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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The Barlow Family

Sadly an article about the Barlow family, written by those who knew them, is missing from the only known set of 'Gas Engineering' – the periodical in which it was published. The Barlows are ubiquitous from the earliest days of the industry and were key influences on it. The influence of James White Barlow, of Tokenhouse Yard, in the earliest days of the industry has already been noted under the Gas Light and Coke Co. Another Barlow with an early interest in gas and its chemistry was a R.Barlow of Cockspur Street who sponsored 'A System of Chemistry' in 1803 and who in 1814 wrote a booklet on gas making by-products.

These two may, or may not, have had a connection with a John Barlow who was an iron founder in Sheffield. He came to London and opened the Wenlock Iron Works, City Road Basin as a manufacturing base. He had married a Miss Ruth Greaves in Sheffield and had eleven children – eight sons were to work with their father. The third of these sons, Thomas Greaves Barlow, was to become editor of Journal of Gas Lighting, the most successful gas industry periodical in the nineteenth century, and still today as Gas Journal. He went on to become the second president of the British Association of Gas Managers in 1868. He had been preceded by an uncle, George Barlow, who had founded a short-lived Gas Gazette.

Members of the Barlow family seem to have realised very early on that there was money to be made in the fitting out of gas works and that one way to encourage this was to found a gas company themselves, build the works, and then to pass it on, ready made to another body set up for the purpose. There is an undated, but very early, document, in which 'Mr. Barlow' proposes to set up a gas company in South London using his 'new carbonising stove'.

The Poplar Gas Company was another such scheme – and there were to be more. At the same time, the family sold equipment to existing gas companies like the Chartered and Phoenix. They would also tender for complete gas works when required.

John Barlow appears to have designed some early gas cooking apparatus. In Mechanics Magazine of the 1830s, there is a long and acrimonious correspondence about this. A demonstration 'all gas' house had been set up at 19 Colebrook Row in Islington and there were accusations that Joshua Beale, of Whitechapel and later of Greenwich, had set spies to steal the ideas.

Thomas Greaves Barlow was to become enormously influential in gas politics in due course – but the influence of his father, uncles, and brothers was also enormous - and, as yet, under-researched.

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