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Walton - Wakefield - West Yorkshire
Squire Charles Waterton the Naturalist
and more ....
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Walton Soap Works - Soap House Yard
& the Battle Between Charles Waterton
and Edward Thornhill Simpson

Originally founded by Mr William Thornhill Hodgson in 1818 (or thereabouts), the soap works continued to flourish on a small scale until the business was taken over by Edward Thornhill Simpson*. Mr Simpson was the unofficial adopted son of William Thornhill Hodgson. It was when Simpson took over the business that the stage was set for one of the early battles against polluters of the environment.

(* ■ Read the announcement in 'The Gazette' (London) of the dissolution of the partnership on 5th May 1845. The business carried on under Edward Thornhill Simpson using the same name, i.e. Hodgson and Simpson.)

But, first, a bit of soapy background:

Simply stated, soap is made from boiling fat with alkali and salt. Many fatty substances, fats from animals such as suet, blubber, and vegetable fats such as palm oil, etc., suffice as the fat part of the raw material. In the 19th century, man-made alkalis were developed. The soap manufacturer could produce his own alkali from common salt and sulphuric acid. To save on costs and improve the manufacturing process, the manufacturer could produce his own sulphuric acid. The by-product of the manufacturing process was hydrochloric acid, which could then be used in the manufacture of bleaching powders.

Hodgson, a North Yorkshireman, arrived in Walton in 1815, when he started production, he had assured Charles Waterton that he would never produce his own acids. The business grew in size and in 1839, Hodgson & Simpson acquired the small triangle of land by High Town ("Soap House") Bridge to create Soap House Yard. A second chimney was added and a furnace added for the processing of salted cake and the manufacture of sulphuric acid.

However, just as things were looking good for soap manufacturing in Walton, Hodgson went bankrupt and committed suicide, leaving Edward Thornhill Simpson to acquire his partner's share in the business. Under Simpson, the business prospered and expanded. Mr Simpson did well for himself and became a respected member of the local community.

The soap works contributed to serious pollution in and around the village. It was the cause of a long running bitter dispute between Squire Waterton and the Pilkingtons on the one hand and the Simpson family on the other.

The court room saga seemed endless but then a solution presented itself. As it happened, the Watertons had acquired a piece of land at Thornes in Wakefield and offered it for sale at a bargain price, Simpson knew a good thing when he saw it and bought the land.

Then in October 1849, the battle went to court for a third time, and this time the Squire managed to get an injunction served on the soap-boiler that required the Walton works to be closed down and shipped off to the new site at Thornes - "much closer to the 15,000 inhabitants of the Once Merry Wakefield" (Charles Waterton, A Biography by Brian Edginton). Dallying somewhat, Simpson eventually moved to the new site and by 1853, the soap works in Walton had stopped making soap.

Click to enlargeAlthough the Squire won the battle, and Edward Thornhill Simpson went off to pollute Wakefield (and to create employment, it must be said),
Waterton lost the war when the Simpsons acquired Walton Hall after his death.
Edmund Waterton was forced to sell the estate to pay his creditors, and it was the Simpsons who bought it.

However, they could not oust Edward Hailstone, the tenant of Walton Hall.

Until the bitter end, the soap works had continued in production in the village.
Walton would have been a much grimmer place today if the soap works had remained.

Read more ... Julia Blackburn provides an excellent account of the Soap House Yard Battle in her book Charles Waterton, Traveller & Conservationist.

Click images to enlarge.
Click to enlarge
Soap House Yard in 2005.
More pictures of the Soap House Yard area on the Barnsley Canal Soap House Bridge page.

Click to enlarge
Soap House Yard photographed from the route of the Barnsley Canal.
Photographed 17th April 2006.

Click to enlarge
Shay Lane in the Soap House Yard area. The Barnsley Canal once passed underneath the road at Hightown Bridge (now gone) at the top of the hill.
Photographed 12th January 2011.
The Hodgson & Simpson and Unilever connection.

The Soap House Yard and Unilever
tenuous connection.

After it moved from Walton to Wakefield, Liverpool and London, Hodgson and Simpson was eventually acquired by Lever Bros.; later, Lever Bros. merged with Margarine Unie of the Netherlands to form Unilever. Brooke Bond started producing PG Tips (originally Pre-Gest Tee) in the 1930's, Brooke Bond merged with Liebig to form Brooke Bond Liebig, which, in its turn, was acquired by Unilever.
Persil was launched in 1909 and is the first commercially available laundry detergent.
Frigo ice cream is one of Unilever's Heartbrand range of ice creams that are sold in more than 40 countries around the world under many different local names, including Wall's.

Click to enlarge
An ancient bar of Bell Brand soap from the long-since vanished Hodgson & Simpson company.

■ More pictures of Hodgson & Simpson products at Calder Soap Works.

The manufacture of soap, of course, always has been a filthy business. Its by-products still cause ecological mayhem, hundreds of miles from the point of origin. But where industrial vested interest is concerned, earthly paradise counts for nothing - the powers of darkness are the Lord's annointed. Did I say soap boilers stood no chance against pedigree and privilege? Don't you believe it! Filth and ugliness invariably won in the end."

(Charles Waterton, A Biography by Brian Edginton)

■ More pictures of Hodgson & Simpson products at Calder Soap Works.

■ Where there's muck, there's brass ....

Click to enlarge
A free perfume sachet from Hodgson & Simpson, manufacturers of Bell Brand and Invincible Transparent Toilet Soap. This sachet is believed to date from the 1880s. It is still unopened. It has now been reunited with the large bar of Bell Brand soap.

Books about Walton, Charles Waterton, Guyana, and more!
See a selection of
books about Walton,
Charles Waterton,
Guyana and more.
• click here •
(Offered for sale by

Follow Walton Community Library.

Follow Walton
Neighbourhood Plan.

The HOW Project

A History of Walton, Peter Wright
A History of Walton,
Peter Wright

A Pictorial History of Walton, Alan Bowers
A Pictorial History of Walton, Wakefield.
Alan Bowers

Click to enlarge
The Walton Millennium CD.
If you can track down a copy, it contains photographs and other titbits relating to the village.

Walton in 1971
Walton in 1971
YouTube video
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