Echoes of the past: The almost forgotten industries of Brighouse

Upper Bonegate, Dr. William Skeels house which sold and was the site where the Ritz cinema was built
Upper Bonegate, Dr. William Skeels house which sold and was the site where the Ritz cinema was built

In 2017 I will be starting a new project which involves the industry of Brighouse and its surrounding communities dating back to the arrival of the canal in 1760.

Whilst looking at many of the old industries that over many generations not only brought prosperity to the town but employed many local people. I will also be looking at some of those that have replaced the older industries or those that have continued manufacturing after many others have faded into the history books.

But also those new business that now occupy the almost forgotten 19th and 20th century mill buildings.

One of the industries that is still in existence after 134 years and still a thriving company is John Drury soap manufacturers in River Street.

In 1882, John Drury, a qualified engineer, was looking to find a way to supply de-gumming silk soap products for the growing textile trade industry. His vision and determination helped create the foundation of today’s manufacturing plant located in River Street.

In the 1920’s, the business evolved to supply soap powders and bars to the textile and laundry industry. By the 30’s, further investment was made to manufacture toilet soap which created an important sales stream for the business throughout the 20th and now the 21st Century.

But readers may be surprised to know that whilst John Drury started his business in 1882 there was already a soap manufacturing business in Brighouse.

The soap works was situated between Upper Bonegate, behind the Ritz and on land that ran to the Bonegate Hall boundary. The original business was started in 1847 by two Frenchmen from Rouen under the trading name of Faucon, Rochette and Company.

In 1874 the business was taken over by a Mr. J.A.Heaton and in 1891 the company changed hands a gain and became known as the Brighouse Soap Co Ltd Bonegate. Available records show that in 1895 a Joseph Naylor who was a partner in John Francis Brown’s ironmongery business was a director at the soap company along with John Garside who was the managing director of the soap business. The soap company premises were old and substantial stone two storey building covering an area of 120 yards by 90 yards. The premises was split into offices, soap boiling works with additional rooms for cooling, packing and storage of stock. Unfortunately my own records do not show when this company closed or the old stone buildings were demolished.

Anyone who has information about the old Bonegate soap works I would be interested to hear.

But an interesting find on Calderdale Companion that wonderful website which is a comprehensive research tool for all that is Calderdale history. I have noted an entry for a soap manufacturers in Brighouse which was established by a Charles Hanson.

In this photograph is Upper Bonegate behind the pair of gates and Dr. William Skeels house which sold and was the site where the Ritz cinema was built - both Dr. Skeels and his wife Ethel are interred in Brighouse Cemetery. The soap works would have been directly behind this house.