John Oakey was born in 1814. He was apprenticed to a piano manufacturer and one of his duties was to prepare sanded paper to smooth the woodwork of the pianos. He took pages from old ledgers, pasted them with glue and sprinkled sand or powdered glass over them. After perfecting his knowledge in the handmade manufacture of sandpaper he saw the commercial possibilities of industrial production and founded John Oakey & Sons in 1833.
The business was established in Francis Street (now Crampton Street), Walworth, London, and success soon prompted relocation to a larger, purpose built factory on Blackfriars Road, Lambeth. By 1872 the business had relocated again, this time to The Wellington Works, named after the company’s Duke of Wellington trade mark. Yet further expansion was required again as the business prospered and land on Westminster Bridge Road, previously occupied by the Royal Female Orphan Asylum was acquired and developed, subsequently becoming known as the Wellington Mills.
The firm introduced Wellington Knife Polish in 1858 and this followed soon after by Silversmith’s Soap, Plate Powder and later still by Liquid Silver Polish.
John Oakey died in 1887 and was buried at West Norwood Cemetery, London. The business was succeeded by his sons, who converted it into a public company on the 21st April 1893.
The business founded by John Oakey is still in business today, now Saint-Gobain Abrasives Ltd. of Stafford, England.