber. A number of people in Britain -were quick to appreciate the potential for this new material and within a few years an incredible range of products was being constructed. - Charles Mackintosh, the waterproof clothing manufacturer was already using rubber in his manufacturing processes and it was one of his business partners, Thomas Hancock, whose brother Charles was to be the key figure in the development of Gutta Percha business.
|Portraits of Sir William Hooker and Werner Siemens|
made from gutta percha
|Gutta percha leaves|
According to contemporary records a fully-grown tree, 30 years old would have attained a girth of around 3.5 to 4 feet at the base and was expected to yield no more than one and one third pounds weight of clean gutta percha. This would seem to be a trifling quantity for the sacrifice of a 65-foot tree?
|The gutta pecha core arrives at the Greenwich works|
|Covering the conductor with gutta percha|
Greenwich Telcon works 1950s
Gutta Percha was the first truly thermoplastic material which allowed the telegraph to pass under the oceans of the world and while we might shrink in horror at the terrible cost in terms of the utter destruction of so many mil- lions of trees perhaps there is yet another angle on this story. The wood of the Gutta Percha family of trees was soft, fibrous and spongy and of little use for construction and today at least one of the big areas where this ravage of nature took place is totally protected as part of the Malaysian National Park.
|Another picture of the building at Enderby's Wharf with moulded decoration of gutta percha and cable|
This building has now been demolished as part of the new development.