This small gas making plant has been described by most gas industry historians writing about this period. It has attracted attention as one works undertaken by Samuel Clegg, before he went to work for the Gas Light and Coke and Imperial Gas Companies in London – the first such works by Clegg in London, although he had set up several elsewhere. It was set up by an enthusiast who had the ideal conditions for demonstrating gas lighting at his shop and art gallery in a busy commercial area on the edge of the fashionable west end. Sadly he does not seem to have used it for very long.
Rudolph Ackerman had come to London from Germany as a coachmaker and opened The Repository of Fine Arts at 96 The Strand, expanding later to a school at 101 Strand in 1827. On the Horwood Plan 96 The Strand is shown on the south side of the road on the corner of ‘Beaufort Buildings’, 101 is a few doors further up and next-door-but-one to the corner of Fountain Court. Today this area lies to the west of Waterloo Bridge and the Savoy Hotel.
Ackerman also published the Repository of Arts magazine - and in 1813 published an illustration of his library lit by gas. Clegg was commissioned to build this works and came from Manchester to do so, in the time immediately before his employment by the Gas Light and Coke Co. at Westminster.
Ackerman reported that the plant cost £1,940 to install and consisted of 24 small retorts. The actual cost of running it was £151 a year but of that, £111 was recovered from selling by-products. He thus estimated that the gas light cost £40 a year but that amount of lighting would have cost him £250 had candles and oil been used instead.
It has been said by gas industry historians that this was the first works in which a dry lime process was used to clean the gas, following complaints about the discharge of wet lime effluent into the Thames.
Ackerman said that the light was like ‘bright summer sunshine compared to a murky November day’ without the former suffocation from the fumes from charcoal and candles and without danger of spillage of candle wax on valuable books and prints. In order to help minimise damage to prints Ackerman’s workers heated their plates by gas rather than on a charcoal fire.
Despite his pleasure at his new gas installation Ackerman asked the Gas Light and Coke Company for a connection to their mains in 1815.