Fred Hulse

A 1945 newspaper advertisement for Hulse products.

Hulse’s mill in Woodlesford, between the railway and the canal, was originally built as a paper mill. In about 1883 it was taken over by the Seanor match making family from Rothwell and was used by them for over 20 years until about 1907, after which it lay empty for a number of years.

After the First World War the property was acquired by Fred Hulse, a trained chemist, who developed a business which was known nationally through regular advertisements in newspapers and magazines.

Probably the biggest selling and most widely known products were “Jetglaze” and “Zulu” jet black. They were used as an alternative to the black leading of coal fired kitchen ranges and ovens, a feature of most houses until the widespread adoption of gas and electric appliances in the 1960s.

Other products included “Zulu” luminous paint and chimney cleaner, “Shave Eze,” and “Blitz” moth killer. They were all packaged in small bottles or tins at affordable prices ranging from just a few old pennies to about three shillings for the larger quantities.

A classified ad from the Yorkshire Evening Post in 1939.

Fred Hulse was born in 1890 in the Beeston Hill district of Leeds where his grandfather, John Hulse, had been the forge manager at an ironworks on Dewsbury Road. His father, Thomas, also worked as a forgeman but during Fred’s childhood had left manual work behind to become an insurance agent.

Thomas’s two eldest sons became clerks, one for a railway company and the other for a mining engineer, whilst Fred, who attended the Leeds Church Middle Class School, developed an interest in chemistry.

From school he went on to study at universities in Leeds and Sheffield. In 1911 he was living with his parents on Coupland Street in Beeston Hill and working as a chemical analyst for an iron and steel company, possibly the same concern that had employed his father and grandfather.

He then worked for a while as chief chemist for the Brotherton chemical company in Stourton which distilled tar and made ammonia. He’s also known to have researched the cause of “gob” fires in coal seams at Cadeby and Denaby collieries near Rotherham.

In 1921 Fred’s widowed mother, Annise, died and left him £343, worth approximately £7,000 today. It’s believed he used the money to set up the factory in Woodlesford. Also in 1921 he married Kathleen Mary Wray from Potternewton. Their son, Geoffrey, was born in 1923 and a daughter, Margaret, followed in 1928.

During the 1930s the family lived in Halton but moved to Thorner in 1939 when their house was bought by Leeds council and demolished to make way for the Halton by-pass. Also in that period Fred travelled widely including trips to Russia and Canada in 1933.

Fred Hulse advertised for local workers in the Yorkshire Evening Post in September 1941.

After Fred Hulse died in 1942 the factory continued to operate under the management of ex-miner Clifford Dennison who lived on Applegarth and then Green Lea. 

There were about 30 employees, most of whom lived locally in Oulton, Woodlesford or Methley. Raw materials were delivered to the site by the railway lorry operating from Woodlesford station which also took away the finished products, packed in cardboard boxes.

In 1966 when the mill premises were put up for auction, with over two acres of land, they were described as “typical, of thick walled stone comprising two large 2-storey buildings divided into lacquer making section; filling room; packing room; storage; paint store; spirit store; office, and large warehouse. There was also a boiler house with an oil fired boiler, toilets and a washroom with a total covered space of approximately 6,800 square feet. Another building had been gutted by fire.

Hulse advertisement from the Daily Mirror in 1929.

Fred Hulse visited Stalin’s Russia in 1933 shortly after a number of British engineers working for Metropolitan Vickers in the Soviet Union had been arrested and put on trial for espionage. On his return he gave an interview to the Yorkshire Evening Post about his experiences with the secret police, or Ogpu, which translated from Russian, stands for the Joint State Political Directorate.


A Leeds Man’s Impressions of Russia’s Well-Drilled Secret Police. 

Yorkshire Evening Post, Thursday 20 April 1933.

The now famous Moscow trial exposed to British eyes some of the methods of the Ogpu (the Soviet secret police) and the workings of Soviet justice. Some further sidelights on the general system of control applied by the Soviet to its huge population are given in this article, which contains the recollections of a Leeds business man who recently spent a month in Russia. He is Mr. F. Hulse, of Grove Road, Halton, managing director of F. Hulse and Co, Ltd., advisory and research chemists, Woodlesford, near Leeds. The Moscow trial prompted his afterthoughts, given in this “Evening Post” interview.

I got my first hint of the prodigious ramifications and ceaseless vigilance the Ogpu actually on board the vessel that carried me to Russia. Before we landed a fellow passenger, who apparently knew his Russia, remarked in casual conversation to me: “I wonder who is the Ogpu man on this ship?” The inference of the usualness of the Ogpu presence was plain.

The only time I ever personally saw the Ogpu strike was in Moscow. I was strolling down a city street at 1.30 in the morning when I heard a terrific scream. I looked round and saw a man on one knee on the ground, in a frenzy of fear, with an Ogpu man holding him. Within a few seconds another Ogpu man came up and the pair marched the unfortunate away.

Never shall I forget that scream. It came, without doubt, from a man who was not merely being arrested, as we understood the process, but clearly from one who knew that his liberty, perhaps his very life, was being taken away from him. He had obviously been a marked man, tracked and caught, and at the first touch he knew his doom.

Personally, I never encountered the Ogpu, least not to my knowledge. I may have met some of their agents, but they would appear as ordinary persons to me. The Ogpu were everywhere. I realised that through the apprehensiveness of many people I met. This system is merely a parallel of the police spies of the Czarist regime, and, in country like Russia, and with a national temperament like the Russian, is, I suppose, necessary to some extent.

The Ogpu work in great secrecy. They do not, of course, concern themselves with ordinary criminal offences. They are the plain clothes guardians of the Soviet cause politically. There is no trial at all for many political offenders. Some trials are held, I think, but in great secrecy, and many of the Ogpu captives simply disappear.

Within my own short experience in Russia I saw a friend of mine, arriving in Moscow, telephone to the house of some friends, and discover that they had disappeared into the unknown. My friend was told not to inquire about them.

The ordinary Russian police work pretty much the same lines as ours, and the courts which hear their cases are about parallel with our police courts, except that the workers invariably have a majority on the presiding bench of magistrates.

People wonder how the Ogpu, working in the middle of the “mass of the Russian population,” can keep such uncanny track of their suspects.

It is easily understood when the identity card system is grasped. Every single person in Russia – although I am uncertain about children – must carry his or her identity card. This card contains wonderfully comprehensive personal details and a photograph, and the system control is vested in bureaus.The bureaus know and can trace everybody Russia.

I knew an American whose brother was found for him in two days, although the American was unaware of his brother’s whereabouts.

Travelling is very difficult, and necessitates proof of identity and reasons. To obtain new employment reasons must also given. The identity card figures in all this, and thus the Ogpu can watch their prey under a microscope.

Foreigners receive the same official surveillance. Their letters are obviously scrutinised. and close check is kept upon their finances. It struck me as a very important point against the prosecution in the recent Moscow trial that, to the best of my knowledge, not a single document showing any guilty transactions by the accused Englishmen was produced by the prosecution as evidence against them. And if there had been such documents I am quite sure that the Ogpu would have had them.