Henry Harrisse.

Britain at work; a pictorial description of our national industries online

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it has its prominent exceptions. We can
hardly be accused of insular pride and arro
gance when we claim that Britain has been
notable for wealth and civilisation, and yet
it seems as if this country were by no means
first in the field as regards the common
employment of soap. In view of the scarcity
of evidence, it would, however, be rash to
assert that Britain maintained a scrupulous
cleanliness before the introduction of soap.
At any rate, our forefathers were evidently
as well washed as other civilised humanity.
It is a national comfort to read, for example,
the naive words of an observant foreigner
who travelled in Britain in the early days
of the eighteenth centurv. " English men

and women," he remarks, " are very clean,
. . . not a clay passes by without their
washing their hands, arms, faces, necks, and
throats in cold water, and that in winter as
well as summer."

The history of soap is heavily shrouded in
the mists of the past. Its origin is a fruit
ful theme for speculation. It is mentioned
in the Old Testament, but what has there
been translated " soap " is taken to mean
merely " alkali." The name is derived from
the Celtic word " sebon," and from that it
has been supposed that it is to the Celtic
peoples we owe the article itself. This view
is somewhat strengthened by the fact that
the earliest mention of soap is a reference
by Pliny to its existence among the Gauls,
who prepared it from goat s fat and the
ashes of the beech tree. Among the ruins of
Pompeii was found a soap factory, with a
quantity of soap in a perfect state of pre
servation. According to one writer, the date
of the introduction of soap into Britain was
somewhere about the fourteenth century.
Before that time it would appear as if fullers
earth was one of the principal detergents
employed. Indeed, we find it was regarded
as so valuable that it was made contraband
and its exportation illegal.

Of the development of the manufacture
and use of soap there is little known. As



early as the ninth century, Marseilles, which
had the advantage of being situated in
convenient proximity to the ra\v materials
used in the manufacture, did an extensive
trade. The first patent for the improvement
of the manufacture of soap in this country
seems to have been obtained in 1622. In
that ye a r a
company was
granted a
monopoly of
the trade in
Britain, paying
for the privi
lege .20,000
per annum for
3,000 tons of
soap, or nearly

pound was levied on the commodity. In
1816 the duty on hard soap was as high
as 3d. per Ib. This was the summit of the
imposition which was gradually reduced and
abolished in 1853.

The monopoly first, and then the tax, no
doubt had the effect of keeping down the

consumption of
soap. When the
monopoly was
instituted t h e
consumption in
this country was
about i} 2 Ib. pei-
head. At the
beginning of last
century it was
about / Ib. ; by


J^d. per Ib. Trouble ensued. Some makers
refused to join the " combine," and the
King had to order that all soap must be
examined by the company. In 1633 sixteen
manufacturers were sentenced to heavy fines
and imprisonment by the Star Chamber
for disobeying the King s command, two
of the poor men dying in prison. A few
years later the monopoly was surrendered for
the sum of ,40,000. The soap-maker, how
ever, had not yet reached the end of his
troubles, for in 1711 a tax of a penny in the

1846 it had reached I I Ib., and at the
present moment 20 Ib. is believed to be a
reasonable estimate. From this, it can be
imagined to what dimensions the industry
has grown in this country. Millions of
pounds are invested in the business, and
thousands of people are employed. For a
long time, it must be mentioned, France
has held the first place for toilet and
scented soaps, but Britain has always held
the palm for laundry soaps. During the
past dozen years or so, however, this country




has made great headway in the toilet soap
business, and so marked has been this
advance that the premier position of France
is seriously threatened.

Before proceeding- to an inspection of a
great soap factor}-, something must be said
of the chemistry of the subject. Prior to
the researches of the French scientists,
Leblanc and Chcvreul, the manufacture of
soap was largely haphazard ; it was certainly
wasteful. To Leblanc s process for the
manufacture of soda from common salt the
soap-maker probably owes more than to any
other thing. Chevreul s achievement was
to analyse the constituents of fatty bodies
and to discover the process for their separa
tion. As a result, the industry was placed
upon a scientific basis.

