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Sunday, 9 August 2009

Ammonia Salts - early investigations and sales


The manufacture of sulphate of ammonia, it was said, ‘needs no skill’. It was done by saturating the ammoniacal liquor with sulphuric acid. The cask was then 'rolled around for a few minutes' and the salt evaporated to crystallisation by heat.It thus became the first ammonia salt made by the early gas industry. Before that references to it are not easily found. Unlike sal ammoniac and sal volatile it had no common name, which perhaps indicates a lack of familiarity. Even after the early gas industry had begun to make sulphate of ammonia Rees' Cyclopedia described it in terms of laboratory rather than industrial production and listed no uses. Even Dundonald, who detailed so much about the potential uses of coal based by products, made only passing references.

David Richards, who carried out the first tests, seems to have been a contractor who was employed to manufacture items like ammonia salts by the Chartered. His status is not clear - and becomes less clear as his range of activities becomes apparent. His address was Fieldgate Street, Whitechapel,where many small chemical manufacturers were sited. It is only a matter of a few hundred yards away from the one (or two) works of the Aldgate Gas Company. In its versatility Richards' career is very similar to many young men from the East End, happy to try anything.

In 1813 Richards was an employee of the Chartered. He worked as a foreman and was sacked when he upset some visiting shareholders. He was reinstated at the insistence of some of the directors but was sacked again having 'quarrelled with Clegg's assistant'. From outside the company he offered them a cheap 'gasometer'. This offer was made in partnership with Richard Torr - later of Knackers Lane, Deptford, a future contractor for the removal of ammoniacal liquor and a specialist in 'animal charcoal'.

Four years later Richards was a foreman contractor for the construction of the Imperial Gas Company's new works at Haggerston and St.Pancras. He was then to be found discussing engineering drawings and purification methods with the Imperial's Works Superintendent, George Holsworthy Palmer (another East Ender of versatility and misfortune).

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