A “Virtual” Tour of The Back to Backs – part 25




A Virtual Tour of the Back to Backs – part 25

It would be one hundred years after our visit to the Oldfield family in 1870 for the UK to have the benefit of the “Health and Safety at Work Act”. So, our Victorian workforce would be frequently be the victims of accidents at work. One may, in fact, lose an eye in an “industrial” accident or a pub brawl and of course children may even be victims of the loss of an eye as well!

Many of us may be familiar with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” character Ragetti who had an ill-fitting wooden false eye which would fall out and roll across the deck of the ship. However, the reality is quite different.

False eyes are now usually made from plastic, but 150 years ago glass would be the chosen material and making glass eyes for humans was a valued skill.

Further down Hurst Street, in what was then Lower Hurst street, was a glass eye maker called Charles Pache whose skills were regarded as second to none. He’d first seen French glass eyes at The Hyde Park Exhibition in 1851. He subsequently went on to perfect eyes that were superior to the French ones and ultimately cheaper.

It may be that the demand for his glass eyes was so great that he went up to Inge Street, sought out Herbert Oldfield and employed him as a sub-contractor.

It is thought that Herbert may have used one of the workshops in the courtyard or worked at the table in front of the window to go on and make a respectable living as a maker of human glass eyes. After all, at one time, he had ten children to feed!

If you needed a false eye following an accident, you would wait for the eye socket to heal and take a trip to Inge Street. Then you would venture down the entry of Court 15, and knock on the door to no 2. Herbert would carefully measure your eye socket, and note the colour of your remaining eye to produce a replacement. If you were a heavy drinker he would include thin streaks of red in the white of the eye to replicate your bloodshot one!  

Ragetti from “Pirates of the Caribbean”
A tray of Glass Eyes
Panorama of the Oldfields’ Ground Floor, from the front door