Natures Soap


George Ithell


            Postcard collectors will be familiar  with the many postcards produced for the 1908 Franco- British Exhibition. The year 1908 was probably at the height of the postcard craze and Valentines of Dundee, who were the official postcard producers, printed cards in their tens of thousand for the very many visitors to the exhibition. In one corner of the immense exhibition was a real town (a Bally as it is known in Ireland) built by a company from Ireland that produced some sweet smelling soaps. The company was Maclinton's so, naturally the town in the heart of London's famous exhibition was known as Ballymaclinton.

            But who was Maclinton ? What is this famous soap that they produced ? What of this can we find on the postcards produced for the exhibition ?

            The year the story begins is 1820. In a period of very difficult time of Irish history, the affluence, such as it was enjoyed before the Union with Great Britain in 1801, was sadly reduced by the departure of the nobility and gentry. Consequently trade and the economy suffered, but needs bred resourcefulness and ideas were experimented with.

            One of these resourceful people was a David Brown who was the proprietor of the local shop in Donaghmore, Co Tyrone. In a little back room of his premises he was able to produce a cheap soap suitable mainly for household chores, but no doubt also used on the hardy skins of some of the customers.

            The soap was popular and sales grew each year. Indeed here we have a success story as  the firm's products were in constant demand. With the soap being a huge success David Brown progressed with another of his experiments for candles. These were of course in great demand before the advent of electricity. The demand for both of these commodities continued and this new business prospered.

            The company was known as "David Brown & Son" for the son of the founder had joined his enterprising father in developing the sales of their two products. The business in turn went to the grandchildren, the twins David and Robert Brown, and under their directorship expanded even further. The present-day bids on the stock market are nothing new for the company "David Brown & Son" was continually looking for take-overs and in 1895 in its searches found another soap manufacturer in Belfast, McClinton's whose scented soap was their speciality. McClinton's name was retained for the brands of toilet soap but the household soap was still sold under the original Brown name.

            David and Robert Brown were very much respected by the entire community with their attitude to life. The altruistic outlook the brothers had, overcame a problem which at that time was immense. The housing situation was dreadful by present day standards, but a colony of cottages with four rooms complete with half an acre of garden to each one was built. The charge for rent was minimal, just Two Shillings per week and that with the rates paid. Another of the firms activities was a large farm which with the soap works gave employment to upwards of one hundred people in the area.

            ‘It is nature's own soap’ was the slogan which appeared on the soap wrappings, invoices, letter heads and advertisements for McClinton's soap. This narrative would not be complete without mention of Professor John Kirk who was a Professor of Practical Theology a prolific writer and responsible for beginning and editing numerous journals including one which he began in 1846 ‘The Christian News' with his successful weekly column entitled ‘Papers on Health’ In these .'Papers’ Professor Kirk made constant references to the quality of McClinton's Soap and advocated it's use for anything from a broken limb to whooping coughs. 'Soothing effects are the reward when the rich lather from McClinton's Soap is massaged on the skin’ he says. Another reference is 'Delirium in fever, croup and asthma to the obvious excema, McClinton's Soap is a recommended aid for cure and relief’.

            Tuberculosis and other killing diseases were a scourge in Ireland about this time, and with others, including Lady Aberdeen, the wife of the Irish Lord Lieutenant, David and Robert Brown formed a Society to gather funds to combat these ills and were successful in raising large sums of money.

            The charity committees of today could well take a leaf out of the book of the Browns and their company Maclinton’s for when they heard of the proposed Franco-British Exhibition in London for the year 1908 and the Olympic Games that were to take place in the exhibition grounds, and as a result the many hundreds of thousands of anticipated visitors, the Browns put in their application for space to build their own Maclinton town in the heart of London, and to raise additional funds for their own charitable activities back home in Ireland.

            Ballymaclinton Village was both in the form of an advertisement and also to gain funds for the charities for which Ireland so badly needed. A donation or token charge to enter and view the village was paid into the fund of the National Woman’s Health Association of Ireland. Many other firms displayed their products and made valuable contributions to interest the 2,000,000 visitors during the first year.

            The designers in their efforts for the fullest authenticity to the town included the essential General Shop. This shop was given full Postal facilities not only for stamps, but for Postal-orders and a Continental Telegraph Service. This was then designated, The Ballymaclinton Post Office. This was the first time in the history of British Postal services that the name of a trading company was the subject of the title of a post office.

