The Soap Industry. Before the 19th Century the production of soap in Runcorn was essentially a cottage industry, but by 1834 it was the biggest industry in the town, and we were the fifth largest producer of soap in the country. The Johnson brothers, John and Thomas, were the biggest operators in the industry, owning factories in Weston and Runcorn. Their business was founded in 1803 by their father, also named John. They built and industrial empire which as well as producing goods such as acids, alkalis, turpentine and rope, had other interests such as a coal mine, a salt works, a fleet of ships and a shipyard. The brothers suffered heavy financial losses in 1865 following a failed speculative venture associated with the American Civil War. As a result, their business was floated as a public company that year and became the Runcorn Soap & Alkali Co. Charles Wigg helped to establish and run this company, as well as opening his own chemical factory in 1865 on what is today Wigg Island Nature Reserve. The Johnson brothers were eventually declared bankrupt in 1871. The Johnsons' biggest rivals were Hazlehurst's, and for many years the two tall chimneys of their respective factories, facing each other across the Bridgewater Canal, would shape the Runcorn skyline. They were established in 1816 by Thomas Hazlehurst Snr., and after his death in 1846 the business was run by his four sons. They are best remembered for their beautifully packaged, award-winning soaps. The former site of their factory, Camden Works, is just to your left. They became part of the United Alkali Co. in 1890, along with forty-seven other British chemical works including the Runcorn Soap & Alkali Co., and the business was ultimately sold to Lever Bros. in 1911.

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Photo of Sprinch, Thomas Johnson, and John Johnson jr blue plaque
Stuart Allen on Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Thomas Hazlehurst blue plaque
Stuart Allen on Wikimedia Commons