London’s Soap Industry and the Development of Global Ghost Acres in the Nineteenth Century
John Knight and Sons soap company, like other successful soap manufacturers in Greater London, grew during the nineteenth century by combining technological innovation and marketing to sell increasing quantities of a product the British public increasingly saw as a symbol of their advanced civilisation. They did not struggle with the ecological limits of their regional hinterlands to provide the raw materials, as they relied on growing quantities of tallow, rosin and other commodities supplied from overseas ghost acres. John Knight and Sons linked consumers to environmental transformations and large-scale colonial dispossession in Europe, the Americas and Australasia. Millions of sheep and cattle were raised on the abundant grasslands found on the Eurasian steppe, the Pampas, the Great Plains and in Australasia, many of which were killed and processed only for their tallow, skins or hides. Economic and environmental factors created significant instability in the global tallow supply, but the end result was greater quantities of cheaper tallow shipped to market in London. These global ghost acres made the nineteenth century success of John Knight and Sons and other major soap producers in Greater London possible.
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