MANY years ago, when on the way to visit relatives in my mother's home town of Dalton-in-Furness, we passed through a village called Backbarrow, a decidedly unforgettable place except for a factory standing next to the road, covered almost completely in blue dye.

"That's the Dolly Blue factory," I was told, and I was always intrigued by the sight. What I didn't realise at the time was that there was also a Dolly Blue factory Bolton.

Now I can hear some of the younger readers (let's be honest, for this column anybody under 60 is a younger reader, but very welcome nevertheless!) asking: "Dolly Blue? What's Dolly Blue?" In that case you probably don't know what a dolly tub or a posser is either, or maybe even a mangle.

They were all to do with washing clothes in the olden days, before the advent of the washing machine, but as it is Dolly Blue that I am concerned with in this article, for details on the other "mystery objects" you will have to ask someone else who remembers them.

Blue was a household bleach -- a block of blue with a stick in it -- which you added to the wash to get it "sparkling white".

In Bolton, in the early 1870s, Mr William Edge, who for many years represented Halliwell on the Town Council, started a business for shading blues, used by bleachers and finishers in Lancashire. The firm expanded until the firm's (William Edge & Sons, Ltd) special shading blues, special tints for cotton and linen fabrics and their cotton softeners, Cloth glazes and fillers, bleachers' soap etc, found a ready market in America, Canada, India, France, Holland, Belgium, Sweden, as well as in the various bleachworks in this country.

By the 1920s, however, the name "Edge" had become identified in particular in the public mind with two famous household words, "Dolly" and "Drummer", because as national advertisers for many years they had been supplying Edge's Dolly Blue for household laundry work, Dolly Cream for curtains, and Dolly tints for ladies' blouses and the like to the housewives of Britain. Their well-known trademark of the drummer boy (associated with Drummer dyes for home dyeing) was famous throughout the world.

Other lines made by the firm found on the counters of all high-class stores, grocers and chemists' shops were "Movol", a stain remover, which completely obliterated all traces of ironmould, ink or other stains on material such as linen, and "Simirol", a neat and efficient way of cleaning metals such as silver.

By that time, although the headquarters and factory were in Raphael Street, Bolton, the firm had warehouses and offices in London, Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow, New York and Melbourne. By this time the chairman of the company was Sir Knowles Edge, son of the late William; he took a great interest in local affairs, becoming an alderman of Bolton, mayor from 1916 to 1918, President of the Chamber of Commerce 1911 to 1913, President of the Bolton Poor Protection Society, the Bolton YMCA, and JP. He was knighted in 1919.

Yet the firm was not happy to be known simply for Dolly Blue and its other household products. Oh, no. They started to make radios and gramophones in Bolton under the Drummer name as a subsidiary to the main firm.

In 1933, a report in the Evening News said that: "Honours went to Bolton at Radiolympia, London, today, when newcomers in the world of radio set manufacturers, Edge Radio, Ltd., pulled off the sale of the day by disposing of the largest model in the exhibition, a 10-valve superhet radiogram, 5ft 6in high, 4ft broad, priced 150 guineas (a guinea was worth £1.05 in today's money).

The success of the radio firm caused some problems, though, because sets could not be produced quickly enough to satisfy demand. And the situation cannot have been helped by the success at Radiolympia in 1934 when the firm exhibited an imposing set 5ft 9in high, and 5ft 6in wide, "in the form of a modern sideboard, in which is fitted a complete cocktail bar."

As with many of Bolton's old firms, however, progress overtook Edges, even though the company had obviously expanded over the years.

In 1968, the paper reported that "About 200 full-time workers will lose their jobs when two Bolton factories stop production. The factories, owned by the famous Dolly Blue firm of William Edge and Sons, Ltd., are in Raphael Street and Gladstone Street, Halliwell. The factories will run down gradually over the next nine months.

"New methods of doing the household wash have largely reduced sales in the Dolly Blue line, but Edge's produce other familiar lines including the Drummer range of disinfectants and other household chemicals.

"The closure move is the result of re-organisation following the merger of William Edge (Holdings) Ltd within the Reckitt and Coleman Group. Other Bolton subsidiaries of the firm, which include Roberts Croupline Ltd., Roberts Patent Filling Machine, Ltd, and Germstrong Ltd., are not affected by the decision."

In 2002, these subsidiaries have also gone. The Roberts' factory was at the back of Burnden Park, and no doubt many of you remember taking Roberts Croupline, a cough mixture which sold very well locally, and Zubes, used for soothing sore throats. The firm closed in 1990.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the name William Edge and Dolly Blue will stand out as an important part of the history of laundry!

And as for that Dolly Blue factory in Backbarrow, it has also gone, and a time-share development stands on the site . . . and believe it or not, it is called Whitewater!