The business which was later to become Hazlehurst & Sons started in 1816 on land on the north side of the Bridgewater canal between the canal and High Street. The land had previously been occupied by a farm called Camden Croft1 and the factory was called Camden Works. The works was directly opposite the soapery of Johnson's which was on the south side of the canal.
Initially the business was run as a partnership between Thomas Hazlehurst and William Greenwood. William Greenwood was Thomas' brother-in-law. In 1809 William had married an Elizabeth Hazlehurst from Frodsham, who was possibly a member of the Frodsham branch of the Hazlehurst family. In a mortgage taken out in 1816 William was described as being a soap boiler, haberdasher and grocer2 . In a trade directory of 1822-233 the business is recorded as 'Hazlehurst, Greenwood & Co., soap, rosin and turpentine works'. Also in the same directory William Greenwood is described as being a grocer and draper, so he was probably keeping an interest in both businesses. In the 1824-25 4directory the partnership is still there but in the 1828-29 5directory the entry reads 'Hazlehurst & Company, soap boilers and turpentine distillers'. Thomas was presumably now running the business independently. By 1834 his sons were beginning to be involved in the business which was then recorded as being 'Hazlehurst & Sons'6 . By 1840 both Johnson's and Hazlehurst's were described as being 'turpentine distillers, soap, vitriol and soda manufacturers and chemists'7 .
In the early days the works must have been using ash from vegetable sources as a source of alkali, probably kelp. The Leblanc process for manufacturing alkali was not used in this country in its complete form until around 1816 when William Losh developed the process in Walker-on-Tyne. Alkali was first made on a large scale by this process in 1823 when James Muspratt opened his factory in Liverpool. We do not know precisely when the Runcorn soapmakers started to use the Leblanc process. However in 1830 both Hazlehurst's and Johnson's were described as being manufacturers of vitriol8 . The only reason for them to have been producing vitriol (sulphuric acid) would be to use it in the first stage of the Leblanc process for making their own alkali rather than relying on vegetable sources. It would therefore seem that both Runcorn soapmakers were using the Leblanc process soon after Muspratt and certainly before the end of the 1820s. This would place them amongst the earliest users of the process in the United Kingdom.
In Pigot's 1834 directory both Hazlehurst's and Johnson's, as well as being described as 'soap boilers', have separate entries as 'chymists - manufacturing'. Hazlehurst's are specifically described as producing 'vitriol, soda, etc.'. This means that by 1834 Runcorn had become a town where the manufacture of chemicals (as well as soap) was one of its major industries. The town of Widnes on the other side of the Mersey has gone down in history as one of the major chemical towns in Britain but it was to be well over a decade before the chemical industry even started there, when John Hutchinson built his first factory in 1847 in the rural spot which was then called Woodend.
In common with many other factories at the time using the Leblanc process, both Runcorn firms built high chimneys to disperse the pollution. Hazlehurst's chimney came first, being started in May 1836, and it was completed in December of that year. It must have been a spectacular structure as it measured 'over 102 yards' high (some 306 feet or 93 metres), it contained more than half-a-million bricks and it was computed to be 'above 2,800 tons weight'9 . On a brick a few feet from the base were carved the initials 'T.F.H. 1836' and a few courses higher was the carving 'T. Hazlehurst, May 31st 1836'10 . A 'year or two later' across the canal Johnson's chimney of some 200 feet in height was built11 .
At the time, Hazlehurst's must have been one of the highest factory chimneys in the country. In most industries the factory chimneys needed to disperse only smoke and, at that time most chimneys, including those of textile mills, were under 300 feet in height. In 1836, even those of most of the alkali works in the country were lower than Hazlehurst's, although there was one in Smethwick which was higher. This giant was at Adam's Soap Works and it rose to 312 feet12 , some 6 feet higher than Hazlehurst's.
It would appear that Hazlehurst's chimney was not particularly stable because over the years its height was steadily reduced. By 1880 it had been 'lowered considerably at 3 or 4 different times and was then only about 180 feet high'13 . By this date chimneys of such great height were not needed for the dispersal of hydrochloric acid because the absorption towers developed by William Gossage were in general use. However in 1836 such towers were at an experimental stage and Gossage's patent for them was only taken out in that year.
The Hazlehurst business was clearly growing during the 1820s and 1830s. Extracts from the Title Deeds of Camden Works14 gave an idea of the expansion of the company around that time. The original area of Camden works was 4,944 square yards and Camden House and garden occupied a further 4,716 square yards. In 1835 a further area of 10,240 square yards was leased to Thomas Hazlehurst and John Middlebrook (a shopkeeper and merchant) at a ground rent of £60 per annum15 .
Duty was still being paid on the manufacture of soap in the 1830s and it is therefore possible to determine the output of every manufacturer at the time. A report was produced in 1835 16 which showed that Runcorn was the 4th largest soap-producing town in the whole of the United Kingdom. At that time Liverpool and London were by far the largest producers. Third came Bristol and not far behind was Runcorn. The small town of Runcorn, with a population of under 6,000, was producing more soap even than Newcastle and more hard soap than Glasgow.
In 1832 Johnson's paid £38,681 in soap duty (around £2 million in today's values) and Hazlehurst's paid £22,985 (well over £1 million). As the duty paid was directly proportional to the amount of soap produced, a 'league table' can be compiled of the largest soap-making firms. In such a 'league table' Johnson's came seventh in the whole of the United Kingdom. Hazlehurst's came lower down the table but was still in the top twenty. Each Runcorn firm produced more soap in that year than Crosfield's of Warrington and Johnson's made more even than Charles Tennant, Scotland's giant firm of soapmakers in Glasgow. For a small town, these are remarkable statistics (in 1831 the total population of the town had been only slightly over 5,000).
Other attempts were made to establish soap and chemical works in the town during this period but these eventually came to nothing. In 1833 two men from Liverpool, Dennis Kennedy and Thomas Maguire established a factory on the bank of the Weaver canal at Weston. However this proved to be unsuccessful and the factory and some adjacent land were later bought by the Johnson brothers. This was later to develop into their Weston works. In 1834 acid was being made by Messrs. Rooke and Hunter in Halton Lane (later Halton Road) but they were out of business by 1850 17.