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British Industrial History

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Hawes Soap Factory

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in New Cross, London.

See Benjamin Hawes, Benjamin Hawes, Junior, William Hawes and Thomas Hawes

1811 Fire at the factory at Lanes End, Hammersmith.[1]

1828 Mention as 'Messrs. Benjamin, Thomas and William Hawes, soap manufacturers, Old Barge House Wharf, Southwark'.[2]


1849 Article.

Any one who is privileged to ramble trough that little green oasis of the world known to nursery-maids and students as thee "Temple-gardens" may observe, immediately opposite, and on the Surrey side the Thames, an extensive manufactory, which presents a long and advantageous frontage to the river. From the midst of it rises a tall, black, bulky chimney, distinguishable by the many that surround it by its large dimensions. The appearance of the whole may be scarcely calculated to improve the river scenery, nor to add greatly to the beauties of the Thames; but form a circle of the whole commercial world and endeavour to fix upon its centre, and where will you find it if you rest not here? London, the centre of the world of commerce; this spot, the very centre of the world of London!

Ten years ago this manufactory was a scene of labour and activity second to none in the metropolis. Its counting house was filled with clerks hard at work upon huge ledgers and gigantic cash-books; The stones in its' court-yards groaned beneath the roll of heavy waggons filled with casks and chests containing either the raw material to be used or the manufacture which had been produced. Hundreds of workmen thronged into its gates at early morning, and hundreds of others supplied their places in the night, Slowly, from open grates in the roof and windows, a rich, fatty steam ascended, diffusing all around a greasy, unctuous odour, hanging about so long and heavily that it seemed as if the river breezes scarce had power to move the vapour.t Night and day the tall, black, bulky chimney smoked; and from all the chimneys round about its smoke was palpably distinguishable - it looked so rich, and fat, and oily.

Infinitely changed is this great manufactory at present. Its line of frontage to the Thames presents that which, in such a situation, is a notice strange and ominous - "To Let." Look into the premises, and you will find that they are desolation itself. Of the building, the bare walls and some portions of the roof alone remain. The machinery has been torn away, the floorings have been taken up, the doors have been unhinged, the window frames removed, the very iron work has been rent out the walls. The tall black chimney still lifts its bulky form two hundred feet above the roof, but it gives out no particle of smoke. The entrance gateways are blocked up, even the bell which communicated from the exterior to the porter's lodge inside, has been sold for the value of its weight in metal. Only one thing remains to tell what this manufactory was - a board directing that "Letters and papers for Messrs. Hawes (late soap boilers) should be sent to their private dwellings".

And what, it will be asked, was the cause of this destruction? Was it want of skill, management, reckless speculation, or want of energy end enterprise? On the contrary, the Messrs. Hawes were the most skilful soap boilers in England. They secured for themselves the most perfect scientific information that it was possible for any manufacturers to obtain: as for their management, it had stood the test of nearly a century, and had proved itself superior by that best of possible tests, the test of success. Speculation they could not enter into; there was no room or opportunity for that. That they lacked not energy is proved by the position which one of the late member of the firm secured in connection with the government. That they did not want enterprise is established by the circumstance that the floating capital in their concern, when it broke up, was not less than than £50,000.

The abandonment of Messrs. Hawes's soap factory was solely and entirely attributable to the state of the law and the excise duty upon soap. They had struggled and struggled for years against it, reluctant to make the enormous sacrifice which the abandonment of their works imposed, hoping for of the better times, confidently believing that under an improved form of government, and with public attention directed to the condition of the poor, the duty upon soap would be abolished. "This enormity," they argued, "can never stand. If we, the soap-boilers, cannot beat the system down, public opinion will do it for us." But at length, harassed and worn out, obtaining nothing like an adequate return for the capital invested, enduring each succeeding day new mortifications and annoyances from the excise - finding all their energies and enterprises crippled - every attempt at improvement obstructed - knowing that they could not compete with the unfair dealer, and that they were submitting to a law which was only a delusion to others, whilst it was a snare for themselves - they resolved to make the sacrifice great - enormous - as it was, rather than submit longer to a system which they had striven in vain to induce government to abandon; and from the trammels of which there appeared no prospect of release.

[Much more describing the process etc.]


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Bury and Norwich Post - Wednesday 16 October 1811
  2. London Standard - Thursday 04 September 1828