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Friday, 7 August 2009

Conclusion - East London Gas and Chemicals

At the end of this saga there really is very little to say. The London Gas Industry provided a raw material for surrounding industry, and some people made a lot of money out of it! It can be assumed that it created impetus for other industries.

Despite some initial problems tar sales were soon under way following on the work of established tar producers like the British Tar Company. Tar was to provide a raw material for a wide range of industries which grew up in the shadows of many east London gas works. Although the gas companies failed with their own tar works these were taken over and made successful by others whose main interest was in tar distillation.

Ammonical liquor too provided a useful base for local industrial activity once its nature was understood. It was taken up and exploited by industrial chemists who were able to use it as a raw material and who also acted as agents for the sale of ammonia products, made from gas works raw materials, and used by numerous industries in east London and beyond. In addition chemicals were produced as a result of gas purification processes developed by independent chemists and then sold to other industries.

Coke is easily recognised as a useful fuel and its sale and use by other industries is easily recognised. Beyond these three products are a few others which have not been covered in this work. For instance carbon scraped from inside used retorts is known to have been used by some other local industries – but it is unlikely that this trade was ever a large one.

The position of the early gas industry as a source or raw materials to other industries is one which needs to be studied in more detail, perhaps on an area basis. One such, for example, might be the Greenwich Peninsula. In Greenwich the landowner of a riverside strip was a Blackheath based charity, Morden College. In the 1840s this strip was developed for industry by the College who leased plots to a industrialists who were given a remit to develop and sub-let while exploiting the site for their own use. It is remarkable that of the initial four lesses, three were involved in tar distillation – the third, Coles Child, being a coal merchant. Of the three distillers one – Bethel, later Improved Wood Paving – was still on site neasrly 100 years later. Study of the sub-tenants and of the surrounding industry as it arrived in Greenwich shows a preponderance of industries with a use for gas industry waste products of one kind or another.1

The gas industry has never been show to have a key role in the industrial revolution – a closer examination might reveal it as a driving force.

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