|Description||Christopher Thomas and Brothers Limited developed from several soap manufacturers in Bristol. Samuel Fripp and Co set up business in 1745 and the company name changed frequently until 1841 when Thomas Thomas Junior and his son Christopher Thomas, who had been running a small soap and candle factory in Bristol, were invited to enter the partnership. The new business was called Thomas, Fripp & Thomas and occupied the Broad Plain Works site. In 1856 the company was renamed Christopher Thomas & Brothers after the retirement of Edward Bowles Fripp Junior; the four brothers in charge of the business were Thomas, Christopher, Charles and Herbert. |
In addition to soap, dip candles were also manufactured with tallow. Christopher Thomas had specialised in the production of hard soap for household cleaning, whereas Fripp's had manufactured soap specialities based on olive oil for personal use. When the two companies merged the business naturally diversified, but household soap remained the principal product. The production of dip candles ceased when paraffin candles came into use around 1850. Candle production continued until 1922.
The progress of the company accelerated after the abolition of excise duty on soap in 1853, and trade increased in the West of England and the West Midlands. By 1876 Christopher Thomas was producing 8% of the national soap. The company invested in research and development and was able to patent a process to recover glycerine, a by-product of soap making, in 1887. The company experimented with the production of glycerine in the early 1870s and started refining edible cotton oil in 1875. It began to produce cotton oil and resin on a large scale from 1882.
At the end of the nineteenth century Christopher Thomas had to face increased competition from London and the North where a number of soap manufacturers had sprung up. One of the company's main competitors was Lever Brothers Limited in Port Sunlight, who exploited new marketing strategies to market their products. This included selling their soap in bars and cartons and advertising their soap under a brand name.
In 1898 Christopher Thomas launched Puritan Soap, made with olive oil. In 1904 the firm offered its first gift scheme; Puritan soap cartons were used as coupons. Further gift schemes ran during 1924 and 1928. Other branded products include Soako Soap powder, Punch scourer, the disinfectant First Aid soap, Simple Simon (a soap that incorporated bleach) and Jazz Dye Soap that could be used for home dyeing.
The company became a private limited liability company in 1889 but was voluntarily liquidated in 1897 to form a public company. In 1905 Christopher Thomas acquired the business of Lawson & Co (Bristol) Ltd. During the following years intense competition and a shortage of raw materials meant the company suffered and it became an associated company of Lever Brothers in 1911. A canteen at the Broad Plain Works was opened by Lord Leverhulme in 1920; the first canteen facility at the factory actually dated back to 1870, when a room below the main offices, known as "The Barracks" was available for dining.
In August 1928 United Exporters was formed to take over the international sales of all UK companies of Lever Brothers, in order to prevent individual companies from competing against one another. On 1 January 1930 Lever Brothers merged with the Margarine Union to form Unilever. In 1931 Unilever comprised forty nine manufacturing companies and forty eight sales organisations on the soap side of the business and the decision was made to concentrate on fewer products. The number of brands, factories and salesmen were all reduced and centralised. Agreements between Unilever and all soap companies for the reciprocal manufacture, selling and distribution were signed between 1932 and 1945.
During 1942 soap rationing was introduced due to shortages in raw materials caused by the Second World War. Towards the end of the war Christopher Thomas decided to concentrate exclusively on manufacture. The production of Puritan Soap continued at the Broad Plain Works but due to the increasing demand, it was also made in the works at Joseph Watson and Sons Ltd in Leeds. The other major product of the factory at this time was Gibbs Cold Cream Soap; production of this soap was produced at the Gibbs factory of Wapping but, after this was partially destroyed during the war, production moved to Bristol and continued after 1945.
The decision to cease production at Christopher Thomas took place in 1953. The board of the company decided that it was uneconomical to undertake the necessary modernisation at the confined space at the Broad Plain Works. The Broad Plain factory was closed at the end of February 1954. The business was closed down on 31 December 1954; parts of the premises continued to be used by other Unilever companies. The registered number of the company was used to found Unilever Computer Service in 1969 which was later sold to a third party. On 4 February 1985 the name was changed to Electronic Data Systems Ltd.
[NB this collection was formerly known as SDC/30]