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The Heronry and the Soap Works Battle

■ See also Soap House Yard.

Grey Heron at Walton HallThe Heronry at Walton Hall

It is worthy of remark that, some years ago, the heronry was in the wood, on the northern side of the lake. It, however, became desirable to cut down a few trees, in order to benefit growth of the remaining ones in this part of the wood, which was quietly and carefully accomplished, and, of course, not in the nesting season; yet, from this time, the herons commenced to change their quarters, and all, apparently, agreed to occupy the southern, the opposite side of the lake, where every possible care was bestowed upon them, so long as they remained within the walls of the park; but, unfortunately, herons take long, I believe, extraordinarily long flights, generally during the evening, in search of variety of food, and are, consequently, much exposed to the merciless public, who spare no pains to destroy these interesting and harmless birds.

It is not, however, in their long flights, that they are shot. as they fly too high to be killed by shot. they usually suffer by being surprised in their fishing streams, where they are suddenly pounced upon whilst fishing little shaded rivulets. Their commencing ascent, from the stream into the air, when disturbed, is so slow, that they seldom escape, even, an indifferent shot. They are, in general shot, not because they are required for the purpose being "set up" as specimens in the science of ornithology, nor because they are wanted for the table, nor because the bird is suspected of doing injury in any way, but, simply, that he who kills may boast that he has shot a heron.

This heronry, at one time, in consequence of its position, and also of its trifling distance from a most destructive influence, (soap and vitriol works) barely escaped annilation. If it had been where it formerly was, viz., on the opposite side of the park, the trees forming the heronry must have succumbed to the abominable effluvia arising from these works, unless an injunction had been obtained: - the odour from which, (the soap and vitriol works), was disagreeably offensive, as well as very detrimental to both animal and vegetable life. Some of the Squire's finest trees were literally destroyed, and many hundreds very seriously injured. Mr. Waterton, being anxious, if possible, to avoid law, took Terence for his guide, who contends that "it becomes a wise man to try every thing that can be done by words, before he has recourse to arms." Reasoning and persuasive measures were, therefore, adopted on the part of the late Mr. Waterton, to induce the owner of the soap and vitriol works to abate the nuisance; but these friendly warnings failing to produce the desired effect, the Squire was most reluctantly compelled, in self-defence, to resort to a court of justice for the protection of his property, when he was awarded eleven hundred pounds for the injury sustained, as well as an injunction to prohibit the continuance of the works.

But no victory is to be obtained without some inconvenience. "he suffers who conquers." For a considerable period, many of the spruce and silver firs, in the neighbourhood of the grotto, had the greatest difficulty to struggle through the shattered condition to which they were reduced, whilst a few of those highly ornamental trees fairly yielded to the baneful influence of this deadly pioson. "The fatal shaft remains fixed in her side."

Extract from Charles Waterton: His Home, Habits and Handiwork by Richard Hobson, M.D., 1866. (pp 45-48)

Click to enlargeThe Soap Works

Originally founded in the village of Walton near Wakefield, West Yorkshire, by William Thornhill Hodgson circa 1818, the company operated on a small scale until it was taken over by Edward Thornhill Simpson in 1832. Mr Simpson was the unofficial adopted son of William Thornhill Hodgson.

The soap works were established in Soap House Yard adjacent to the Barnsley Canal at High Town Bridge. William Thornhill Hodgson promised Squire Charles Waterton that he would not produce his own acids. This promise was broken and Edward Thornhill Simpson expanded the factory and the pollution increased.

With Simpson in charge, pollution soon threatened the surrounding countryside and, following a long court battle with Charles Waterton the company moved to Calder Island in Thornes in Wakefield. As it happened, the Watertons had acquired that piece of land and offered it for sale at a bargain price, Simpson knew a good thing when he saw it and bought the land.

The company prospered for a while and had premises in Liverpool and London, as well as Wakefield. The firm's greatest claim to fame was the gold medal won at the Great Paris Exhibtion of 1878.

Production ceased at the Calder Soap Works in 1906. Hodgson & Simpson continued in production into the early 20th century, but, in the end, an emerging giant, Lever Brothers, acquired the company, along with other acquisitions. Later on, Lever Brothers merged with Margarine Unie of the Netherlands to form Unilever.

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