            In the Post Office Records Department a notice in the Circular No. 1835 states that - 'A temporary Branch Office under the designation of Ballymaclinton. Shepherd's Bush Exhibition W. Code J.M.C. for the transaction of Telegraph and Postal Order business and for the sale of stamps, opened on July 14th 1908. In a later circular the closure was reported as October 31st the same year. The town remained standing, ready for the following year’s exhibition.

            The following year, an item in the Circular No. 1881 of May 18th states that- ‘Reference to the Branch Office known as Shepherd’s Bush Exhibition. B.O. the Town Sub-office under the designation of Ballymaclinton, Shepherd's Bush Exhibition W. will be opened in a few days time in the Irish Village, Imperial International Exhibition for the sale of stamps and Post Office business’. The reported closure was on October 26th 1909.

            An Irish firm, Messrs KcLaughlan & Harvey Limited who claimed to be the only Irish building firm with a London address, were complimented on the state of Ballymaclinton Town's completion in comparison to the late opening of other parts of the Exhibition. They were responsible for the erection and supply of replicas of Irish buildings and monuments, such as the ruins of an old Church with its Norman edifice, a Cross of Cong, a Round Tower similar to the one at Killkullen. This Tower was built so that visitors could climb the hundred or so stairs, thereby getting a bird's-eye view of the entire 140 acres of the main Exhibition. Amongst the buildings erected were small factories where the Irish staff were able to demonstrate the skills in various arts and industries. Prowess in the culinary art, baking and cooking with primitive utensils over an open peat fire was a fascinating spectacle. The staff who enjoyed this privileged change of scene were experts in their field, and those chosen to act as guides t made a favourable impression with their knowledge of Irish history and customs.

            The vegetarian restaurant in Ballymaclinton Village provided food from the stock of the vegetable garden where the soil had been imported specially from Ireland to cover a large area of the ten acres which was the area of the Irish Village. A farm yard added to the authenticity, and the rental for the whole site was £5,000, an enormous sum then.

            Cottages were also built for housing members of the staff. There was also a productive soap factory, pottery, lace, carpets, cobblers and a blacksmith's forge where lucky horse-shoes sold for six-pence. In the Irish Art Gallery ballads were sold at five for one penny with the guarantee that they were - 'Printed in Ireland, on Irish paper with Irish Ink’ At the shrine of St. Patrick stories were related.

            Famous jewellery, such as the Tara Brooch were copied and sold and many went as presents to Irish relatives and friends overseas. Queen Alexandra was fascinated with the lace, she being herself no novice, and made a number of visits, Prominent samples of lace came from Irish Convents and visitors were invited to create their own design.

            Ballymaclinton attracted 2,000,000 visitors during 1908 with the 40,000 figure of September 17th topped only by the huge crowd which obviously had been attracted by Royalty on the opening day.

            Many firms produced Picture Post-cards which at this time were very popular and Valentine’s of Dundee printed many in colour and monochrome. Many of these cards have been collected and fortunately saved to picture this historic event in its entirety. Many of the ‘colleens’ are shown working, dancing or just looking beautiful in their typical Irish dress. From the pictures published the girls would find plenty of admirers, and the advertisements exhorting one to 'note the colleens complexion etc.’ would be taken a little more seriously !

            Another of the cards shows the Ballymaclinton Fire Brigade under the expert tuition of Joe Mason who was at one time with the firm Merryweathers Ltd, another of the firms still operative today.

Ballymaclinton continued its life under a new Exhibition title in 1909, but the Imperial International Exhibition of that year, was not the success of the Franco-British the previous year and consequently the receipts for the Irish charities suffered.

            In 1910 the third Ballymaclinton was to suffer still more with the Japanese Exhibition of that year. Owing to the expense of the area rented by McClinton's it was decided to economise. A 'dodge-em' car track occupied what had been part of the village and consequently most of the industries disappeared and only display facilities remained. Ballymaclinton Post Office was also a casualty.

            The much smaller Irish village at Shepherds Bush remained open for a number of years but in only a much reduced size. The glory of the 1908 exhibition was passed.

            Here we have the intriguing story of Maclinton's soap with the memory living on in the many postcards collected today.


© Exhibition Study Group 2012