Ref NoGB1752.LBL/JK
Alt Ref NoOFR:
LevelSub collection
TitleJohn Knight Limited
DescriptionJohn Knight, was born on 25 December 1793, in the village of Barkway, Hertfordshire. In 1807 John Knight travelled to London, where he began work in a grocer's shop in the Mile End, East London. In 1817 he established a soap making business in a small premise in Ratcliffe High Way, Whitechapel. The business premises moved during 1836 to Old Gravel Lane, Wapping. It was here that candle making was added to the firm's business activities.Soap at this time was still burdened by heavy duties, and in 1828, when consumption was 40000 tons each year; the duty was £28 per ton.

By 1844 Knight's were advertising in The Times newspaper. Some time before 1851 John Knight introduced 'Primrose' soap which was awarded a medal at the Great Exhibition in 1851. The following year, The Illustrated Exhibitor and Magazine of Art contained several pages describing Knight`s Wapping factory.

In 1852, the heavy duties on soap were abolished, and consumption of soap jumped to 750,000 tons per year. John Knight retired from the business in 1859 and it passed to his sons Ambrose, Alfred, William, Edwin and John Burgess Knight. He died on 6 April 1864.

During 1880 John Knight & Sons moved to a new factory at Silvertown by the Victoria docks. Here the company expanded its range of services and products to include seed crushing, bone meal fertiliser, and edible oils by 1884.
In 1906 John Knight & Sons became a limited company called John Knight Ltd.

William Duncan Knight, grandson of the founder, became Chairman. John Knight Ltd held its first general meeting on 14 February 1908.

Between 1912-1920, John Knight Ltd made a series of acquisitions and partnerships. In 1912 John Knight Ltd merged with TM Duche & Sons to form Duche & Knight. They produced animal glues and the business operated from the Silvertown site. During 1913 Lever Brothers Ltd gained a substantial holding in John Knight Ltd. By 1917 John Knight Ltd owned an interest in Meggits Ltd, of Sutton in Ashfield, one of the largest glue and fertiliser factories in the country, and in Wickens & Co Ltd. During 1920 Lever Brothers wholly acquired John Knight Ltd.

Other notable events in the immediate post war period included, the launch of the 'Knight's Castile' soap brand in 1919 and the celebration of Knight's centenary. Although the year 1917 marked the company's centenary, it was not celebrated until after the First World War (1914-1918). The company was hit by the 1926 General Strike (3-12 May) and was forced to close down between 6 to 12 May.

In 1945 John Knight Ltd merged with R S Hudson Ltd to form Hudson and Knight Ltd as part of Unilever's reorganisation of its portfolio. The company was responsible for the marketing of products and was brought to a close by Unilever in 1959. In 1951 the company also amalgamated with T.H. Harris and Sons Limited of Stratford who produced hard soaps, tallow's and greases.

In 1959 in accordance with Unilever's reorganisation plan the manufacture of soap, edible oils, greases, bone-meal and bone making for China was transferred to other Unilever companies or was sold off. The east end site was dedicated to the production of glues, adhesives, ancillary bone products, edible and technical fats and the packaging of edible fats.
In the early 1960s Unilever acquired the adhesive manufacturers Gloy and Empire, Fixol, Stickphast and Surridge Patents, all of which became part of the John Knight Group of Companies. In 1962 John Knight Limited transferred from the UK Soap Group to the UK Chemical Group. John Knight Ltd ceased the production of glue on 1 January 1966.

In 1969 Unilever Limited announced that it was to merge its tallow rendering activities with Prosper de Mulder, included as part of this arrangement was the sale of John Knights tallow businesses to Prosper de Mulder.

In 1987 Knights Castile soap was relaunched, since its introduction in 1919 its popularity remained strong and it was hoped that the re-launch would boost it even further. Due to its natural ingredients it carried the tag line 'pure and simple' and was designed to be even whiter in colour than the original.

In 1999 John Knight Ltd was in liquidation.

Royal Warrants

John Knight & Sons were awarded a royal warrant, which made them Soap Makers to King Edward VII, in 1903. It was also during this year that the name of Primrose Soap was change to Royal Primrose Soap. Further royal warrants followed and included King George V in 1906, King George VI in 1939 and Queen Elizabeth II in 1955. This final royal warrant was cancelled on 7 August 1962 as Knight`s no longer manufactured soap.

NB until 2001 John Knight Limited was listed as part of the Small Deposits Collection, reference number SDC/32.
Date1863-1965
Related MaterialUncatalogued collections at Unilever HQ: R S Hudson, Gloy & Empire, Duche, etc. Newham Local Studies Library: House magazines and "ephemera." Maureen's Staniforth Collection.: ephemera and photographs
Extent0.058m3 (8 Boxes)
Access StatusOpen
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