CALLS have been made to rename Bolton’s flagship sports and recreation space ­— ­Leverhulme Park ­— due to Lord Leverhulme’s links to slave labour.

The legacy of one of the borough’s most famous sons ­— William Hesketh Lever ­— has come under scrutiny as Black Lives Matter protesters called for historic links to controversial figures to be re-evaluated.

Lord Leverhulme’s name appeared on a list of statues and memorials across the UK that should be torn down or renamed.

His biographer says there is a “debate to be had” ­— while Bolton’s civic trust says the town should be proud of the former Liberal MP’s record on women’s suffrage and workers’ rights.

Lever, who was born in Bolton in 1851, is famous as the founder of Sunlight soap manufacturers Lever Brothers and also served as the town’s Mayor in 1918.

But after a Bristol monument to Edward Colston was recently toppled and thrown into the harbour, campaigners have called for similar action against memorials to other historical figures thought to have links with the slave trade.

An interactive map called ‘Topple the Racists’, has now been set up by the Stop Trump Coalition in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement with Lever’s memorial in the Wirral included on the list.

Despite his reputation as one of the era’s great philanthropists, Lever tried to enforce a system of forced labour to produce palm oil in West Africa and his firm became associated with a number of atrocities in the Belgian Congo.

The Bolton News:

Lever ­— later Lord Leverhulme ­— is remembered in his home town with both Leverhulme Park and Lever Park in Rivington. He gave both pieces of land to the town. But some are now questioning whether such memorials should undergo a review.

His biographer Adam McQueen, who wrote The King of Sunlight - How William Lever Cleaned Up The World, said: “Lever was absolutely a product of his times and his attitudes undoubtedly racist.

“I describe his approach to overseas plantations as ‘imperial arrogance at its most basic’ at one point, but compared to the utterly inhuman and horrific treatment of people in the Congo by Leopold II he was in a completely different category.

"As I note in the book, his own empathetic attitudes didn't necessarily always trickle down to the managers on the ground - I wrote about the appalling treatment of workers in his Solomon Islands plantations in particular.

“But Lever did insist on fair wages and decent housing, as well as building hospitals and schools and I do think it’s a thoroughly good thing that we’re talking about and discussing this stuff so much now.

“The loss, or not, of a few old statues is an absolutely fair price to pay ­— history is there to be talked about and learned from, not occasionally registered in the corner of your eye as you walk past it covered in pigeon droppings on the street.”

This week has also seen the removal of a statue of Scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell from Poole Quay with University of Liverpool bosses also confirming they are renaming Gladstone Hall due to former Prime Minister William Gladstone’s family’s links to the slave trade.

Despite Lever’s links to actions which the authors of the list claim “reduced the population of Congo by half and accounted for more deaths than the Nazi holocaust”, chairman of Bolton and District Civic Trust, Richard Shirres, said Lever is worthy of his hometown’s remembrance.

The Bolton News: FOUNDER: Lord LeverhulmeFOUNDER: Lord Leverhulme

He said: “I think the debate is warranted but Lever was an enlightened man.

“He argued for women’s suffrage and the ethics of his company live on in Unilever who are one of the best in the world in terms of sustainability.

“Bolton should be proud of him and to have a park named in his honour is warranted. There are far worse than Lever.”

The Topple the Racists campaign said: “In the short space since the statue of Edward Colston went into the river, we have seen a sweeping wave of changes – from colleges, to councils to cultural institutions – various authorities are suddenly taking action to remove or rename monuments to slavers.

“We are actively encouraging people to engage with our list of monuments, not just by submitting examples, but by reading through the ones listed, and providing different perspectives on historical figures.”

Laura Townshend, 23, who lives close to Leverhulme Park, said: “Lever’s influence in Bolton is really apparent. But I had no idea how he had acquired some of his wealth. I was shocked as it was not something I had ever heard of.

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“It is only ever his work as a philanthropist that is discussed rather than his dealings in Africa.”

Laura said she would like to see more information about Lever’s past in the park.

She said: “We need consistency in how we teach the history of public figures and I would like to see a plaque that recognises Lever’s contributions to the local community but also shows that he caused harm to other people.”

