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Wednesday, 12 August 2009


Coke is the best known of gas industry waste products and in terms of early sales is the simplest to deal with. That is not to say that it is uninteresting - but that there is not much more to say than that the early company promoters said that it could be sold, and that it was sold - much as they predicted.

This chapter will look briefly at the background to coke manufacture and promotion in London and at the ideas which Winsor and the early Gas Light and Coke had for it. A following chapter will briefly look at some of the subsequent uses by industry.


By 1800 coke had already been purposely made from carbonised coal for at least a hundred years. Abraham Darby's use of coke to smelt iron in 17091 is, perhaps, the example which comes to mind most readily.

Development of manufacturing methods had begun considerably before 1709 and some of the earliest recorded experiments had taken place, in Greenwich and Deptford. In 1656 John Evelyn described experiments he had seen in 'charking sea coal near the Greenwich Ferry ' This was in works set up by Sir John Winter, at that time apparently restricted in the Tower of London. This may be connected with the 1659 patent of Thomas Peyton of Deptford for a method of making 'Coke'. These experiments with coke may be connected to the local copperas industry. At least two copperas works opened alongside Deptford Creek during the seventeenth century ‑ started by members of a loose grouping of Royalist entrepreneurs. This group included associates of both Peyton and Winter most of who would have been well known to Evelyn.

Coke, therefore, had been known, and used, for at least a hundred and fifty years before 18005 and was, probably, very familiar. The approach of the early gas industry to coke was different to that taken to the other by-products. Coke had a market, which was known, and sales proceeded.

Doubtless the promoters of the Chartered Company had done some homework on the subject first. In 1800 Bishop Watson, Professor of Chemistry at Cambridge, published a book in which, among other things, he described coke, and its industrial applications. Frederick Albert Winsor acknowledged Watson's influence on him by sending him a copy of his coke pamphlet inscribed 'with greatest respects from the author'. This is probably a very rare occasion on which it is possible to show some influence from academic world on the early gas industry.


In 1809 the gas company promoters took care to draw to the public's attention the use of coke in the workplace. One way of doing this had been to bring evidence to the 1809 Parliamentary Enquiry. Some time at the beginning of the Enquiry was taken up with evidence given about the use of coke - 'Mr. Winsor's' and other - in a Lambeth blast furnace - more details about this are given below. Naturally 'Mr. Winsor's' was found to produce much better results.

There is however very little to be said about coke sales by the early gas companies beyond what can be deduced from ordinary common knowledge. Coke was sold, and continued to be sold from the start of the industry until coal was no longer used to make gas.

Analysis of early sales is difficult because the gas companies left very few records about them. Company minute books and ledgers refer to coke sales but not on a day to day basis. They recorded the unusual - large or difficult sales - but not the ordinary. Even total sales figures over more than a very short period are rarely available.

Two elements of coke sales will be explored here. One is a comment on the original intentions of the gas companies towards coke. The other is a brief look at some of the known customers for gas company coke.

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