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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" (Note 1. 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 (Note 2.).

■ See also The Heronry and the Soap Works Battle.

▼ Click on the pictures below to enlarge.

The Hodgson & Simpson and Unilever connection. The Soap House Yard and Unilever
somewhat tenuous connection.

After it moved from Walton to Wakefield, Liverpool and London, Hodgson and Simpson was eventually acquired by Lever Broothers.

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.

The Hodgson & Simpson and Unilever connection. An ancient bar of Bell Brand soap from the long-since vanished Hodgson & Simpson company.

Hodgson & Simpson Perfume Sachet. 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.

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."
(Note 1. Charles Waterton, A Biography by Brian Edginton).

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

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

The Great Scarborough Telescope Something completely different, but with a link to Soap House Yard and Hodgson & Simpson .....

James Wigglesworth and the Great Scarborough Telescope.

In 1841, Wigglesworth was living in Walton, in the same house as William Thornhill Hodgson. He was a commercial traveller for the company. The soap works was still in Walton at this time. Later Wigglesworth moved to Sandal and in 1860, he became a partner in the firm.

He became a wealthy man and, when he retired, he moved to Scarborough to indulge his interest in astronomy. His observatory was, for a while in the 1880s, a major astronomical establishment.

The final resting place of James Wigglesworth. James Wigglesworth died on 17th April 1888 and is buried alongside his first wife at St. James' Church, Denby Dale Road, Thornes, Wakefield.

Sources for Wigglesworth include:
James Wigglesworth and the Great Scarborough Telescope
Authors: Raymond Emery & David Hawkridge.
Journal of the British Astronomical Association, vol.117, no.3, p.118-125, 2007.

■ Read the full article provided by the SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS). [Accessed 04 Oct 2015.]


1. Charles Waterton, A Biography, by Brian Edginton, 1996. The Lutterworth Press, ISBN 07188 2924 7.

2. Charles Waterton 1782 - 1865, Traveller and Conservationist, by Julia Blackburn, 1989. Vintage, ISBN 0 09 973600 4. Also in hardback: The Bodley Head.

© J. S. Sargent, 1997 - 2019.  All rights reserved.  
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Walton near Wakefield, West Yorkshire.