Imperial Lather

With the forthcoming British Royal Family wedding the media have their microphones and lenses trained squarely on the happy couple. However, an ancestor of Prince William’s is also receiving some attention, Queen Victoria no less.

Shrabani Basu has recently updated her bookVictoria and Abdul using recently discovered archival material. The book explores Victoria’s relationship with her Indian servant Abdul Karim. Queen Victoria has captured the imagination, and frequently adulation, of the British people and beyond since she assumed the throne in  1837.

A rather out-of-place object in the Living Cultures collection demonstrates this adulation perfectly. It is a bar of soap which was donated to the Museum in 1897 by William Worthington. This particular bar of soap was believed to have been used by the Queen when she visited Manchester on 1st July 1888 to open the Victoria University. Worthington was Head Porter at the time and in the perfect position to collect the soap.

Bar of soap, Port Sunlight Soap Works, Liverpool, 1888. The Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection.

The object was clearly acquired because of it’s imperial association and to commemorate a significant event in Manchester’s history. The soap’s quality is not in doubt but whether is was used by Victoria remains dubious.

Stephen Terence Welsh

Curator of Living Cultures

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4 thoughts on “Imperial Lather

  1. Pingback: Coming Clean on Celebrity? | Kirstin A. James

  2. I’m sure that Queen Victoria would have used it. This is clearly a quality bar of soap and how could Her Majesty resist? Incidentally what brands of soap were actually commonly available in the Victorian Era? I think it might have just been Pears Soap and Wright’s Coal Tar Soap because they have been around for donkey’s years. Are these brands of soap what the Victorians would have used to wash themselves with? The kind of brands that were around in the old days are probably not available on the high-street now. I think Carbolic Soaps were big in the Victorian Era because people believed that cleanliness was next to godliness and the antibacterial effect of the soap was necessary because of all the germs everywhere and how dirty people got…………..

    • Hi Jamie,

      Not being a soap expert I’m not entirely sure what type of soap this is or who the manufacturer was. If you’re interested in the history of soap making it may be worth contacting the Museum of Science and Industry.

      Thanks,

      Stephen

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