It would, of course, be out of place to
enter into details regarding the technicalities
of the subject. Besides, there are soaps
innumerable, each differing in some particular
from the other ; thus the technical aspect
becomes a very large one. Then, too, the
soap-maker, who is not the least shrewd
among men of commerce, is not disposed
to reveal the secrets of his trade. But with
out indulging in the mysteries of chemical
phraseology, some idea can be given as to
what goes to make the soap we daily use.
In thus limiting ourselves, we need have no
fear of divulging trade secrets, for, after all,
the ordinary constituents of soap are things
of common knowledge. For hard soaps,

tallow and the more solid
vegetable fats are chiefly
used, while for soft soap
seed or fish oils are the
principal ingredients.
These fats, it may be
necessary to explain, are
mixtures of salts with
glycerine as a base. Now
by acting upon the fats
either with soda or potash
the glycerine is removed,
and the remaining fatty
acids unite with the soda
or potash to form soap.
For hard soap the agent
employed to separate the
glycerine from the fatty
acids is soda, and for

soft soap potash. Though really the chief
cleansing constituents in soap, these alkalies,
soda and potash, are by themselves very
destructive. The fatty acids are thus the
coating of the pill ; or rather, it should be
put, they neutralise the effect of the alkalies,
which consequently carry out their cleansing
mission without harm to the article under

Soap has been usefully defined as a sort
of magazine of alkali which it gives up in
the exact quantity required at any moment
when it is rubbed with water. Bad soap
is that which sets free the cleansing but
injurious alkali too rapidly. A good soap
frees the alkali slowly, and accomplishes its
work in happy union with the fatty matter,
which has a certain effect in preparing the
way for the alkali. It comes about, therefore,
that the object of the soap manufacturer
must be to bring about such a blending of
alkalies and fatty acids that in the completed
article the dangerous elements, while suffi
ciently powerful for cleansing purposes, will
be so far neutralised as to be innocuous.

Apart from the alkalies, the ingredients
which go to the making of soap hail from
the four . quarters of the globe. Tallow,
which is the most important of the fatty
acids employed, comes from Russia, Australia,
and the Americas from the cattle-rearing


countries, in fact. Then among the oils
used arc those derived from the palm, the
palm kernel, cocoa-nut, the olive, ground nut,



linseed, cotton seed, etc. : the very mention of
such names seems to bring us into contact
with the most distant and some of the least
inviting parts of the world. Resin is another
ingredient which has the eftect of rendering
the soap more readily soluble, and helps to
raise a pleasant lather.

The preparation of these various ingre
dients for the soap manufacturer are industries
in themselves, though in some cases oil
factories are run in connection with soap-
making works. General!} , however, it may
be said that the manufacturer buys his
materials read}- for mixing. The}- are carried
in barrels, out of which the soap-maker melts
the fat by means of jets of steam. The
liquid is then run int:> tanks, where all im
purities are carefully removed.

The next stage is the all-important one
of boiling ; and here we get in touch with
the actual working. Enter, then, the bailing
room. The atmosphere is hot and humid and
fragrant, reminiscent somewhat of washing-
day. The huge square pans, each capable
of holding some sixty tons of material, are
ranged in a double row. Some, you observe,
are empty, save for a thickish remnant like
a yellow scum that bubbles slowly and
sullenl} .

Standing by each of the full pans is a very
warm and watchful attendant armed with a
long spoon a very long spoon indeed. With
this from time to time he stirs the steam ing-
mass, which bears a
striking resemblance to
butter-scotch, and at in
tervals he throws in a
few shovelfuls of salt from
a heap by his side. To
the eye of the outside
observer, there is not
much that is illuminating
in watching the boiling
process. Only to the
expert are the signs of
grad ual s a p o n i fi c a t i o n
easily apparent. Probably
what strikes the outsider
most is the curious de
meanour of the soap at
this stage. For a moment,
perhaps, the mass of
yellow matter steams

quietly with scarce a tremor ; then suddenly
a crater opens in the centre of the pan and a
violent eruption ensues, the splashes of lava,
d/i<ts boiling soap, falling with an angry flop.
Tending a pan is not, however, a dangerous
occupation, though it calls for constant care
and alertness.

