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Soap & Candles

Soap has been produced for many centuries and over that long period of time the method of production changed very little. Neutral oils or fats, including beef and mutton fat and whale oil, were boiled with alkalis, particularly potassium and sodium hydroxide, to form metallic salts of fatty acids, or soaps. Glycerol was liberated as a valuable by-product. The quality of soap produced depends very much on the quality of the materials used. Early soap production used ash, produced by burning various vegetable materials, including kelp, as a makeshift source of alkali. The production of ash from kelp was a major industry in Scotland in the Western and Northern isles during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Kelp Industry was introduced to Orkney as early as 1722 by a progressive landowner, James Fea of Whitehall, Stronsay. There was some suspicion of the Industry to begin with as the kelp was a useful fertiliser. The seaweed was burnt to produce alkali which had uses not only for making soap but also glass.  The seaweed washed ashore, known locally as 'tangles' was collected and usually burned in shallow stone-lined pits, which were seen in many places around the Torry shores, and became a valuable Scottish Industry, bringing in during the French Wars, some £20,000 per annum, and employing up to 3000 people.  The success of the industry produced large profits and led to attempted innovations. On Papa Stronsay large kilns were built to replace the simple stone-lined pits. It is not known if these kilns were a great improvement on the more traditional method.

By the middle 1800s the homes of the wealthy upper classes were generally lit by smokeless and odourless candles. 
Candles were once made from tallow and beeswax until after about 1850, they were made mainly from spermaceti a high quality oil from sperm whales purified animal fats (Stearin). Today, most candles are made from Paraffin Wax.  Candles can be made from beeswax, other plant waxes and tallow (a by-product of beef-fat rendering). Eventually whale oil was replaced by mineral oils, coal gas and ultimately, electricity.

A candle is a solid block of wax with an embedded braided cotton wick, which is ignited to provide light, and sometimes heat, and historically was used as a method of keeping time.  A candle manufacturer is traditionally known as a chandler.  For a candle to burn, a heat source (commonly a naked flame) is used to light the candle's wick, which melts and vaporises a small amount of fuel, the paraffin wax. Once vaporised, the fuel combines with oxygen in the atmosphere to form a flame. This flame provides sufficient heat to keep the candle burning via a self-sustaining chain of events: the heat of the flame melts the top of the mass of solid fuel; the liquefied fuel then moves upward through the wick via capillary action; the liquefied fuel finally vaporises to burn within the candle's flame.  As the mass of solid fuel is melted and consumed, the candle grows shorter. Portions of the wick that are not emitting vaporised fuel are consumed in the flame. The incineration of the wick limits the exposed length of the wick, thus maintaining a constant burning temperature and rate of fuel consumption. Some wicks require regular trimming with scissors (or a specialised wick trimmer), usually to about 1/4" (~0.7 cm), to promote slower, steady burning, and also to prevent smoking. In early times, the wick needed to be trimmed quite frequently, and special candle-scissors, referred to as "snuffers" until the 20th century, were produced for this purpose, often combined with an extinguisher. In modern candles, the wick is constructed so that it curves over as it burns, so that the end of the wick gets oxygen and is then consumed by fire - a self-trimming wick.

On 8 March 1750, George Leslie, a Merchant trading in Aberdeen, applied to Aberdeen Council for a warrant to cut and burn Kelp. He wanted to undertake this work as part of what he described as his ‘Soapere’  In the 1830s it was noted that kelp gathering for soap production had ceased the discovery of cheaper sources of the alkali's have long since rendered the business un-remunerative.  Old Jessie - recalled "the string o' cairts" she "minds windin' awa' the wye o' the Brig o' Dee wi' the last load o' kelp fae the Bye o' Nigg."

In 1881 there were 3 Soap and Candle manufacturers in Aberdeen

Alexander Mearns,  Soapmaker, 2, Burnett's Close
A Soap Factory was in Albion Street at the junction of Fish Street Lane. c.1867

Soapy Ogston's

Soapy Ogston's - A Ogston & Sons, Victorian Soap and Candle Factory (1802), Gallowgate.
Alexander M Ogston, was a flax dresser who went on to establish a successful business manufacturing Soap and Candles. By the time the  Alexander Ogston died in 1869, he was resident in a fine Town House in the recently developed Golden Square (No.9), and the firm became a household name as Ogston & Tennant under his Son, Col James ‘Soapy’ Ogston, and clearly this was a 'major' concern.

William Smith, Sr (b1820) came from the North country, and was a Warehouseman (Soap Works) in A. Ogston & Sons. He died some years before his highly respected son. He was a man of gentle nature, capable in his work and conscientious in his duties in the sphere in which he lived and moved. 
William Smith Jr., (b.1851) belonged to Banchory, Aberdeenshire. He was a Dispatch Clerk c.1877 with A. Ogston & Sons

'Soapy' Ogston's Premises
Began as A Ogston and Son an old established Soap and Candle maker based in the Gallowgate area and was founded in 1802.  Colonel James Ogston later to be known as 'Soapy Ogston inherited the business from his father.  In 1892 he merged the Company with Glasgow based soap and candle works of Charles Tennant & Co. Ltd. to become Ogston and Tennant.

