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Friday, 7 August 2009

Croll - The Brave Soldier. The Battle of Bow Bridge

To cut a very long story short - in the 1850s the Great Central Gas Works was opened on Bow Common in the presence of the Lord Mayor and with a great deal of ceremony. The main buildings still stand, although ruinous, in the 1990s. The idea was to have an out of town works which supplied the City of London and in which the City had a large financial stake. It also meant that the existing City of London Company works on an undesirable inner city site at Blackfriars could be persuaded to close.

During the laying of gas mains for the Great Central the incident mentioned at the start of this chapter took place. The Great Central Company wanted to lay mains across Bow Bridge but were opposed by other Gas companies - while supported by the local authority. In the early hours of the morning the Secretary of the Commercial Gas Company committed a technical assault on the beadle by touching his shoulder. Barricades were built, and manned by 200 workmen, in order that the Commercial Company's mains could remain in place for the three days required to make them permanent under the law. A contingent of Great Central workmen stormed the barricades and tore down the pipes. Great Central and Croll were declared the winners. Regrettably Croll's management skills were not of the same order - the Great Central Gas Works quickly became a by word for chaos and bad practice. There were a number of prosecutions for nuisance.

Croll had considerable military pretensions. He was closely connected with the volunteer movement - his title of Colonel came from work with the Tower Hamlets Volunteer Engineers. In later years this body had its training ground close to the place where Beckton gas works was built in the late 1860s. It must have been co-incidental that a major dispute, eventually settled by the War Office, arose over this ground. Bullets, it appeared, from Volunteer rifles were flying over the heads of those building the new works. Perhaps it was just an echo of the Battle of Bow Bridge.

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