In the Medevil times high quality olive oil and barilla ashes (from which they made their alkali) were in plentiful supply in regions such as North Africa and Moorish Spain. Cities such as Fez, Granada, and Cordoba became renowned for there soaps. Eventually cities such as Castile in Spain, Marseilles in France and Savona in Italy became renowned as European centres for the high quality soap they produced.
This method of soap making continued throughout the Middle Ages , and consisted of boiling olive oil (in Mediterranean countries) with an extract of plant ashes and lime. In 1761, Quincy's English Dispensatory recommended that "the soaps most appropriate for medicinal purposes, ..are from Venice and Castile." In 1768 the Experimental History of Mederia Medica by William Lewis, FRCS, claimed "The finest of the soaps is that salled Castile soap, which is made from olive oil and the alkali salt called soda or barilla." Castile, eventually became the generic name for hard, white, olive oil soap. Indeed all our formulations are based on soaps such as these
In northern Europe three broad varieties of soap were available: coarse soap made from train oil (extracted from whale blubber), sweet soap from olive oil and speckled soap from tallow. For a while, the making of speckled soap was forbidden, not simply because it smelt so bad but because its manufacture would deplete national tallow reserves, thereby driving up the cost of candles beyond the reach of the poor.
As a result, soap was heavily taxed and became a luxury item only readily available to the rich. Eventually, market forces virtually eliminated sweet and speckled soaps, despite the difficulty of making an odourless coarse soap.
Soap first arrived on British shores from the Gauls and in the Middle Ages, artisans independently worked away at crafts like dyeing and soapmaking. Secret recipes, refined by trial and error, were handed down from master to apprentice, and from father to son. Soap was largely developed for use in the cloth industry, to prepare wool for dyeing, and not for personal hygiene.
By the 13th century, soapmaking in Britain became centred in large towns like Bristol, Coventry and London, with each making its own variety. Large areas of British woodland were destroyed to meet the growing demand for wood ashes, causing a country-wide shortage of winter fuel.
In the early 17th century, chemists and soap manufacturers began to address the problems confronting the soap industry. Their combined efforts over the next 150 years produced an understanding of the chemistry involved, resulting in greater manufacturing efficiency, a wider variety of more fragrant and colourful solid (and liquid) soaps, milled soaps, and milder soaps for use on the finest lace and linens.
The Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution brought steam-power and mechanical energy, leading to economies of scale and even greater production efficiency under more readily controlled conditions. The combination of better soaps and advances in plumbing, including running water and drainable bathtubs, made bathing the social norm.
In 1853, Gladstone, as chancellor repealed the British tax on soap instigated by Charles I in 1632 which consequently revived the industry flourished. This came in amoung a growing tide of Victorian concern about cleanliness and hygiene, costing the government an annual loss in revenue of £1,126,000. The industry was made even more profitable by Nobel’s invention of dynamite in the same year: dynamite was made from the explosive nitroglycerine, a chemical derived from glycerine, hitherto a by-product of soap-making.
In the United States, the B.J. Johnson Soap Company was established in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1864. In 1898, the company introduced Palmolive soap, a formula created by the company made entirely of palm and olive oil. The soap was hard, creamy and latherous and popular enough to rename their company after it – ‘Palmolive’ (today’s Palmolive soap is not, however, the same as the original). In 1928, Colgate merged with the Palmolive-Peet Company, and in 1953, the companies became a joint venture, known as the Colgate-Palmolive Company.
In 1789, Cornish barber Andrew Pears opened premises in Wells Street in the then fashionable area of Soho, in London, just off Oxford Street, for the manufacture of high quality soap. the company was awarded a prize medal for its soap at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Pears was one of the first to recognise the potential of a purer, gentler soap that would be kinder to their fashionable but delicate alabaster complexions.
The upper classes associated tanned faces with the lower orders who worked outdoors. The manufacturing process he perfected, using purer ingredients, paying closer attention to each stage in the process, and adding a delicate perfume of flowers, remains relatively unchanged to this day.
In 1885, two brothers William and James Lever , sons of a Bolton wholesale grocerl, eased a chemical works in Warrington, where they experimented with different ingredients to manufacture soap. They settled on a formula of palm kernel oil, cottonseed oil, and vegetable oils to produce popular free-lather soap, and named it Sunlight soap.
It was an immediate success, forcing the company to move to a new and much larger factory by the river Mersey in Cheshire. People were now buying a particular make of soap rather than a type.
Like some other Victorian industrialists, Lever was a philanthropist. He built a model town to house his workers, calling it Port Sunlight after the soap it produced. Port Sunlight went on to develop other products like Lifebuoy carbolic soap, Lux, Sunlight soap flakes and Vim, all of which became household names. In addition Lever Brothers Ltd where to eventually acquire A&F Pears, Gossage's and Hudson's, the Vinolia Co., Hazelhurst & Sons of Runcorn, Edwards Cook of London,Christopher Thomas & Bros Ltd of Bristol, the Erasmic Co, John Knight Ltd, Price's, D&WGibbs, and Joseph Watsons & Sons of Leeds. By the mid 20th centuary soap manufacturing in Britian has been substantially consolidated by Lever Brothers into a modern large scale manufacturing industryLord William Lever, of Leverhulme, died in 1925 and was succeeded by his son, the second viscount, a prominent member of the Society of the Chemical Industry.
Royal Jardin Soaps
Today, soap-making is a highly competitive, highly engineered, multibillion-pound industry whose products bear little resemblence to the high quality hand-made vegetable based soaps of old. However, we at Royal Jardin Soaps still adhere to the traditional techniques and vegetable-based ingredients of old – thank goodness! At Royal Jardin Soaps we only use vegetarian ingredients to make a sweet soap, based on - extra virgin olive oils, coconut oils, caster oil, shea and coca butter with natural adiditives such aleo vera, bay laurel oil, sandalwoods, jasmines, gardenia and rose petals. By fusing the traditional methods used to make vegetarian soap with relatively more modern quality control techniques and ingredients we aim to produce superior high quality products that willl be valued and used by our customers time and time again.
Gibbs F.W., ‘The history of the manufacture of soap’, Annals of Science, vol. 4, pp. 169–90, 1939
Lucock Wilson R., Soap through the Ages, a Progress Book published by Unilever Limited