Highlands & Islands

Disposable nappy inventor Valerie Hunter Gordon dies aged 94

Valerie Hunter Gordon
Image caption Valerie Hunter Gordon, pictured last year, died at her home in Beauly

The mother-of-six who invented the disposable nappy has died at her home near Inverness aged 94.

Valerie Hunter Gordon's family said she died on 16 October in Beauly.

She created the first "Paddi" after having her third child, Nigel, in 1947 and becoming fed-up with washing traditional nappies.

The two-part garments were initially made out of old nylon parachutes, tissue wadding and cotton wool.

Mrs Hunter Gordon made hundreds of the nappies using a sewing machine at her kitchen table, supplying friends with the product and constantly modifying the design.

Her husband, Major Pat Hunter Gordon, was also pressed into helping make the nappies when he returned from fighting in Borneo.

'Wretched' nappies

Speaking to the BBC in 2015, Mrs Hunter Gordon said she had found washing nappies much too laborious and so began searching for disposables.

"I thought you must be able to buy them - but you couldn't, not anywhere," she said.

"It seemed extraordinary that it hadn't been done before. I thought, it's easy, I'll make them. But it wasn't easy. It was quite tricky.

"Everybody who saw them said, Valerie, please would you make one for me? And so I ended up by making about over 600 of them.

"I spent my time sitting at my mother's sewing machine, making these wretched things."

Paddis replaced absorbent cotton towelling nappies, which had to be washed after each use.

"Everybody wanted to stop washing nappies. Nowadays they seem to want to wash them again - good luck to them," Mrs Hunter Gordon said last year.

Image caption The first nappies were modelled by Mrs Hunter Gordon's son, Nigel

The couple applied for a patent in 1948 and signed an agreement with Robinsons to manufacture the nappies in 1949. The first nappies were modelled by her son, Nigel.

Possible names for the product included Valette, Snappy, Napkins, Lavnets and Drypad. The name Paddi was chosen after a meeting between Major Hunter Gordon and a group of senior executive Army officers at The Army Staff College in Surrey, according to the Paddi website.

At first, there was resistance to the nappies from doctors, who thought it would harm babies' skin, and a general public not used to throwing things away in the post-war years.

However, an article in Lancet written by an Army doctor who used Paddis for his baby helped change medical opinion and they began to be stocked by Boots.

Image copyright Hunter Gordon family
Image caption Valerie Hunter Gordon with her daughter Frances in another early Paddi advertisement

They were advertised as "A really attractive garment, skilfully designed by a Mother, to make the whole-time use of disposable nappies a practical possibility".

The company eventually went into decline in the 1960s, with the arrival of the American brand Pampers.

Mrs Hunter Gordon's daughter, Frances Ross, said her mother had been survived by six children, 19 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren, with another due in a few months.