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Sunday, 9 August 2009

East London customers for sal ammoniac from early gas companies

There were many sales to purchasers who bought sal ammoniac only. Some of them have not been identified. All those recorded dealt with the Chartered Company. The first eight have been the hardest to identify - and any guess as to who they were is based on the likehood that they were chemists from east London.

'Mr. Tomalin of College Hill' bought the salt in 1830. Was he the Obadiah Tomalin working as a drysalter in nearby Sise Lane? Perhaps he had a warehouse in College Hill - or did the Chartered's officers get the address wrong?

'Arthur Lewis' made an offer for sal ammoniac in 1834. Lewis is a very common name ‑ but perhaps he was the 'drug and colon broker' of Mincing Lane?

'Parsons' was a regular customer for sal ammoniac in the early 1830s.33 It is very tempting to identify him with the West Ham paint manufacturer of the same name. In the 1830s his works were at Belle Isle, near Battlebridge, an area in which several customers of Brick Lane Gas Works were located.

'Pickering' tendered for sal ammoniac in February 1832.35 There were several Pickerings in the London chemical trade in this period any one of which could be the customer concerned. They included a dyer in Finsbury, a varnish manufacturer at Snow Hill, a drug broker at Great St. Helens.

'Curtis' was probably a manufacturing chemist because he offered muriatic acid in exchange for sal ammoniac in February 1831. Alternatively he could be Curtis of Curtis and Harvey the gunpowder manufacturers. William Curtis, who was probably one of the first proprietors of the Imperial Gas Co, had founded the company.

'Fell' enquired about sal ammoniac in 1836. The Fell family was from south London and were Quakers in the leather trade.

'Price and Gifford', asked for the sal ammoniac to be "inssisipated". They were "commercial brokers", which probably meant that they were dealers in chemicals.

'Mr. Ditchburn', could be the shipbuilder, Thomas Ditchburn. He was a partner in the first iron shipbuilding yard at Blackwall in 1834 and involved in a shipyard at Rotherhithe.

The rest were all chemical manufacturers.

'MacMurdo' with his sometime partner, John Pitchford, who had a turpentine manufactory in Stratford.

'Parkes', who probably had a chemical manufacturing business on Bow Common. He was, however, not the author of Chemical Catechism, as W.Parks in his thesis on the Chemical Industry of West Ham suggested.

'Charles Papillon', who had his request to exchange muriatic acid for half cash and half sal ammoniac refused by Chartered. Papillon is, despite its foreign sound, not an unusual name in business circles in nineteenth century London. Charles was probably the son of Pierre Jacques Papillon who had come to Britain from Rouen where he worked under the name of Cigale. He had formerly been in Turkey where he had learnt the 'Turkey Red' dyeing process. He had gone to Manchester and then to Glasgow where he had worked with Charles Mackintosh in the 1770s and 1780s. The process was revolutionary but Papillon and Mackintosh were unable to get on with each other. In 1790 Papillon had given his dye recipe to Dr. Black who found the process impossible and suspected him of duplicity. P.J. & C. Papillon had a cotton dyeing business at Neckinger, Bermondsey in 1817.

'Torr' who also bought tar and ammoniacal liquor. Torr, was an animal charcoal manufacturer, already well known to the Chartered and Phoenix companies. Together with David Richards he had tried to sell Chartered a cheap gasometer in 1815. In 1819 he gave his address as Man's Row, Bow Common and was apparently living in the Mile End Road. From there he bought ammoniacal liquor from Chartered together with complicated instructions for returning the casks. At the Enquiry into the explosion at the Severn and King sugar works he gave an address of 'Boney Court' - this address has not been traced, but Torr continued to have addresses with similarly dead body related resonances. He opened an animal charcoal (burnt bone) works in Trundley's Road, Deptford - an address also variously given as Black Horse Lane (the Black Horse pub and bridge are nearby) and Knacker's Lane. The works was at the north end of Trundley's Road in the area known until around 1990 as Surrey Docks, and since then Surrey Quays. His site has since successively been an LCC tram depot, Molins's art deco cigarette machinery factory, and latterly a Macdonald's burger bar. In Rotherhithe Torr became well known and Torr's field was one where children played and galas were held.

With prosperity Richard Torr moved to Bromley Common, Kent. In 1858 the family went on holiday to Worthing. A boat, carrying the five Torr children and some friends was overturned. Only George, aged five was saved. In 1852 another, older, George Torr had taken out a patent to make charcoal from bones. Young George must have lived to take the company over because Torr's site in Trundley's Road is still shown in 1880 on Bacon's Street Atlas, with houses marked as 'R. Torr Terrace'. Beside the houses is an otherwise unrecorded and totally unexplained 'gasholder'. Did Mr. Torr have his own private gas works?

The family eventually lived in Bourne Hall, Ewell.

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