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Sunday, 9 August 2009

Early gas company experiments on ammoniacal by products

It was nearly a year after the Chartered began to make gas that they first investigated the potential of ammoniacal liquor. Then they arranged for 'experiments' to be done. They had set up a 'Committee for Chemistry' to decide which products "are the most saleable and of the least bulk". Having got very little sense out of Accum who demanded money before he would give any relevant information, they began to look for someone else who might know what do to.

At this stage a junior Frederick Albert Winsor appeared on the scene. Persuaded by Winsor, the Chartered directors agreed to ask his son to set up 'practical processes for…. ammoniacal liquor' and to make "such articles as may best suit the interests of the company". The lad was just fifteen in 1813. His career as a barrister, as director of a charity, and his long association with the Chartered, which did not end for another sixty years, could not have been foreseen. Within a few months the Court of Governors called a halt to his work on the project. The laboratories, and the other Pall Mall buildings of Winsor’s first headquarters, were to be demolished as part of John Nash's 'improvements'. An argument ensued when Winsor Jnr. asked for payment. No doubt he was a rather embarrassing teenager who did his best. This episode illustrates the Chartered Gas Company’s commitment to fulfil their promotional promises to shareholders and the public.

Meanwhile some directors began to act on their own initiative. One of them was a Thomas Livesey. The association of the Livesey family with the gas industry was to be a long and famous one. Thomas had bought his way into the Chartered in 1812 and together with a group of friends had organised a take over of the Court of Governors. He stayed with the Company as Deputy Governor for the next thirty years and eventually left because of yet another scandal. Livesey was a City of London based hosier, a bachelor and philanthropist who lived in Hackney, and later Clapton where he was a well known local figure.

When Livesey became a member of the Court he intended to take action and to change things. Finding a use for ammoniacal liquor was a start. He arranged for a sample of the liquor to be sent, for experimental use as a mordant to 'Messrs. Barchard, Hilton and Platt, dyers, Montague Close, Borough'. He also arranged to sell all the 'weak' ammoniacal liquor from Curtain Road 'at 1d.per gallon wine measure' to 'Alcock and Co. of Haggerston' together with "strong liquor for experimenting". What happened to these experiments is not known.

John Van Voorst was not on the Chartered Board, but he was a shareholder and concerned to get some action and effect change in the company. He arranged for 'experiments' to be done by a Mr. Dunstan. Dunstan was an apothecary of Old Broad Street, and was to become a director of the Imperial Gas Co. where he was involved in the usual court cases and financial scandals. He was, however, probably more qualified than young Winsor to undertake chemical investigations. He concluded that ammoniacal liquor would be 'valuable to dyers' and give a "very considerable advantage in producing sulphur salts".

Word was also beginning to get around the manufacturing and scientific community that large amounts of ammonia rich liquid was being produced. Individuals from outside the company also began to ask for samples on which to experiment - for instance, a Mr. Hoskins was sent liquor for "his friends". Sooner or later someone must come up with a good idea.

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