Category Archives: Soap

Bubble market: William Gossage & Sons

William Gossage & Sons was the largest soap manufacturer in the United Kingdom, and possibly the world, by 1877.

Early life and Stoke Prior
William Gossage (1799 – 1877) was born in Lincolnshire. After serving an apprenticeship to his uncle in Chesterfield, Gossage commenced trade as a chemist and druggist at Leamington Spa in Warwickshire.

William Gossage (1799-1877)

Gossage was appointed chemist to the Stoke Prior Salt and Alkaki Works in Worcestershire from 1830. Gossage sank a shaft that was to prove highly successful in pumping brine. He was eventually appointed a director and managing partner of the business.

Gossage commences the manufacture of soap in Widnes
Gossage established a soda-making plant at Widnes, Merseyside, from 1850. He also produced alkali from crushed limestone. He soon gave up soda-making, and commenced the smelting of copper, which was to prove successful.

Soap prices increased during the Crimean War (1853 – 56) due to inflated tallow prices. Gossage began to manufacture a low-cost alternative soap of similar quality using sodium silicate and palm oil from 1855.

Gossage introduced blue mottled soap from 1857. Mottled soap served no superior utilitarian function, but gave the soap the pleasant aesthetic appearance of marble.

William Gossage was considered a model employer, and was highly popular with his workforce. He employed 80 men by 1861.

The two sons and T S Timmis enter the business
Alfred Howard Gossage (1831 – 1904) and Frederick Herbert Gossage (1832 – 1907), sons of William Gossage, had entered the business as partners by 1861.

Thomas Sutton Timmis (1830 – 1910) joined the business from 1865, and became a partner.

Thomas Sutton Timmis (1830 – 1910) c.1892

A H Gossage retired in 1866.

William Gossage & Sons held a contract to produce dry soap for R S Hudson from 1869.

William Gossage & Sons was the second largest soap manufacturer in Britain by 1870.

William Gossage retired from business due to ill health from 1874.

Frederick Gossage and Thomas Timmis were to drive the business forward. Gossage had the technical expertise, and Timmis possessed a keen aptitude for finance.

William Gossage & Sons was the largest soap manufacturer in the United Kingdom, and possibly the world by 1877, with an output of no less than 500 tons a week.

William Gossage & Sons employed 500 men and 40 boys by 1881.

Over 200,000 tons of mottled soap were produced between 1862 and 1887.

William Gossage & Sons held a contract to produce Sunlight soap during the early days of Lever Brothers. Frederick Gossage was said to have taught William Lever how to make soap.

Gossage and Timmis converted the business into a private limited company, William Gossage & Sons, from 1894.

William Gossage & Sons produced 1,400 tons of soap a week by 1897, and was probably the second largest soap manufacturer in the world after Lever Brothers. The business focused on the overseas trade, and had a large market in China.

Frederick Gossage died with a net personalty of £709,396 in 1907.

Thomas Timmis died in 1910 with a net personalty valued at £643,247.

Thousands of tons of blue mottled soap were produced annually by 1911. William Gossage & Sons accounted for 57 percent of all soap exported from the United Kingdom, and held 33 percent of the foreign soap trade worldwide.

Acquisition by Brunner Mond
Brunner Mond, the largest chemical manufacturer in the world, acquired William Gossage & Sons and Joseph Crosfield & Sons of Warrington, a rival soap manufacturer, in 1911. Brunner Mond was a major supplier of raw material for the soap industry, and the merger was motivated by an intent to create a strong competitor against the increasingly dominant Lever Brothers.

The Widnes site covered about fourteen acres by 1914. About 1,500 people were employed. Exports were strong throughout the British Empire, and in the Far East.

Sale to Lever Brothers
Lever Brothers acquired William Gossage & Sons and Joseph Crosfield & Sons in 1919.

William Gossage & Sons employed around 1,300 people in 1928.

The Widnes site was closed in 1932, and production was transferred to Lever Brothers-controlled plants in Bromborough and Warrington.

William Gossage & Sons was merged with Joseph Watson & Sons, a Leeds soap manufacturer that was also controlled by Lever Brothers, to form Watson & Gossage from 1937.