Charles Upfold

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Charles Upfold

Charles Upfold (15 December 1834 - 14 March 1919[1][2] ), Justice of the Peace (9 September 1887), was an English soap manufacturer of great prominence in Australia.

Family & background[edit]

Charles Upfold was born in Grove Street, Walworth Common, (both now gone), Surrey (today Walworth, London), then a prosperous middle-class district. His father, John Upfold, was a fellmonger. Charles was baptised in Sir John Soane's new St.Peter's Church of England at Walworth, on 7 January 1835. An excellent photograph of this splendid church can be found on page 206 of London's Churches by Christopher Hibbert.

Charles Upfold served his apprenticeship as a soap maker with John Knight & Co. at their Wapping soapworks in London, just across the river from the parishes where Charles's father resided and worked. Knight's Castile soap is still sold today. His sister, Eliza, married John Knight junior. Charles was later a Director of Knights.

Charles appears on the UK 1851 Census Return, with his parents and married sister Eliza at 11 Brandon Street, parish of St.Mary Newington, London, (then in Surrey), where he is described as a "soap maker".

Business in New South Wales[edit]

In 1860 he was already engaged in business in New South Wales and upon his marriage at West Maitland, New South Wales in 1864 (to Sarah, née Blundell, from Finchley), he was described as a "soap maker". When his first son, John, was born in 1865 at Morpeth, New South Wales, Charles was described as a soap-boiler, aged 27 years and born at Walworth, London, England. When his son Robert was born in 1869, Charles was described as a "soap manufacturer".

That year Charles Upfold purchased the soap and candle factory of Frederick Nainby at Wickham and Honeysuckle Point, Newcastle, and in the Newcastle Chronicle of 16 May 1869 there is a reference to the "Great Northern Soap and Candle Works, proprietor, Charles Upfold." By the following year Upfolds plants were producing 9,420 hundredweight of soap and 600 cwt of candles. By 1872 soap production had increased to 21,000 cwt. Most was exported, much to China. That year Upfold expanded his Australian trading links by establishing a Sydney office at 50 Clarence Street.

By 1873 Charles Upfold was an Alderman of the newly incorporated Municipality of Wickham, a position he held for some years as evidenced by his further nomination for the Tighe's Hill Ward published in the Newcastle Morning Herald on 21 January 1888.

In 1877 Charles Upfold was back in London and visiting factories in England. The following year the New South Wales Official Post Office Directory, has listed under the now entirely separate heading of "Wickham", "Charles Upfold, soap manufacturer" (p. 621). Interestingly, also in Wickham in the same directory were Charles's three brothers-in-law, Albert, James, and John Blundell, who came from Finchley, Middlesex, (north London), and were clearly all working for Charles as their occupations are given as soap-boilers.


In 1885 Charles Upfold was rapidly expanding his industrial base, having purchased further land at Newcastle, this time from Peter Crebert, a wine merchant, whose daughter Elizabeth would later marry Charles's eldest son, John. Upfold's company called for tenders for the building of a new works costing £50,000, and the installation of machinery valued at a further £83,000, on a twenty two acres site at Port Waratah, close to the Ferndale Colliery at Tighe's Hill, whence cheap coal was expected. The soap making equipment was the 'newest American' but English manufacturers had supplied the candle making plant. These works were the largest in Australia.

The following notice from the Newcastle Morning Herald on 23 March 1886, states: "A representative of this journal called at the Tighe's Hill Soap Works on Saturday last to see what progress was being made. There are four distinct departments: 1. The manufacture of soap - toilet, household and soft, 2. Stearine and parafine candles, 3. Refining glycerine, 4. Making all kinds of lubricating oils and machinery grease. The soap department is very nearly in full swing. Toilet soap was started last Saturday. Large quantities of candles are being turned out, which have to be pronounced up to the highest standard, imported or colonial. Preparations are in full swing for exhibiting the works in the fullest manner on the occasion of Lord & Lady Carrington's visit. At the Wickham works plant is being erected for the manufacture of blue, blacking and grocer's sundries. Altogether, this is one of the most gigantic undertakings of its kind in Australia."

He eventually controlled the colony's largest soap industry - The Sydney Soap and Candle Company, in which John Ambrose Kitchen, who had a small factory at Melbourne, had a minority interest, was registered 25 July 1885. As the name implies, the registered office, along with a smaller manufactury at Botany, was at Sydney, the capital city of the colony, but the biggest works by far were at Tighes Hill, Newcastle. Probably their most famous product, one which stood the test of time, was Siren soap, which was later renamed Velvet. It was still being marketed in N.S.W., by Unilever in the latter part of the 20th century. Many argued that it was superior to Lever Bros famous Sunlight soap.