The Leverhulme Trust said: "Racism of any and all forms is abhorrent and is condemned by the Trust.

"The particular mission of the charity is to provide scholarships for research and education.

"Over the course of several decades, the Trust has funded numerous authoritative and independent studies of colonialism, of the long history of black Britons and of the lived experience of minority ethnic communities in this country and elsewhere.

"The Trustees will continue to offer Leverhulme grants to study these and other social inequalities and in this way help rid the world of the systemic injustices of racism."


Lord Leverhulme, dubbed the Soap King, was born on September 19, 1851, and has left behind a legacy which lives on today.

William Hesketh Lever, who later became the first Viscount Lord Leverhulme, was a renowned industrial entrepreneur who launched his industrial success with a bar of soap.

Eventually, he became one of the town's most generous benefactors.

He was born in Wood Street, Bolton, the son of a grocer.

His business life had humble beginnings when, as a shrewd teenager, he worked in the family shop and cut up and wrapped the long bars of yellow soap used at the time.

As the firm grew, he decided to manufacture his own brand, which he named Sunlight.

Premises were rented and within the first year, a thousand tons were produced. From earning one shilling a week, his finances rocketed and, by 1918, his estate showed a surplus of an amazing £5,000,000.

It was no more than his strong Bolton family background expected of him as he had been born to a long line of hard-working Levers, counting among his ancestors Robert Lever, the founder of Bolton Grammar School in 1641.

Place names like Great Lever, Little Lever and Darcy Lever also forged his Bolton connections.

As the business expanded, a new site was found near the River Mersey and work began on a showpiece of workers' homes called Port Sunlight.

But he never forgot his Bolton origins and familiar names were immortalised in Port Sunlight including Bolton Road, Wood Street and Edgworth house.

Lord Leverhulme was a forward-thinker who made his employees partners in his flourishing business and campaigned - still ahead of his time - for a six-hour day, arguing that production would not fall because on present working days staff were too tired to give their best.

He made the first modern multinational business, and while he was known for caring for the welfare of his white workers, he exploited African slaves to make his fortune.

He set up palm oil plantations - the Lever plantations in the Congo - for forced labour.

Beatings and squalid conditions were the daily reality for most of the slaves.

The land was leased to him by his close friend King Leopold II long after slaver was officially ended in Britain.

His empire grew beyond even his own dreams and continued to be successful long after his death in 1925, at the age of 74.

His products had names which are still familiar to many people today, including Lifebuoy, Lux and Vim. He used the slogan "see how this becomes the house" to help sell his products.

Lord Leverhulme's interest was not confined to his business. Throughout his life, he collected paintings and gained a reputation as a connoisseur of the arts.

A three-day sale of the contents of his last home, back in 2001 - Thornton Manor on the Wirral - raised almost £10 million, a record for any UK country house sale.

Robert Holden, London fine art agent, speaking on behalf of members of Lord Leverhulme's family, said the sale was an historic tribute to the taste and quality of the art and antiques acquired by Lord Leverhulme.

Lord Leverhulme also had a keen interest in architecture which resulted in a bold scheme for Bolton which included a tree-lined boulevard into the town centre, from a restored Queens Park.

He gave the town Leverhulme Park, Lever Park and the Blackburn Road Congregational Church, which later became the United Reformed Church.

In his time, he restored Hall i'th' Wood museum, saving it from demolition by buying it and restoring it, then donating it to Bolton, and he funded the rebuilding of Bolton School, establishing a trust which still helps to maintain it.

In 1898, he was appointed governor and contributed buildings and a swimming pool.

He loved his extravagant house and its grounds in Rivington included Babylonian terraced gardens, a miniature zoo, lakes, waterfalls, pagodas and oriental tea houses.

He was devastated in 1913 when his famous bungalow, built on the flanks of Rivington Pike, was burned to the ground by suffragette Edith Rigby, the wife of a Preston doctor.

The tycoon never understood why he had been singled out because he was in favour of voting rights for women and had said so when he was a Liberal MP.

He had voted in the House of Commons for such a move to become law.