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Lord Leverhulme, soap and civilization

This book is an unorthodox biography of William Hesketh Lever, 1st Lord Leverhulme (1851-1925), the founder of the Lever Brothers' Sunlight Soap empire. The most frequently recurring comparison during his life and at his death, however, was with Napoleon. What the author finds most fascinating about him is that he unites within one person so many intriguing developments of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The book first sketches out his life, the rise and triumph of his business, and explores his homes, his gardens and his collections. It contains essays on Lever in the context of the history of advertising, of factory paternalism, town planning, the Garden City movement and their ramifications across the twentieth century, and of colonial encounters. Lever had worked hard at opening agencies and selling his soap abroad since 1888. But if import drives proved unsatisfactory, logic dictated that soap should be manufactured and sold locally, both to reduce the price by vaulting tariff barriers on imports and to cater for idiosyncratic local tastes. As D. K. Fieldhouse points out, Lever Brothers was one of the first generation of capitalist concerns to manufacture in a number of countries. The company opened or started building factories in America, Switzerland, Canada, Australia and Germany in the late 1890s. It then spread to most western European countries and the other white settler colonies of the empire, as well as more tentatively to Asia and Africa.

New approaches and perspectives
Editor: Brian Lewis

This book demonstrates a fruitful cross-fertilisation of ideas between British queer history and art history. It engages with self-identified lesbians and with another highly important source for queer history: oral history. The book highlights the international dimension of what to date has been told as a classic British tale of homosexual law reform and also illuminates the choices made and constraints imposed at the national level. It embarks on a queer critical history, arguing for the centrality, in John Everett Millais's life-writing, of the strange-to-us category of unconventionality. The book aims to expose the queer implications of celebrity gossip writing. It offers a historical analysis of the link between homosexual men and gossip by examining the origins of the gossip column in the British tabloid press in the three decades after 1910. The book provides an overview of the emergence and consolidation of a number of new discourses of homosexuality as a social practice in postwar Britain. It explores a British variant on homophile internationalism before and immediately after the 1967 Sexual Offences Act by mapping Grey's cross-border connections while noting strain against transnational solidarity. The book focuses on evidence collected by the 1977 Committee on Obscenity and Film Censorship to illustrate how gay men conceptualised the place of pornography in their lives and its role in the broader struggle for the freedom.

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in this book. The book sketches out the life of William Hesketh Lever, 1st Lord Leverhulme and the founder of the Lever Brothers' Sunlight Soap empire. It illustrates the rise and triumphs of his business, his homes, his gardens and his collections. It also contains essays on Lever in the context of the history of advertising, of factory paternalism and town planning and of colonial encounters. Using Lever as a case study is particularly strange, given that his legacy, the huge manufacturing and retailing concern of Unilever, counts as one of British industry's great, continuing success stories. The book concludes by resuming something of the narrative and summary format and looking at Lever's extraordinary activity in his final years.

in ‘So clean’

This chapter explores how manufacturers and advertisers sought to market their products during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through a variety of hard sell, soft sell and psychological techniques. It also explores how they were actively attempting to shape desire than simply meeting the demand, and sometimes succeeding. William Hesketh Lever always emphasized the power of advertising in bringing about his business success. Attacks on commerce and all its permutations were, of course, centuries old, but indictments of the Admass culture that Lever had helped create were particularly a feature of the inter-war period and after. One way to reach the audience was through the new medium of the radio, hence the invention of the soap opera in the 1930s, aimed squarely at a daytime audience of women in the home.

in ‘So clean’

This chapter contains essays on William Hesketh Lever in the context of factory paternalism and town planning. At Port Sunlight, Lever replicated the attempts by earlier paternalists to create a happier, fitter, stronger, more productive, less fractious work force and provided a small-scale but replicable answer to urban blight. If Port Sunlight was an attempt to do something about labour relations and the bleak state of towns, it was also good advertising copy. It smiled out of Lever Brothers' posters, a radiant, gleaming, sun-blessed idyll. When he moved into his first soap factory at Warrington, initial success rapidly encouraged expansion. Lever was not only a (short-lived) director at Letchworth and a trustee at Hampstead Garden Suburb, but he made key speeches to conferences of housing and municipal authorities about his town-planning ideas.

in ‘So clean’

Lord Leverhulme brought remote and semi-savage communities to a higher spirit of development than they would have reached by their own unaided efforts,' wrote T. P. O'Connor in his obituary of the Old Man. The agreement or convention that generated so much disquiet was signed by Lever and the Belgian government on 1911. This agreement made Belgians anxious to draw in foreign capital, and grateful for an enlightened entrepreneur to help salvage their battered reputation. The transfer of power from King Leopold to the Belgian government had promised much: trade for Europeans and Africans, allowing unrestricted gathering and selling of produce by the Congolese. The British Solomon Islands Protectorate was established in 1893 to keep out the French. Joseph Conrad's searing indictment of European greed in the Congo, Heart of Darkness, was based on his travels in the region when ivory was the focus of colonial lust.

in ‘So clean’
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Lord Leverhulme expressed grave concern at various points during the First World War about the disruption to trade. In truth Lever Brothers had done very well out of the war as the company met government and army needs for soap, glycerine and margarine, and it was poised to take advantage of pent-up demand. In the midst of the turbulent post-war years, Lever was devoting a considerable portion of his energy and enthusiasm to his new project in the Outer Hebrides. Amidst his fulminations against the raiders and the Scottish Office, Lever made a rare public concession to underlying economic realities in a speech at the Stornoway Highland Games. It is indeed difficult to imagine that Lever would have pulled the plug on his entire operation on Lewis just because of some small farms that were not essential to his schemes.

in ‘So clean’
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British queer history

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book begins with a topic of concern to all the authors: the effective interrogation of archival sources in pursuit of British queer history. It demonstrates a fruitful cross-fertilisation of ideas between queer history and art history. The book describes a meticulous reading of Katherine Everett's life-story, Bricks and Flowers. It presents dandyish world of the gossip columnist in British national newspapers and magazines between 1910 and the Second World War. The book provides one of the most significant examples of the 'altericist reaction' fomented by the new British queer history. It highlights the international dimension of what to date has been told as a classic British tale of homosexual law reform, but also illuminates the choices made and constraints imposed at the national level.

in British queer history