In the 1888 Official Post Office Directory for New South Wales, Newcastle District, (p. 424), there appears "Upfold, Charles, soap factory".

On the 6 April 1895 the Newcastle Morning Herald carried a large article entitled "Departure of Mr Charles Upfold - Citizen's Send-off". Charles was about to depart for England, Europe and America, and a large function was given in his honour at the Centennial Hotel in Newcastle, with an impressive guest list of local worthies. He returned from that overseas trip at the end of September and another large article describing his tour appeared in the same newspaper on 3 October 1895.

In 1895 the Port Waratah works employed over 500 people. In 1898 his son, Robert Wallace Upfold, now manager of the soap & candle factory, was married to Clara, daughter of John Scholey, (a local landowner and colliery proprietor from Leeds; described in the 1901 Federal Directory as a "gentleman"). Charles Upfold, the father, is described on the certificate as "Managing Director - Soap Works". Robert had a residence in Woodstock Street, North Waratah, and the 1901 Federal Directory of Newcastle & District records him as a "manufacturer".

The late professor John Turner wrote: "the modern technology and large scale of the Sydney Soap and Candle Company made it the outstanding industrial establishment of its kind. Upfold had wide experience of colonial conditions and constructed his Port Waratah works on recent British and American lines, in a location which gave unequalled access to tallow and coal."

Civic, family, and death[edit]

He continued also with his civic duties, and on 26 February 1900 Charles Upfold laid the Foundation Stone of the Tighe's Hill School of Arts, Newcastle. The stone remains in situ today. He was involved in the Victoria Theatre Company which erected, in 1890, Newcastle's first theatre of an international standard. For many years he was also a member of the committee of the Newcastle Jockey Club. He was also a magistrate.

Charles Upfold built a large mansion on a piece of land in Crebert Street, North Waratah (now Mayfield), given to him by his friend John Scholey. It was later sold to the famous biscuit manufacturer William Arnott who sold it in 1898 to Isaac Winn, owner of the big Newcastle department store. It is today a home for the aged, owned by the Methodist Church. Charles Upfold subsequently purchased a small estate near Raymond Terrace, containing extensive vineyards, where he built another fine country residence.

Upfold and his wife, Sarah Ann Temperance (née Blundell) (b. 1843, Finchley Common, - d.1921, Cronulla, Sydney) had ten children: four sons and six daughters.

Following his death in Sydney, the Upfolds were bought out by Lever Bros who were also busy acquiring the paid up capital of Kitchen & Co., of Melbourne, Victoria, who also had a stake in the Sydney Soap & Candle Co. This new amalgamated firm became Lever & Kitchen.

Eventually, Levers gained full control & dropped the 'Kitchen' altogether. With the decline in candle-making, the Sino-Japanese war (much of Charles Upfold's exports went to China - he had warehouses in Canton and his son Robert spoke Cantonese), coupled with the now ageing plant, the Newcastle factory was closed down just before World War II, a great blow to the city. A new factory for the Australian Wire Rope Works was built upon its site.

A very long street in the suburb of Mayfield is named Upfold Street after the great man himself.

Although buried in the Gore Hill Congregational Cemetery, Sydney, his funeral service was conducted by a Church of England minister, Rev. Alfred G.Perkins. An extensive obituary appeared in the Newcastle Morning Herald on the 15 March 1919.


  1. ^ Newcastle Morning Herald, Saturday, March 15, 1919, page 5.
  2. ^ Sydney Morning Herald, Monday, March 17, 1919.
  • Historical Records of Newcastle 1797-1897, published at Newcastle, N.S.W., in 1897, pps: 19,68,71, and adverts.
  • The Federal Directory of Newcastle and District, Newcastle, 1901 (reprinted 1981, ISBN 0-9593518-0-9 )
  • Lever Business in Australasia, 1889-1930 (no date) p. 20.
  • The Story of John Knight Ltd in the Lever Brothers magazine Progress, Spring 1932, pp. 60/65.
  • Charles Upfold and the Sydney Soap and Candle Factory by W. J. Goold, in the Monthly Journal of the Newcastle & Hunter District Historical Society; Vol. III, part VII, April 1949.
  • "The Story of John Ambrose Kitchen" in the Unilever Australia Reporter, September 1956, pp. 20/23.
  • The History of Unilever, by Charles Wilson, London: Cassell, 1970, pp. 15-17, 123-124, 197-198.
  • Manufacturing in Newcastle 1801 - 1900 by John W. Turner, Newcastle, 1980, pp. 50-51,55-57, 66-68, 95-96. ISBN 0-9599385-7-5