Magazine article History Today

Dr Trelawney's Cabinet of Historical Curiosities: This Month's Subject: Soap

Magazine article History Today

Dr Trelawney's Cabinet of Historical Curiosities: This Month's Subject: Soap

Article excerpt

Popish soap was the abusive name given to soap manufactured under a patent granted by Charles I. As the board of the company included Catholics the term 'Popish Soap' was applied to this monopoly commodity. It was said by the anti-Catholic faction to be particular injurious to linen and washerwomen's hands.

Andrew Pears (1766/7-1845) made the first transparent soap bars by dissolving ordinary soap in alcohol, distilling the result and shaping the residue into bars. This proved so popular at his London barber's shop that he resorted to signing every wrapper to guarantee its quality in the face of many inferior imitations. His great-great-grandson, Tom Pears, drowned in the Titanic disaster.

As an early writer on household management, Lady Fettiplace (c. 1570-1647) liked to live as self-sufficiently as possible in her Gloucestershire home. Her household produced its own cosmetics, weedkillers, ink and toothpaste and acted as a pharmacy for the area, offering medicines for everything from stomach ache to bubonic plague. She also produced her own soap.

Thomas James Barratt, (1841-1914), revolutionised soap production through advertising. Having joined the Pears company (and married into the family) he saturated newspapers with adverts for Pears leading Gladstone to note that the amendments to one bill in Parliament were 'as plentiful as the advertisements of Pears soap'. Barratt also bought famous paintings and adapted them as advertisements that people might want to hang on their walls. The most famous was the portrait of a small boy watching a soap bubble by the Pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais, mass-produced by Barratt under the title Bubbles.

Mystic and schoolteacher Teresa Helena Higginson (1844-1905) had, according to her roommate Susan Ryland, the power to make objects she prayed for appear in their room during her ecstatic trances. On one occasion she produced some kindling for the fire and on another a bar of soap.

Elizabeth Sawyer (d. 1621) was convicted and hanged for murdering her neighbour and two children using diabolical means, under the terms of the Witchcraft Act of 1604. …

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