Category Archives: Soap

Soap opera: R S Hudson

Robert Spear Hudson introduced the first commercial soap powder in the world in 1837. The business he established later introduced the Omo and Rinso detergent products.

Robert Spear Hudson (1812 – 1884) was born in West Bromwich in the West Midlands of England. His father was the pastor of the local Congregationalist church.

Robert Spear Hudson (1812 – 1884)

Hudson was apprenticed to an apothecary, and opened a chemist’s shop on West Bromwich High Street from around 1830.

Hudson was possessed by a restless energy, and had a firm commitment to hard work. Through trial and experimentation he introduced Hudson’s Dry Soap, the first commercial soap powder, from 1837. The basic formula for the product is believed to have consisted of dried soap mixed with sodium carbonate.

Hudson also invented a new baking powder, the formula for which he gifted to George Borwick (1807 – 1889), his brother in law.

Borwick acted as the London agent for Hudson’s Dry Soap from 1844, and from that year the product was used by the Royal Household of Queen Victoria.

Hudson employed a staff of ten girls in 1854. This had increased to two men, four boys and 19 girls by 1861.

Demand became such that Hudson had to subcontract soap production to William Hunt of Wednesbury from 1864.

R S Hudson enters into mass production
Hudson’s Dry Soap entered into mass production from 1870. From this time the supply of stock soap was contracted to William Gossage & Sons of Merseyside.

Hudson succeeded due to his thorough nature, and his ready appreciation of the importance of advertising.

A much larger second factory was established at Bank Hall, Liverpool, in 1875. The head office was transferred to Bank Hall. The site was convenient for the imported raw material of vegetable oil, and also had excellent railway, canal and dock links.

Robert Spear Hudson died in 1884. His personal estate was valued at over £295,000. He had been a generous benefactor and a keen Congregationalist throughout his life. He was succeeded as head of the business by his son, Robert William Hudson (1856 – 1938).

120 million half-pound packets of soap powder were sold every year by 1888. The business spent £20,000 a year on advertising.

1,000 people were employed by 1908.

Acquisition by Lever Brothers
Lever Brothers, a large soap manufacturer, acquired R S Hudson in 1908. The price paid was undisclosed, but The Times described the figure as “a staggering amount”. R S Hudson was converted into a limited liability company with a capital of £500,000.

R S Hudson was continued with the same management. However new product lines were introduced; Omo for bleaching clothes in 1908, and Rinso washing detergent in 1910.

Supply of stock soap for the dry powder was immediately switched from William Gossage & Sons to Lever Brothers, in a major blow for the rival business.

The two Hudson factories were modernised in 1927. Electricity replaced steam power, and automated product-packing was introduced.

Lever Brothers gradually transferred production to their large factory at Port Sunlight. The R S Hudson factories in Liverpool and West Bromwich were closed in 1935.

Robert William Hudson died in 1938 with a personal estate in England valued at £234,146.

R S Hudson was merged with John Knight, another soap manufacturer controlled by Lever Brothers, to form Hudson & Knight in 1945.

Hudson & Knight was integrated into Unilever, the successor to Lever Brothers, in 1964.

Omo and Rinso are still sold around the world.

Procter’s gamble: Thomas Hedley & Co

How did Procter & Gamble challenge Unilever’s control over the British soap industry?

Thomas Hedley
Thomas Hedley (1809 – 1890) was born at Harnham, Northumberland. He settled in Gateshead from 1826.

Hedley entered into partnership with John Greene (1800 – 1870), to form John Greene & Co, soap manufacturers of City Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, from 1838.

John Greene left the partnership in 1860 and Thomas Hedley assumed full control. The name of the business was changed to Thomas Hedley & Co. He was assisted by his brother, Edward Armorer Hedley (1826 – 1909).

Thomas Hedley served as Mayor of Newcastle in 1863-4. He was also a director of the Consett Iron Co from 1869 until his death, and was closely identified with its success.

Thomas Hedley & Co employed 26 men and eight boys by 1871.

Thomas Hedley died in 1890. He was succeeded by Edward Armorer Hedley as the principal of the business.

Fairy soap is introduced and subsequent growth
Thomas Hedley & Co was incorporated with a capital of £30,000 in 1898. Up to fifty different types of toilet, household and manufacturing soaps were produced.

Fairy soap had been introduced by 1899.

Thomas Hedley & Co had a capital of £70,000 in 1905. Soap, candles, varnish and chemicals were manufactured. It was a private company, and the shareholders all resided in Newcastle upon Tyne, Stocksfield and Gosforth.

