Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Wright, Layman and Umney

From Graces Guide
June 1922. Wright's Coal Tar Ointment.

of 50 Southwark Street, Surrey, maker of Wright's Coal Tar Soap and other products

Formerly Wright, Sellers and Layman. Connected with W. V. Wright and Co

1876 Dissolution of the Partnership between William Valentine Wright, John Sellers, and Charles Noel Layman, carrying on business at No. 50. Southwark-street, in the borough of Southwark, in the county of Surrey, as Wholesale Druggists, under the style or firm of Wright, Sellers,and Layman. The business will be carried on at the same address by the said William Valentine Wright and Charles Noel Layman, in conjunction with Charles Umney, under the style or firm, of Wright, Layman, and Umney[1] "Wholesale and export druggists, manufacturers of pharmaceutical and chemical preparations, distillers of essential oils, manufacturers and proprietors of Wright's Coal Tar Soap and other coal tar specialities".

1885 December. The business of Wright, Layman and Umney of 50 Southwark Street offered for sale for £500 cash [2]

1891 Elizabeth Wright, Widow, and executrix of the will of William Valentine Wright deceased, left the Partnership with Charles Noel Layman, and Charles Umney, at 48 and 50, Southwark-street, in the county of Surrey, as Wholesale Druggists, under the style or firm of Wright, Layman, and Umney.

1891 The new firm of Wright, Layman, and Umney was constituted from 31st December, 1891[3]

In 1892 as part of a survey into life and labour in London, the social researcher Charles Booth interviewed Charles Umney. The original record is in the archives of the British Library of Political and Economic Science, London School of Economics Library, Portugal Street, London:

“Mr Charles Umney of Wright, Layman, Umney 50 Southwark Street, S.E. Manufacturing Druggists. Employ 68 hands, Wages pw: 27/- to 32/- employment perfectly regular - the busiest months being Jan. Feb. and March, when there is most illness about.

Everything turned out by a manufacturing druggist has to be supervised with the greatest care, as the retail chemist is never generally blamed for mistakes in prescriptions. The original sin may lie at the door of the manufacturer - for this reason over every department is placed an expert, a man who has passed examinations in chemistry, under the Pharmaceutical Society, & who is absolutely responsible fr the smallest product of his shop.

During the 18 years of Mr Umney’s experience two mistakes only had occurred. It is to the interest of this manufacturer to take all pains possible to avoid such accidents, as he may at any time be called upon to pay heavy damages should an accident occur. The raw drugs are exposed for sale once a week at some place near the docks. London used formerly to be the drug market of the world, but of late years other cities have attracted a part of this business, especially Antwerp, Amsterdam & New York. It is practically necessary to examine every bale before buying, & not be content with samples, as the greatest deceptions are sometimes practised.

The chemicals are obtained from various parts of the country from chemical manufacturers - and are made up into drugs on the premises. Mr Umney was very bouttoné - I was not taken over his factory. (bouttoné = ‘buttoned up’, ‘tight-lipped’?) There are 7 or 8 manufacturing druggists in London & the number of actual work people employed would not amount to more than a few hundred."

In due course, Charles’ sons, Ernest Albert Umney and John Charles Umney, joined the firm, and Percy Umney became the company solicitor.

By 1898, John Charles Umney had taken over the management of the Coal Tar Soap section of the business.

1898 Charles Foster Wright left the Partnership with Charles Noel Layman, Charles Umney, Herbert Casein Wright, Ernest Blakesley Layman, John Charles Umney, Frederick Noel Layman,and Ernest Albert Umney, carrying on business as Wholesale Chemists and Druggists, at 48 and 50, Southwark-street, Union Hall Borough, and 66 and 68, Park-street, Southwark, London, under the style or firm of Wright Layman and Umney. The remaining partners carried on the business under the same style or firm[4]

1899 The accommodation shortage soon became acute - the Drug Laboratories and Soap Factory were moved north to 66-76 Park Street, Southwark.

The soap works in Park Street have now gone and Park Street has been almost entirely rebuilt. In Southwark Street, at eye level, the row of properties from the junction with Thrale Street (the old Castle Street) westwards looks wholly new, but that is only true of eye level; the shop-fronts and office-fronts have been replaced within the last forty or so years. Above these fronts, however, the architecture of the upper parts of Nos. 44 to 50 Southwark Street is clearly original Victorian. Nos. 44 and 46 form parts of what is now called Thrale House; No. 48 is called Saxon House; and No. 50 is separate again. The original roof-line of Nos. 44 and 46, up to the Victorian cornice, survives, but Nos. 48 and 50 boast an additional modern attic storey. For much of the 20th century, Wright, Layman & Umney occupied all these properties.

1899 In June, Wright, Layman and Umney became a private limited company with a capital of £100,000 with Charles Umney as Director. In that year new premises for the Drug laboratories and the Soap factory were found at 66-76 Park Street. Charles maintained an active role in the business until 1905 and subsequently acted as Chairman of the company.

By 1909 the company was one of the leading pharmaceutical houses in the country, and in that year it became a public limited Company with a capital of £135,000 with Charles Umney as Chairman of the Board of Directors. The other directors were Charles Noel Layman, Ernest Blakesley Layman, Herbert Cassin Wright, John Charles Umney, Frederick Noel Layman, Ernest Albert Umney. Percy Umney was company solicitor; Ernest Albert Umney later became Chairman of the company. [5]

During the first year of trading as a public limited company, the product range was enlarged to include Wright’s Coal Tar Shaving Soap in powder form.

1910 Frederick Noel Layman died.

1920 The Park Street factory was enlarged.

During the 1930s the company bought the old business of Dakin Brothers in Middlesex Street.

By 1932, when a share issue of £280,000 was offered, the directors were Herbert Cassin Wright (chairman), Ernest Albert Umney (vice-chairman), Ernest Blakesley Layman, James Knight, James Hamerton, and Reginald Edward Conder.

Hampshire Museum has four “Coal Tar Vaporizers” made by Wright, Layman & Umney in the early 1900s, and some bill-heads (invoices) which were sent to one of their customers, Messrs Charles Mumby & Co, lemonade manufacturers of Gosport.

1942 Additional factory premises were built at 66 Park Street.

1949 The company sued a trader who used a similar name.

1950 A new additional warehouse was built in Southwark Street. The total floor space was by then two and one third acres.

In the late 1960s the Wright's Coal Tar Soap business was taken over by LRC Products (London International Group) who sold it to Smith and Nephew in the 1990s.

The soap is now made by Accantia and is called Wright’s Traditional Soap. As European Union directives on cosmetics have banned the use of coal-tar in non-prescription products, the coal tar derivates have been removed from the formula, replacing them with tea tree oil as main anti-bacterial ingredient. Despite this major variance from the original recipe, the new soap has been made to look and smell like the original product, despite differing substantially in composition.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. London Gazette 20 June 1876
  2. The Times, Monday, Dec 14, 1885
  3. London Gazette 4 Mar 1892
  4. London Gazette 27 Jan 1899
  5. The Times, Monday, Jun 21, 1909