Aberdeen Soap and Candle Works, 92 Loch Street;
Ogston & Tennant Limited

Female operatives are busy wrapping and stacking soap bars into trays and an earlier fly-press swings dangerously in the background surrounded by mechanical drives and travelling belts on flywheels. Repetitive work for dexterous women with hungry families.

1904 Ogston & Tennant were on Loch Street on August 13th 1904 suffered a huge fire - the date of 4th Feb 1905 is also reported.  Innes Street and Loch Street was ankle deep in flowing paraffin wax which threatened to block the sewers and drains.

On 28 June 1910 they suffered a great fire which engulfed and destroyed the Factory. Reports mention machinery crashing through the floors. Damage totalled £80,000. In 1911 the Company agreed to an "Association" with Lever Brothers and after the 2nd World War, they became part of the Company until they ceased trading in the 1970s.

Residential Piles
Ardoe House South Deeside Road, Banchory-Devenick, was built in 1878 in the Scottish Baronial style and was designed by James Matthews (1819-98) for the Aberdeen soap-maker, Alexander Ogston. Interior work by Alexander  Marshall McKenzie Architect. in 1883 Ardoe House was later sold and converted into a Hotel in 1947.  The White Lady, the spirit of a former owner’s daughter Katherine Ogston who committed suicide has been seen in various parts of the Hotel.

Norwood Hall Hotel, Garthdee Road, Cults is said to have 3 ghosts whose apparitions have been seen on several occasions. One is said to be that of Col James Ogston (a previous owner), his wife, and his mistress.  In 1861 Mrs Helen Morrison, wife of Baillie William Adamson (a London stockbroker) bought the property of Norwood. Mr Adamson liked the name of Norwood and gave it to the house that he built on the land his wife had bought. Mr Adamson died shortly after the house was built in 1886.  Mrs Morrison then sold the property to John Taylor of Regent’s Park just 2ears later. It was then later resold again in 1872 to a Colonel James (Soapy) Ogston, who partly rebuilt the house in 1881 before moving his family across the River Dee to Ardoe House and moving his mistress into Norwood.

t is believed that James originally purchased Norwood in 1872 and rebuilt it in 1881 for his mistress so they could meet whilst he lived in Ardoe House across the River Dee with his young family.  After years of torment both his his wife Anne and his mistress wanted James to leave the other but James refused. It is said that Norwood is now haunted by the 2 lovers and his wronged wife who longs for revenge for the torrid years she had to endure.  The apparition of James has been seen standing in front of the log fire in the dining room. The ghost of his mistress has been reported to haunt the main stairs (perhaps looking for her lover). His wife is the most active of the 3 with reports of her being seen in the hall, the kitchen, and also the dining room.  On the grounds of Norwood is were the Pitfodels Castle once stood.

Kildrummy Castle
The 17th and 18th centuries were largely a period of steep decline for Kildrummy Castle . The exceptionally high quality of its stone led to its use as a handy quarry for the area, and the mighty Snow Tower collapsed in 1805. However, in 1898 the castle was acquired by Colonel James Ogston, who until his death worked steadily to restore parts of it. He died in 1931

Kildrummy's New Castle
Kildrummy Castle Hotel overlooks the ruins of the 13th century Kildrummy Castle. The house was originally built and owned by Colonel James Ogston, being known as Soapy Ogston as he made his money from a soap factory in Aberdeen. He accumulated much wealth and owned several big houses at least 2 of which are now Hotels. He purchased the Kildrummy Estate but as the existing house was not to his taste he built a new home which was finished in 1900. The house was lived in until 1954.

James Ogston Esquire, Colonel (ret.) 1st Aberdeenshire Volunteer Artillery, J. P. and D. L. for County of Aberdeen. Born May 29, 1845, being the 2nd son of Alexander Ogston of Ardoe, Kincardineshire, and his wife, Elliot, nee Lawrence.
Armorial Bearings
Argent, 3 mascles sable, on a chief 2 lions passant of the first, armed and langued gules, in the middle chief point a cres

cent also of the first, for difference. Mantling gules, doubled argent. Crest - On a wreath of his liveries, a lion as in the 
arms; and in an escroll over the same this Motto, " Vi et animo." Married, Oct. 7, 1875, Anne Leslie Jamieson. 
Seat - Kildrummy, Aberdeenshire. Clubs — Arts', Royal Northern (Aberdeen), Scottish Conservative (Edinburgh). 

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Last modified: 01/09/2013