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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Bow Oil Gas Works

A public supply gas works was set up near Philip Taylor's home at Bow. It is not clear exactly where this works was - a caption to an illustration in a Co-partnership Herald helpfully describes it as 'behind the houses in Bow Road'. The rate books list it as the first premises in Old Ford Road at the Bow end. It was clearly on the Lea. My guess is that it was on the piece of land, which is today between Payne Road and the Bow flyover roundabout, shown as a chemical works on later maps. It was managed by Dr.Moses Ricardo and had been built to supply lighting for the Whitechapel Road. An Act of Parliament which allowed for gas lighting but, unusually, not the works had many local industrialists among its subscribers together with some scientific associates of the Taylors and John Martineau.

In due course another Bill was put forward to light London and Westminster by oil gas. In the course of the enquiry into this Bill evidence was given which - at the very least - brought into some disrepute the management methods at Bow.

It emerged that on May 5th 1825 Henry Holman, a brewer, had been returning from a visit to friends at Forest Gate. Coming into Stratford and still a mile and a half from Bow he began to smell something very offensive. Continuing down through Stratford and on to Bow Bridge it grew worse and worse. When he reached his home, which was only ten yards from the Bow Gas Works, his wife was ill from the smell. He went over to the gas works and knocked and rang but could get no reply and had no choice but to go back indoors and try to sleep.

The next morning he went back to the works and examined the drain, which ran from it into the river Lea. He found in the drain ‘some glutinous matter of a dark colour’ which he took home in the hope that he could use it as evidence. He put it in his office, but the smell was so horrible that he ended up by burying it in despair. In addition, his water supply was so contaminated that he was unable to brew that day.

Throughout the night, Joseph Search the Bow watchmen, had noticed the smell - 'It affected me; it made my head ache a good deal; it got inside of me, in the throat, and it affected me a great deal.' He described how 'After I had cried one o'clock .. I turned back into the town, and the first that I saw was Mr. Crawley’ - Crawley was, of course, the works superintendent. Crawley did not however go to see what the problem was, or even get up, he just ‘asked me what this smell was, it was very affecting, and had woke Mrs. Crawley out of her sleep'. Next Mr.Baylis the journeyman at the linen drapers ‘asked me what it was that smelt so shocking bad' and so he went on to Bow Bridge ‘and the water was in a shocking state; it was entirely covered with nastiness; it appeared to me like oil, or something like that, swimming on the top.'

Of course, this evidence about the state of management at Bow Works was given by enemies of the company who were involved in a debate about the relative merits of coal or oil gas - out of which a great money was to be made.

As far as the Bow Works was concerned the enquiry stopped abruptly, probably because the Bow works had been taken over by someone - probably some of the less respectable elements of the Imperial Company. Stewart says that it became a coal gas works and was taken over by the British Gas Light Co. in 1829, who sold it in 1852 to the Commercial Co., who closed it down. My only comment is new management doesn't seem to have changed things much. In 1831 they were ordered by Bow vestry to glaze their windows because of the 'quantities of deleterious matter being emitted' and to 'remove refuse' because of the cholera outbreak.[485]

Where was this works and what happened to the site? Mostly this has to be a ‘best guess process’. The area has been radically changed with the construction of the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road in the 1960s and the Bow roundabout and flyover. From evidence given at the Oil Gas Enquiry it appears to have been built over the River Lea - and thus it existed in a sort of no-mans land between London and Essex and so is ignored by mapmakers from both sides. It is almost certainly not the row of gasholders shown in the 1880s alongside the Great Eastern Railway line east of the Lea since the address of the works was 1 Old Ford Road - putting it firmly on the Middlesex Bank. Since Old Ford Road ran north from Bow Bridge it must be assumed that the gas works was the first buildings in the road on the river bank. My guess is that it is today either under the motorway or on a piece of spare land now isolated in the middle of the traffic which was the site of a late Victorian chemical works.

Who were the people who set up the Bow Oil Gas Works? The following list is taken from the preamble of the Whitechapel Road (Lighting With Gas) Act, 1821. This Act was to improve the streets. It does not set up a gas works but gives permission to light by gas. It is in essence a Bill to support the Taylor and Martineau Bow Oil Gas Works. There is a very definite input of investors from the Hudson Bay Company – who, no doubt, probably wanted an investment in something which would use fish oil.

Those involved were:
Archibald Barclay: Secretary to the Hudson Bay Company. Lived (1846) 12 Burton Street.

Thomas Langley: Wax and tallow merchant. A Hudson Bay Company director after whom the town of Langley, British Colombia is named. Lived at 8 Irelands Row, Mile End and also at Cock Crow Hill, Southborough near Kingston.

John Henry Pelly: Governor of Hudson Bay Company. and also from those who were also investing in other contemporary gas companies - there is a definite co-relation with the abortive Mile End Road scheme

James Boote: Also subscribed to the Mile End Act. A Master of the Butcher’s Company.

