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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Caslon

In 1823 The Imperial Gas Company bought a gas works in ‘Dutton Street’ from a William Caslon in 1823. There are several subsequent references to the equipment at this site in the Minute Books of the Imperial Company.

Dutton Street is not easy to track down, since both the road and the road name seem to have vanished with the construction of tenement blocks on the site in the late nineteenth century. It was a turning off what is now Lucas Street at the Kings Cross end of Grays Inn Road. Lucas Street was previously Cromer Street and a long thing strip of land to the north of it had been acquired by a Joseph Lucas and developed for housing from about 1800. In April 1817 the estate’s management committee opened discussions with a Mr. William Caslon about gas lighting for the area.

Both Everard and Stewart say that this was ‘the typefounder'.- and, as the William Caslon who subscribed to the City of London Gas Company, is described as such, it is likely that it is the same person. ‘Caslon’ as the name of a typefounder and the type style he designed is, of course, famous. This William Caslon had, however, died in 1766 and, whoever it was that had an interest in gas manufacture, was of a generation likely to be his grandchildren.

By the 1820s there were two Caslon typefounding businesses. The original Caslon foundry in Chiswell Street had been managed by the wife of the first William Caslon’s son, and then by her daughter in law. From 1809 onwards this business was in hands of her son, Henry Caslon. The present company has no information or knowledge at all about either a gas works or Dutton Street.

A third William Caslon had sold his shares in the original business and bought a different type foundry which had belonged to a Joseph Jackson and from 1807 this business was run by his son, yet another William. It must be assumed that the Dutton Street gas works was set up by one of these, either father or son. This Caslon typefoundery was in Dorset Street, Salisbury Square - immediately adjacent to the works of the City Gas Co. and so is likely to be the same man who invested in the City Company.

In 1800 the Cromer-Lucas estate had considerable pretensions. There were gates into the estate and an elected residents committee, sworn in as Commissioners of Paving, who employed staff – a scavenger, watchmen and so on – and who negotiated with Caslon and tried to impose some sort of standards on the gas works and the lights it provided.

The gas works was actually on the estate, among the houses and soon things started to go wrong. By November 1821 there were complaints that the lights were not ‘properly lit’ and in June 1822 a very strong complaint was made that the gas works ‘had of late become so great a nuisance that it was almost impossible to live in the neighbourhood’. There were threats that the works would ‘be indicted’. Perhaps inevitably it was soon closed. The Paving Commissioners received a letter from the Imperial Gas Company in May 1823 to say that they had purchased the works – and the Commissioners replied that Mr. Caslon had not told them of an intention to sell. In June Caslon told them that the works would be ‘gone in two months’ – which implies that a great deal of pressure was being applied, perhaps by local residents, to close the works down. It was indeed closed by the Imperial Company, some of the equipment was transferred to their new Fulham works after 1829.

The site in Dutton Street must have been difficult to relet and the estate records show it vacant for many years, let for short periods to other industrial concerns. It was not until 1851 that it was permanently let, and then to a private school – and a school is shown on the west side of Dutton Street on Bacon’s Street Atlas of 1888.

By the late 1880s the Cromer-Lucas estate had descended into slum property and around 1900 a number of tenement blocks were built by the East End Improved Dwellings Company – and most of these still remain on site. At the eastern, narrower, end is a more recent block of flats. It is impossible today to work out the exact street pattern of two hundred years ago and the location of Caslon’s Gas Works. Today this is an area of high crime and all the dwellings on the site are fortified – the new flats aggressively so. In the early 1800s residents also felt sufficiently insecure to provide gates – and new street lighting – on their new private estate.

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