Queen Victoria's Soap
“The bar of soap that Victoria may (or may not) have touched on her visit to Manchester seemed like such a non-story. Why are we interested? Symbolically, it both references the domestic and caring roles that women were put into but also cleaning away of other narratives. It became apparent on my visit to the museum that there was a wealth of fascinating stories hidden away in the collection and not being told; only certain stories are on display. Could this be because we are still viewing the exhibits through the lens of a white Victorian gentleman?”
Anna Phylactic (Manchester Drag Queen)
A rather out-of-place object in the Living Cultures collection, this is a bar of soap made at Port Sunlight Soap Works, Liverpool, 1888. This particular bar of soap was believed to have been used by Queen Victoria when she visited Manchester on 1st July 1888 to open the Victoria University.
Symbolically this soap can be used to demonstrate the dominant narratives of male cis heteronormative power, which subjugated women into domestic roles. The object was clearly acquired because of its imperial association and to commemorate a significant event in Manchester’s history. We will probably never know whether it was ever actually used by Victoria. Perhaps more importantly, it demonstrates how objects can gain additional layers of interpretation and how value has been attributed in the past. It also shows the potential for new interpretations to add meaning and value for many different audiences.