The heat for boiling purposes is nowadays
almost universally applied by steam injected
direct!} into the pans through a coil of
perforated pipes, one of the advantages of
this method being that the steam keeps the
contents of the pan continually in motion.
There are in the boiling of ordinary hard
soap actual!}- three stages. After the first
boiling, which completes the saponification
of the fat, salt is thrown in to separate the
glycerine and other impurities. Steam is
then shut off, and the contents are allowed
to settle. The impurities fall to the bottom,
and are drained off. This done, a little
water, resin, and more soda or potash are
added. When the resin has been saponified,
salt is again thrown in, again the contents
are allowed to settle, and the impurities are
drained off. Then follows another boiling
with soda or potash, and the soap may be
said to be made, the whole process having
occupied about a week.

Still there is much to be done before the
lad\- receives her stamped and highly finished
tablet, or the washerwoman her humble bar.
From the boiling pans, which are generally





on an upper floor, run long wooden shoots,
and down these the liquid soap is drawn off.
At this stage some soaps are scented, some
coloured, and some receive ingredients which
result in cheapening them. But for most
there is a direct road from the boiling pan
to the cooling frame. These frames are
about five feet high, and hold about fifteen
hundredweight of soap. They are made of
iron, the sides and ends being clamped to
gether so that they can be removed, leaving
a solid block of soap ready
for cutting up. The cooling-
process naturally depends
on the weather, but it
generally occupies four or
five days. While the soap
is standing in the frames
slight pressure is applied
to it from the top to
solidify it completely.

In a large factory, such
as that of Messrs. Level-
Brothers at Port Sunlight,
the cooling room is an
interesting and busy scene.
When the frames have
been removed from the
solid soap, the workman
sets about the cutting up
of the great blocks. For

this purpose he employs a machine
consisting of an upright frame which
is furnished with transverse wires, and
these bv means of a wheel and chain
are drawn through the soap, cutting it
up into slabs of the thickness desired.
The slabs, creamy and beautiful, like
new cheeses, are hurried along to an
other machine, where they are cut into
bars. The mechanism which performs
this operation is a lever frame on which
are strung vertical wires that are drawn
through the soap. The bars are after
wards piled in such a manner as to
let the air circulate freely about them.
A day or two of this exposure fits
them for packing and for use.

Here we ma} take leave of the
laundry soap, or rather of those soaps
that are put on the market without the
artistic finish we associate with the
usual toilet soap. When the further
processes applied to the superior kinds of
soaps are to be gone through the bars are
conveyed to another department. Here,
first of all, the soap is thoroughly dried.
This is done by passing the bars into a
machine which cuts them up into ribbons,
and carries these ribbons along through hot
air till the moisture is removed. At this
stage the soap feels to the hand not unlike
wood shavings.

Scenting and colouring arc the next opera-




tions. In perfuming, essential oils are most
commonly used in combinations, and the aim
of the perfumer is so to blend the oils that
the distinctive odours are retained and
rendered effective without harming the tout
ensemble. Among the oils most frequently
employed are oil of lavender, spike oil,
citronelle oil, oil of thyme, and oil of China
cinnamon. In the matter of colours we are
all acquainted in some degree with the variety
which the soap-maker produces. Formerly
the manufacturer was restricted to mineral
pigments, which had a tendency to colour
unequally and to
fade on exposure
to light. Coal-
tar colours, how
ever, which are
now employed,
have made it
possible to pro
duce the most
varied, beautiful,
and lasting tints.
When the soap
falls from the
drying machine,
it is carried in
quantities, ac
cording to the
system in vogue
in the factory, to
the perfumer and
colourist. He, as
the result of

careful experiments and tests, has his materials
in readiness, and pours the necessary quantity
among the creamy white soap. As one
watches the operation, one is surprised at the
small amount of perfume and colour that is
required to permeate the mass. Of colour, for
example, ten or twelve ounces suffice for ten
hundredweight. Thoroughly to work in the
perfume and colour, the soap is taken to the
crushing mill, where by passing through a
series of heavy rollers it is brought into a
past} condition. Again it is cut up into
ribbons, and pours out of the mill like a tinted
waterfall a charming sight. This uniformly
perfumed and coloured soap is forced through
a tube to mould it into a continuous bar, which
is cut into lengths for stamping as tablets.


