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Friday, 7 August 2009

Blue Billy

The foul effluent became known as 'blue billy', mention of which awakened in 'old engineers ..... recollections of troubles and prosecutions'. It was a waste product but could not be sold like tar and liquor. The available means of disposal were all undesirable and led to constant complaints. Attempts were made to use it as a source of useful products. As early as 1816 one of the Chartered Directors, Mr. Warren, collaborated with Clegg on sulphur reclamation from spent lime through a special kiln. This liaison with 'outsiders' continued - in 1842 the Imperial Company made a contract with Frank Hills to remove blue billy 'for the purposes of his trade'. Frank Hills was a resourceful industrial chemist who had once again found a means to make an economical product while not being prepared to make its details public.

In the early years 'blue billy' seems to have been stored in tanks on site. All three of the Chartered's works were land locked and everything had to be transferred in and out by road - coal, chemicals, blue billy. Before 1848 sewers in London were managed on an individual basis by special Boards of Commissioners that had been set up in Tudor times and who levied rates in the area which the sewer served. Commissioners of Sewers took action to prevent gas industry wastes using their systems without approval. Generally, such wastes were not allowed to enter the sewage system.

Prevented from using the sewers the Chartered Company decided to put liquid waste directly into the Thames. They had to get permission for this from the relevant Committee which oversaw Navigation on the Thames. In return for a fee, permission was given for a pipe to be laid into the Thames from the Peter Street, Westminster, works. The company also considered buying land from which a ditch ran to the Thames and where liquid waste could be dumped.

A number of complaints began to come from local businesses and residents. In 1817 the Chartered received a complaint from a Mr. Winter who had a japanned leather works in Peter Street. This was accompanied by another from a Mr. Cooper whose wife was enduring the smell while nursing a new baby. Michael Faraday was called in as a consultant to examine the seepage. Complaints continued for many years - in 1822 lime water was still getting into neighbouring premises, and Mr. Minton, a patent oil silk manufacturer complained about it.

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