Site Home What's On
Sandal Magna Battle of Wakefield Nevison The Highwayman Wakefield City Wakefield District Further Afield
Links - General CHARLES WATERTON Book Shelf
Overtown Miscellany - Walton
 site search by freefind  
■ Walton ■ Around the Village ■ Eastern Areas
WALTON - EASTERN AREAS, SOAP HOUSE YARD - Hodgson & Simpson's Soap Works (site of)
Click to enlarge.

Mr William Thornhill Hodgson
William Thornhill Hodgson started as an iron founder and blacking manufacturer in Barnsley, West Riding (now South Yorkshire). By 1815 he had turned to the manufacture of various chemicals. For the next two years he experimented with the production of soda from bleachers' waste but was unable to put his process into practice. In 1818 he turned to the production of soap and around 1825 established his soap manufacturing company. However, it seems that things did not always go smoothly for Hodgson.
In 1822, Hodgson was in debt and confined for debt in the Castle of York.
The court entry reads
William Thornhill Hodgson, Wakefield, Order 1822 - 1824.
Wakefield Adjourned Sessions 4th October 1822 (p. 254).
Hodgson, William Thornhill, certified.
The like certificate for William Thornhill Hodgson late of Walton in the parish of Sandal - Magna in the said Riding. Soap Boiler, a prisoner confined for Debt in the Castle of York for the County of York.
Assignee appointed. This Court recommends George Hodgson of Sheffield in the said Riding, Shovel-maker, to be appointed Assignee of the Estate and Effects of the said William Thornhill Hodgson.
(In legal terms, an assignor is a person, company or other entity that holds rights to a piece of intellectual, physical or other property and transfers those rights to another person, business or entity known as the assignee. (1)
Despite the 1822 court case, Hodgson continued in the soap business and around 1825 established his soap manufacturing company. In 1833 he went into partnership with his godson, Edward Thornhill Simpson.

The business grew in size and in 1839, Hodgson & Simpson acquired the small triangle of land by the High Town ("Soap House") Barnsley Canal 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. Much detailed information can be found in Grace's Guide. (2)

In 1845 Hodgson became bankrupt and the partnership was dissolved with Edward Thornhill Simpson become the sole proprietor. Click on the London Gazette image to read an enlargement of the announcement in The London Gazette about 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.

Hodgson is mentioned in the Electoral Registers for Walton in the years 1840, 1843, 1844, 1845, 1846, 1847, 1848, 1849, and 1850. (3)
Hodgson died in 1849 and was buried in Sandal Magna on 13th November 1849. (4)

Hodgson & Simpson (but no Hodgson)

With the partnership dissolved and Hodgson dead, 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" (5)
Dallying somewhat, Simpson eventually moved to the new site and by 1853, the soap works had moved to Calder Island, Thornes, Wakefield.

Click to enlargeAlthough the Squire won the battle, and Edward Thornhill Simpson went off to make soap and Black Ash in Wakefield (and to create employment, of course), 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. He remained there until his death.

Until the bitter end of the 'battle', 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 (6)

■ See also The Heronry and the Soap Works Battle.

Soap Manufacture

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.

The Hodgson & Simpson and Unilever connection. The Soap House Yard and Unilever, a 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." (5)

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

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

From Soap to Astronomy .From Soap to Astronomy ..... 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.

Read more ......


1. Yorkshire, England, Quarter Session Records, 1637-1914 for William Thornhill Hodgson, Wakefield, Order 1822 - 1824.

2. Grace's Guide to British Industrial History, Hodgson and Simpson. Web site.

3. Electoral Registers, West Riding, Walton Township, 1840 - 1862.

4. Burials in the Parish of Sandal Magna, 1849, no. 476.

5. Page 168. Charles Waterton, A Biography, by Brian Edginton, 1996. The Lutterworth Press, ISBN 07188 2924 7.

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


© John S. Sargent, 1997 - 2021.  All rights reserved.  
• About this site  • Contact  

Walton near Wakefield, West Yorkshire.