Richard Carpenter: also subscribed to the Mile End Act. Probably an Aldgate based publisher.

Nicholas Charrington. Also subscribed to the Mile End Act. The Mile End brewer.

Nicholas Charrington, Jnr. Also subscribed to the Mile End Act. The Mile End brewer's son.

The remainder seem to be businessmen. There is a strong bias towards the area around Mile End and Bow but their the proportion from the local area appears to be lower than for the Mile End Company - although with the amount of uncertainty involved in all these identifications this may only appear to be so.

James Brand: Lived Tulse Hill.

John Brooks: Printer of this name at 421 Oxford Street, 1812-38.

George Buck: Lived 14 Assembly Row, Mile End.

Archibald Campbell: Soldier, who lived at The Grove, Harrow-on-the-Hill. Had been Governor of Jamaica.

Robert Emans Crawley: Bow, Gent. Committee of Management of the company. A grocer who had to take over management of the Bow Works in an emergency.

Leonard Currie: Probably one of the Currie family who had a malt distillery at Bromley by Bow.

George Dacre: West Ham Vestry Clerk, ousted by the parish in 1845. Became an activist in water politics, criticising arrangements in West Ham. Had been the Oil Gas Company’s Secretary.

Thomas Drane: Merchant, 11 Leadenhall Street. In 1846 a Thomas Drane was engineer to the Ceylon Railway.

Joseph Foster: of Joseph Foster and Co., Calico Printers, Bromley by Bow, 1796. Scarlet dyeing for East India Co. Sold out to Hugh Mackintosh in 1823. Lived Upper Clapton and a partner in the Walthamstow Copper Mill. This could be the same, Quaker, Joseph Foster, who was involved with William Allen and Joseph Lancaster in the Borough Road Schools but he is not connected with Foster Bros. bankers and directors of South Metropolitan Gas Company.

James Gale: Shipowner and rope maker, Love Lane, Shadwell.

Joseph Giles: Carpenter, Bow.

George Minshaw Glasscot: Great Garden Street, Whitechapel, brass founder.

Emmanuel Goodhart: Sugar refiner, Limehouse and 4 Ratcliffe Highway. Lived at Beckenham.

George Hardess: Merchant, Wapping. A later address is in Rosherville, Kent. A family web site tells a story of a George Hardess, a refugee from a German aristocratic family, who changed his name. The Rosherville resident is a member of the younger generation and apprenticed to a Gravesend printer.

Sir Elias Harvey: MP, Admiralty. A hero of Trafalgar who later resigned following accusations by Thomas Cochrane. Lived Rolls Park, Claygate, but had considerable Essex connections, and later lived in Chigwell

Frederick Hodgson: Hodgson and Co., Brewers of Bow. 1846 MP Barnstable. Deputy Lieutenant. Tower Hamlets. Hodgson invented India Pale Ale. In 1825 he is said to be Chairman of the Oil Gas Company. Lived (1846) 3 Carlton Gardens.

? Martineau, [no forename is given in the schedule - John is the Engineer. David the sugar refiner].

Jos Norbury: Coppersmith, 202 Whitechapel Road.

Moses Ricardo: First Manager of the Bow Oil Gas Works, Brother of economist, David Ricardo. Member of Royal College of Surgeons 1820, living in Bow. Later moved to Brighton.

John Taylor: mining engineer with a wide range of industrial and scientific interests. His role, together with that of some of his brothers, is a central one in the early gas industry. With John Martineau he set up a company which made equipment for making gas for lighting from oil. Another brother, Richard, was the Editor of Philosophical Magazine.

Philip Taylor: John Taylor's brother, trained as a pharmacist and the developer of numerous chemical processes which the family and their associates were to exploit. He lived in Bromley-by-Bow and he and John Taylor had a chemical works at Stratford.

Mary Tennant: Mrs. Tennant, Bow, had considerable land holdings in the area. She was the mother in law of William Curtis (see above).

S.M. Townsend, Collector, grocer. Samuel Jones Vachell: Bromley- by-Bow and West Ham. Born 1766 and married a Mary Millward, perhaps of the Bromley Steam Mill.

Charles Welstead: 1846 lived 60 Berners Street and at Valentines, Ilford.

Robert Wilson: Dartmouth Street, Westminster. Surveyed the Strand for Taylor and Martineau. Otherwise had no occupation and helped out in his sons' office.

William Meggy, a printer and MP for Great Yarmouth.

Unidentified: Archibald Borden (Clerk), Thomas Chalk, a Quaker, William Blackbone, Henry Brookman, John Giles, John Hillson Giles, Thomas Hillson Giles , Joseph Sumpner Joyner, Abraham Lancaster, Thomas Kinghorn, John Stanyer, Robert Surridge

1 comment:

  1. Mary Tennant was the mother of Sir William Curtis aka Billy Biscuit 1752 - 1829. Alderman, MP and 1795-6 Lord Mayor of London.