Of the stamping of soap little need be
said. It is accomplished either by steam or
hand worked machines which are operated
by boys or girls. The highly finished tab
lets of toilet soap are generally stamped
by hand machines. Nor is it necessary
to dilate on the wrapping of the soap, on
which so much art is nowadays expended.
Wrapping, packing, etc., are the minor
operations of every firm dealing in household
requisites of convenient size. The work has
been on all hands brought to a high state
of perfection, and the rapidity with which



the girls and boys manipulate the various
articles is amazing.

The lot of the worker in a soap factory
is comparatively pleasant, though, of course,
much depends on the character of the accom
modation provided for him. In the larger
factories, the conditions are excellent, and the
worker has little to complain of. Then, all
things considered, the work is not particularly
trying. The soap-boiler requires to have an
intimate acquaintance with the appearance
of his material, so that he may observe the
signs of gradual saponification ; but, with the
exception of the chemistry of soap and the
colouring and perfuming, machinery is so
largely used that the worker has a clean,
health} 1 , and comparatively easy task.




LONDON is hardly a city of marts in
the same decree as Paris, for in the
French capital the markets are largely
used for retail purposes, and the number of
both buyers and sellers who frequent them
is no doubt considerably greater, relatively
to the population, than in the case of
London. None the less do the markets
of our capital hold a place in its life
of which no mere words can convey an
adequate sense. The exact number of
" hands " for whom they find employment
is not ascertai nable, for as a nation we
have no passion for statistics. But cal
culating from the known to the unknown,
there can be little doubt, I think, that in
one capacity or another as members of
the administrative staffs, porters, carriers,
salesmen, slaughtermen, drovers, and so
forth fully twenty thousand men earn their
dailv bread as market workers.

Of all the markets of London, the most
interesting is Billingsgate, in the shadow of
London Bridge. True, the Billingsgate fish-
fags who, to use Addison s euphemism, were
so prone to " debates," have disappeared,
and the market is no longer the place it
was when an auctioneer ran the risk of
being knocked down by a fair bidder
unless he knocked down the fish to her.
The porters, in their dirt} white smocks,
and with their well-lined hats, are not
more pugnacious than their fellows in other
markets, nor is their vernacular in higher
repute for raciness and vigour. Still, in its
busiest hours, from five o clock to nine, the
market offers a scene which for animation
and character can hardly be matched else
where in London. How it is that, with
everyone getting in even-one else s way,
and acting on the assumption that the
market was made primarily for himself, the



fish ever finds its way into the market and
finds its way out again, is one of the puzzles
of our social organisation.

The confusion, however, is a good deal
less chaotic than the unsophisticated observer
supposes. Else would it be impossible for
4/0 tons of fish to change hands here
every day. Ten years ago 144,000 tons of
fish passed through the market in twelve
months ; at the present time the quantity
verges upon 150,000 tons. Of this, about
one-third is brought from the fishing-fleets
in the North Sea by the long, swift
steamers that steal up the Thames during
thj night ; the other two-thirds are railway
borne, and are brought here from the
termini in the vans that throng the sur
rounding streets. Nor have the journeyings
of the produce of the nets ceased when
it reaches the market. Much
more of it finds its way to
Billingsgate than the needs
of London demand, and by
mid-day the surplus is being
whirled along by swift trains
into the provinces

general market, and that for the last two
centuries it has been used entirely for the
sale of fish. The present market buildings,
the work of the late Sir Horace Jones,
were reared about a quarter of a century
ago, when they superseded a much smaller

To the same architect London owes the
most commodious group of market buildings
in this country. I speak, of course, of
the Central Markets at Smithfield, which,
with the additions that have been made
to them for the sale of fish, vegetables.


to figure as
second course in
the evening dinner
in remote country

The burly por-
t e r s, w ho are
licensed for a
nominal fee by
the City Corpora
tion, number close upon 900, and altogether
some 1,200 persons find employment at
Billingsgate. The porters are paid by the
piece, and a stead}*, industrious man often
makes as much as ^3 a week. Their work,
though hard, is not unhealthy, though it has
a tendency to produce affections of the heart
from the strain of the heavy loads which
the men have to handle. Many of them,
too, go bald at an early age as the result
of carrying their burdens on their heads.
From which it would appear that " head
work " is no more good for the hair than is
brain work !

