The Man Behind Pears’ Soap

The development of cosmetics and perfumes have been part of life since time immemorial, but did you know that the original Pears’ soap was a product of the Georgian era? A bar of soap that is still used today by many, had it origins in 18th century London.

The iconic Pears' Soap advert; Bubbles by John Everett Millais, 1886.
The iconic Pears’ Soap advert; Bubbles by John Everett Millais, 1886. Wellcome Library

Andrew Pears was born on 4th April 1768 the elder son of William, a farmer and Elizabeth Pears at St Ewe, near Mevagissey, Cornwall. He and his two siblings, Edward and Maria appear to have been raised by their father, their mother died when he was around 7 years old.

A penny barber by Thomas Rowlandson. Lewis Walpole Library
A penny barber by Thomas Rowlandson. Lewis Walpole Library

At the age of 21, Andrew moved to London to serve an apprenticeship as a barber; eventually owning his own business.

Pears' soap 100 years on. Wellcome Library
Pears’ soap 100 years on. Wellcome Library

On 6th February 1794, he married Elizabeth Spencer at St Marylebone church. Elizabeth became pregnant almost immediately, for, on the 9th of November 1794 their first child, Elizabeth was born, followed two years later by their daughter, Mary Ann.

Entrance to Oxford Street or Tyburn Turnpike with a View of Park Lane. 1798. Yale Center for British Art
Entrance to Oxford Street or Tyburn Turnpike with a View of Park Lane. 1798, Yale Center for British Art

Andrew was concerned about the use of products on the skin especially lead-based cosmetics and towards the end of 1802 he was advertising a product which was

produced from vegetables only, is allowed by many of the Nobility and Gentry to be the most simple and necessary affiliate to nature ever offered to a discerning public. It ameliorates, beautified and renders the skin perfectly fair and delicately transparent, without the possibility of its use being perceived; and by a trifling attention to its application, the beauties of this composition may be assimilated to every complexion.

The Cheltenham Chronicle of 15th August 1811 carried an advert for his transparent product in which he described it as being ‘an object of importance to all who are solicitous to possess the advantage, which Lord Chesterfield denominates ‘a letter of recommendation on all occasions’  and certainly the present and future ages must feel themselves indebted to the inventor of the curious chemical process, by which Soap is separated from all the impure and noxious substance with which, in its crude state, it is invariably united; this refinement is manifested in its Transparency and Fragrance’.

By 1815 his business was booming.

Pears’s Transparent Soap

This soap stands unrivalled as a discovery of the highest importance, for its superior excellent in cleansing the skin – reserving it from the effects of the weather, sea, air etc an improving its appearance. It removes every blemish from its surface, and by due perseverance never fails to render it delicate, clear and beautiful.

Prepared by A. Pears, 55 Well Street, off Oxford Street, London and at 1 shilling and 6 pence, 2 shilling and 6 pence per square. Also, gentlemen’s’ shaving cakes, at 1 shilling and 2 shilling and 6 pence.

He also diversified into

Pears’s Rose Colour or Pink Saucers

This is an entirely new invention for drawing in water colours, painting on velvet, tinging the cheeks, lips etc dyeing silk, lace, muslin, feathers, artificial flowers etc

It is necessary the public should be cautioned with respect to any spurious articles of this nature as the superior excellence of Pears’s Pink Saucers has excited many to imitate what they cannot equal: therefore, it is necessary to observe the name on the back of the saucer, as no other can be depended on to be of superior quality.

Prepared by A. Pears, at his Rouge, Carmine, Transparent Soap and Pink Saucer Manufactory, as above.

In October 1821 tragedy struck and Andrew’s wife Elizabeth, aged 44, died.

1841 census - Andrew and Francis Pears
1841 census – Andrew and Francis Pears

Andrew continued with the business and we see him here on the 1841 census with his grandson, Francis, Andrew describing his occupation as perfumer. He continued building up the family business until his death, at the family home, 55 Wells Street, St Marylebone and was buried at All Souls’ Cemetery, Kensal Green on the 4th May 1845.

In his will, he left various legacies, but the bulk of his estate he left to his grandson Francis. Francis was then to marry and in due course, their daughter married a Thomas J Barratt who joined his father in law in the family business at which point began its expansion into the product it has become today.

Sources

Johnson’s British Gazette and Sunday Monitor(London, England), Sunday, August 1, 1802

The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics 1815

The National Archives; Kew, England; Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 2018 

The Skin, Baths, Bathing, and Soap. By Francis Pears

Featured Image 

Pears’ Soap advert: The Special Commission. Wellcome Library

 

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