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Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Actual coke sales

From the start, gas companies sold coke; or rather they sold what was left after they had taken about a third of the output for their own use as fuel.

Gas Companies employed special staff for coke sales. In the gasworks coke staff were autonomous and important. In a list of South Met's staff for 1836 the 'coke clerk' has a different heading to staff in the 'indoor office'. Presumably he had his own office, not out of doors, but easily available to the public. He was in effect a departmental head with two junior clerks under him. The Chartered Company had staff like this from the start, as did every subsequent gas company

The gas companies sold coke 'over the counter' for cash. There are still many who remember in the twentieth century the collection of coke by children for use at home. It is very likely that these sales of small amounts of coke began very early and that from the start anyone who wanted one bag or so only had to call at the coke office door. Sales at this level are very difficult to check on at any time - and at a distance of two hundred years, almost impossible.

Only one early ledger survives for the Chartered Company, and none for any of the other early London Companies. Unfortunately no records appear to have survived of day to day sales, if they were ever kept. Such sales provided a source of ready cash that could come in very useful in times of trouble. For example, in 1854, the Sydenham Gas Company used coke income to pay the wages after their Company Secretary disappeared together with the names and addresses of their customers.

In the early years of the Chartered, coke sold steadily. Occasionally income was reported to the directors and was recorded in the minute books. These intermittent notes allow a snapshot of their sales. In April 1817 they took £×187 12s.3d. for coke compared with £×469 16s 6d for gas. By January 1820 coke sales have risen to £×305 13s. 7d. but this time there is no corresponding gas sales figure.

Board Minutes usually recorded only the major sales and enquiries. For example when the Board of Ordnance ‑ a very important potential customer - asked for coke in 1815 it was reported to the Board.22 These occasional references in the minute books give the only information as to who used Winsor's patent coke.


Deliveries of coke to those customers, who did not collect it themselves, seem to have been undertaken by independent carters who dealt directly with customers. In 1817 the Chartered Company advertised for tenders 'per caldron for coke'. These carters trimmed the coke 'for threepence a caldron if required by the customer' as well as delivering it.

Carters were not necessarily specialist hauliers but combined this activity with another. Their main profession seems usually, and inevitably, to have been that of coal merchant. The Chartered's three works were all landlocked with no water access - it was not until later that the company acquired wharfage facilities`. Carters serving their works would have had to use horse and cart, but as other companies built riverside or canalside works so cartage would have been done by barge. Coke was only one of many cargoes undertaken by barge owners, who often combined river haulage with lime burning, brick making and other activities. Perhaps more unusual was F.J.Bouchet who combined carting with ownership of a brass foundry in the Old Kent Road.


When gas companies minuted coke sales they naturally concentrated on those that needed a special decision by the board. Most of these were large industrial users. After 1820 these decisions include a number of barter deals, often involving coke, and another commodity which a gas company would normally buy in from an outside supplier. The Chartered Company records show the most frequent use of this practice as, although less often, do those of the Phoenix Company.

For example, the Chartered Company sometimes swapped coke for oil of vitriol with Farmer, the Kennington chemical manufacturer.

Such barter deals were set up with suppliers who needed gas industry by‑products. Gas companies used lime in their purification process ‑ they got it from limeburners who used coke. The use of this type of transaction, throws even more doubt on the accuracy of any cash prices which are recorded.

It also illuminates the role played by the gas companies in the industry which surrounded them. The next chapter will look briefly at some of the aspects of the use of gas industry coke and how it might have facilitated industrial growth.

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