So we’re back from our holiday, just in time. It seems that summer has finally arrived in Scotland and as I write this the sun is beaming down and the sky is a clear, perfect blue. It’s going to be hotter elsewhere, and I hope that while we get to enjoy the sunshine people are also looking after themselves in the heat.
While we were away, we put on our sunhats and braved the glorious Northumberland weather to visit Beamish village – the ‘Living Museum of The North’. At Beamish you can walk around an 1820’s tenant farmers house and admire the gardens; see inside a school originally opened in 1892, ride on a tram, watch sweeties being made using methods from the 1900’s and visit a typical Edwardian chemist. We ran out of time to see the 1940’s farm and 1950’s street, but have already debated timing our next summer holiday to make best use of our tickets, which last for a year.
I really enjoyed the 1900s Town, and had a lovely chat with the ‘chemist’ at W Smith’s Chemist – Beamish is full of people in character, and every single one we spoke to was incredibly knowledgeable, charming and willing to answer many, many questions. Not surprisingly, I was interested in the soap for sale at the chemists, and even came home with few bars.
Along side the more modern cold process soap they had for sale, there were long bars of
distinctively red/pink Carbolic soap – once a staple in schools, hospitals, and homes, it was first used in Victorian times. Popular well into the 1970s, carbolic soap gets its colour and smell from carbolic acid, which is derived from either coal tar or petroleum. The red/pink carbolic soap is a gentler version of the green soap used for laundry and household cleaning and can safely be used on your skin, although carbolic acid is a known skin irritant. It is mildly antiseptic and is good at removing grease and stubborn marks. Since falling out of favour, it seems that carbolic soap is making a comeback – possibly as part of a general trend back towards bar soaps or as nostalgic ode to the past.
There are two other interesting ingredients in Carbolic soap – tallow and glycerine. Glycerine occurs naturally during saponification and is found in all cold process soaps, but it can also be added as an extra ingredient. Its is a natural humectant, attracting moisture to the skin which protects against irritation by helping to restore the skins natural barriers.
Tallow is controversial, being rendered animal fat, but is one of the very first known soap making ingredients. It would have been – and still is – widely and easily available to soap makers, cost effective, and produces good quality soap, making a hard bar with stable lather which is gentle on the skin. Sounds good – and it doesn’t smell like animal fat when you’re finished. I like the idea of using a by-product of a local industry, with a lower carbon footprint and a simple production process.
I’ve never made soap with tallow, but my interest has been piqued - turns out that traveling back in time is a brilliant way to be uplifted and inspired. Now for a little bit more research, and then out to enjoy the sun. Hats on, everyone!