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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The British Gas Light Co.

It is a great pity that there will be so little to say about what was probably one of the most important of these east London works. The British Gas Light Company (not to be confused with British Gas!) was a large, national and very successful gas company which remained in business - although not in London - until nationalisation in 1949. It appears, however, that none of their earliest records have survived and very little is known about their early London operations
The riverside area near which the British Company's Wharf would have stood. Today this area is covered by ziggurat flats.

The British Gas Light Company - which closely mirrors the international Imperial Continental Gas Association - was set up by a group of rich industrialists among whom banker members of the Attwood family were prominent. The Company's Engineer was George Landmann, ex Royal Engineer and constructor of the Greenwich Railway. William Congreve was also involved.

The following list of subscribers to the British Company will demonstrate that these are people of a very different sort to the local traders and businessmen who had invested in the many other east London gas companies. These men are rich, often self made and making an investment in both technology and politics.

Benjamin Attwood: The Attwood family are an extremely interesting and important group. As a family they promoted many activities involved in the ‘industrial revolution’. Their roots lay in the Corngreaves Estate, near Dudley in the West Midlands, where they had owned an ironworks and used it as a base to promote other industries. A younger generation of Attwoods scattered to set up their own industrial empires in various parts of the country - chemicals, iron and steel, glass, railways and so on. One family member was Thomas Attwood the radical member of Parliament. Benjamin Attwood was a glass manufacturer. He was very rich and gave widely to charity. He was also a director of the Imperial Continental Gas Association. His son, Wolverley, became MP for Greenwich.

Mathias Attwood: A banker of Gracechurch Street and Birmingham who had made his fortune from a monopoly in Swedish iron. Politically he had Chartist links and was a currency reformer who worked with Cobbett. He became MP for Whitehaven. He lived at Muswell Hill and later 27 Grosvenor Street as well as Leasownes, Shropshire and, 1846, Streatham Park. Mathias was treasurer to the London and Greenwich Railway and was also treasurer to the projected London & Birmingham, Birmingham & Liverpool and Grand Junction Railways.

Thomas Starling Benson: A Timber Merchant. Lived in Russell Square, and later at 2 Paper Buildings, Temple and The Manor House, Teddington. Later at Sanderstead Court, Purley. He was also a founder subscriber to the Imperial Continental Gas Association and the South London Dock Company. The Benson family were active in the West Country and South Wales, contributing greatly to the economy and politics of the area.

Thomas Hamlet: Lived in Cavendish Square and at Denham Court, near Uxbridge. A goldsmith and jeweller based at 1 Princes Street, Leicester Square.

John Key ‘Don Key’ - a City of London Alderman and Lord Mayor 1831-2. Key lived in Denmark Hill, was a wholesale stationer and Master of the Stationers Co. His role in the earliest days of gas lighting has already been described under 'Golden Lane Brewery' and there is a picture of him in that section. He was later MP for the City of London’.

George Landmann: A Military Engineer, trained at Woolwich who continued with a distinguished career in Canada and the Peninsula War – where he reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In 1830s he was engineer to the Greenwich Railway Company building the massive brick viaduct which still carries trains through South London. A close personal friend of Congreve.

James Lett: Lived in Woodford and was a director of British Steam Navigation.

Samuel Eustace Magan: Nothing more known than an address in Austin Friars.

Alexander Milne: A surveyor who worked with Nash on West End improvements.. Lived at Court Yard, Eltham, adjacent to Eltham Palace but gave his address at 1 Whitehall. A Commissioner for Woods and Forests, and for Improving London.

Edward Stewart: Gave an address in Broad Street as a merchant - but this is also the name of a contemporary Irish nobleman.

William Thompson: A lead merchant, based at All Hallows Wharf and Upper Thames Street. MP for Westmorland and a City of London Alderman. In 1846 he lived at 12 Whitehall Place, at Pennydarryn House, Merthyr Tydvil and at Underley Hall, Westmoreland.

George Byrom Whittaker: A bookseller of Ave Maria Lane. In 1824 Sheriff of London and Middlesex. An MP and a railway director. In 1846 he lived at 20 Upper Phillimore Place.

John Wilkin: Gave an address in Spring Gardens. A lawyer and a member of the Queen’s Bench.

Jacob George Wrench: Gave an address in Grove Hill, Camberwell. A seed merchant of King William Street.

Thomas Harrison, Unidentified:

The Company set up a number of provincial works, initially in areas where whale oil, for oil gas, would be readily available. These ‘provincial’ works were in slightly different commercial structure to the London works and most survived into the 1940s.563 The Company was set up to serve the nation and to do it efficiently.

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