Fairy soap was reformulated from 1926; low-cost rosin was removed and replaced by olive oil, which was advertised as leaving hands feeling smoother and softer. Thomas Hedley acquired olive groves and established a packing plant in Andalusia, Spain.

Thomas Hedley & Co had an issued capital of £500,000 by 1929. Output of soap amounted to 750,000 boxes a year, with annual sales of between $2.5 million to $3 million. Thomas Hedley & Co was the largest soap manufacturer in the North of England, and the largest independent soap manufacturer in Britain. Hedley products enjoyed distribution across Britain and Ireland, and the company claimed around two percent of the British soap market. As well as the Newcastle site, there were two subsidiary factories in Birmingham and one at Wath upon Dearne, Yorkshire.

Acquisition by Procter & Gamble
Procter & Gamble, the largest soap manufacturer in North America, acquired the majority of the shares in Thomas Hedley & Co of Newcastle in 1930. It was the first overseas acquisition for Procter & Gamble, and was motivated, in part, by a desire to divert the attention of Lever Brothers from the American market by challenging the rival soap manufacturer on its home turf. The takeover also provided Procter & Gamble with entry to the Southern European market, which Thomas Hedley & Co supplied with soft soap.

Procter & Gamble doubled the capacity of the Newcastle factory and increased production. Oxydol, a Procter & Gamble washing powder, had been introduced by 1931. Soon, Thomas Hedley & Co was manufacturing all Procter & Gamble products sold in the British and European markets.

Procter & Gamble introduced one week paid annual leave for employees at Thomas Hedley. Previously holiday had been unpaid.

Two new factories were established on a ten acre site at Trafford Park, Manchester from 1934. It was of a similar size, if not larger, than the Newcastle site. Manchester was chosen due to its accessibility for deep water shipping via the Manchester Ship Canal, and for its large consumer market. Tennis courts and athletic fields were provided for the use of staff.

Growing sales of the three leading brands; Fairy Soap, Oxydol and Sylvan Flakes, a soap flakes product, saw the Trafford Park site increased to 15 acres by 1937.

Dreft soapless detergent was introduced from 1937.

Thomas Hedley & Co claimed a 15 percent share of the British soap market by 1938, largely due to strong investment from Procter & Gamble.

A view of the West Thurrock works (2011)

A 15-acre site was acquired at West Thurrock in Kent, and a large factory was established in 1940. The site was chosen for its strong distribution links, and its proximity to the London consumer market.

About two thirds of after-tax profits were reinvested in the business between 1930 and 1956.

Procter & Gamble claimed 25 percent of the British soap and detergents market by 1949.

Tide, an all-purpose synthetic detergent, was introduced from 1950. Accompanied by an unprecedented marketing campaign, Tide was a great success, and its sales challenged that of its Unilever rival, Persil, by 1953.

Daz washing powder was introduced from 1953.

Thomas Hedley & Co was the largest producer of synthetic detergent in Britain by 1954. Success was in part due to a significant investment in press advertising.

A 45 acre site was acquired at Whitley Road, Longbenton in 1954. Research and development was transferred there, and later production. The site was chosen by mapping the homes of the workforce and finding the location that would be most convenient for their daily commute.

Thomas Hedley & Co sold $48 million worth of detergent a year by 1955. 3,700 people were employed by 1958.

Flash, a household cleaner, was introduced from 1958.

A recreation of the original Fairy Liquid bottle (2009)

Fairy Liquid was introduced from 1959. It was the market leader in washing-up liquid by 1961.

Recent history
Thomas Hedley & Co was renamed Procter & Gamble Limited from 1962. The change was intended to assist with export sales, as the Procter & Gamble name had greater recognition overseas.

Fairy Liquid held 37 percent of the British washing-up liquid market by 1968.

Procter & Gamble Ltd was the largest Procter & Gamble subsidiary in 1969. It was the production centre for the British and Scandinavian markets. The principal products were domestic packaged soaps and detergents.

Ariel biological detergent was introduced from 1969. Bold, a low suds biological detergent was introduced from 1972. Head & Shoulders shampoo was launched in 1973. Lenor fabric conditioner was introduced from 1974. Crest toothpaste was introduced from 1975.

Procter & Gamble was the third-largest business in the North East of England as measured by turnover by 1987. Over 1,000 people were employed in the region.

The Procter & Gamble UK head office was relocated from Gosforth, Newcastle to Weybridge, Surrey from 2000.

The Newcastle site concentrates on the manufacture of fragrances for Procter & Gamble as of 2010. The Manchester site produces Pampers, and the West Thurrock site produces soap and detergents.

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.