Of the history of Billingsgate I may not
speak. Suffice it to say that at least as far
back as the reign of Queen Elizabeth it was a


and other commodities, stretch right down
to Eaningdon Street. The market is, how
ever, mainly for the sale of meat. A
decade ago the meat, etc., sold here was
about 300,000 tons in weight ; now it is
considerably over 400,000 tons. Perhaps a
better idea of the volume of trade may
be gathered from the fact that including
the market-staff, about a hundred strong,
between six and seven thousand men are
employed here, of whom about a thousand
are licensed porters and meat-carriers. At
Smithfield business begins even earlier than
at Billingsgate. The market gates are
opened about the time when the votaries
of fashion begin to think of going to bed.
At four o clock business has begun, and as



six approaches is in full swing and so
remains until about eight.

Large as is the scale of transactions at
the Central Markets, there is no over
crowding. How different is the scene, with
all its activity, from that which was wit
nessed before Sir Horace Jones s building
was raised, and when Smithfield was the
home of the old Cattle Market! That
until the middle of the nineteenth century
the authorities should have allowed some
two million animals to be driven through
the streets of the City in the course of
the year on their way to and from the
Cattle Market says much for their con
servatism and for the tolerance of the
public. At last, however, though the City
Fathers were in favour of letting things
alone, the public would have no more of
it, and in 1855 the Cattle Market was
removed to Copenhagen Fields, Islington,
where the Corporation had enclosed for
the purpose an area some thirty acres in
extent. As things have turned out, the
accommodation here provided is in excess of
the requirements, owing to the development
of the foreign meat trade. Business at
Islington is still, however, conducted on a
considerable, though a gradually diminish
ing scale. Toll is annually paid on six
hundred thousand animals, and, including
the licensed drovers, some fifteen hundred
"hands" find more or less regular employ
ment here. A considerable proportion of
the animals that change hands never leave
the market alive. Thus in 1901 close upon
170,000 cattle, sheep, and pigs ended their
careers in the slaughter-houses belonging to
the market. That the Veterinary Inspector
and his staff subject all cattle entering the
market to severe scrutiny, to ensure that such
as are unfit for food shall not find their way
to our tables, may go without saying. In
the course of the year some twelve hundred
carcasses or parts of carcasses are con
demned. Sure work is made of unsound
animals, which arc at once slaughtered and
the carcasses destroyed.

The most interesting feature of the
Metropolitan Cattle Market to those who
are not bent on the driving of bargains
over live stock is the scrap market, held
on Fridays. No one who has ever seen

the bewildering variety of things exposed
in this market for second-hand articles would
ever think of attempting to answer the
question, " What can be bought here ? "
Rather would he say, " Ask me what can
not be bought here."

It is curious to find from Mr. Charles
Booth s monumental work on " Life and
Labour of the People in London," which
is a mine of information on the markets
of London in their industrial aspect, that
the drovers licensed by the City Corpora
tion are for the most part not country-
bred but Londoners. They begin, it seems,
as ochre-boys that is, they mark beasts
for the butchers with ochre. On reaching
years of discretion, having picked up a
knowledge of the drovers craft, they obtain
from the Corporation, subject to the pay
ment of a small fee and to proof of good
character, a licence, and so become full-
fledged drovers.

\\ hen it became necessary under the
Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act, 1869,
to provide accommodation for the slaughter
of foreign animals brought into the Port
of London, the City Corporation acquired
the larger part of the old dockyard at
Deptford, and spent nearly 150,000 in
adapting it to its new uses, in addition to
the 95,000 paid for the property. At
present about a quarter of a million animals
are landed at the jetties in the course of

Online LibraryHenry HarrisseBritain at work; a pictorial description of our national industries → online text (page 25 of 39)