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Thursday, 6 August 2009


Whitechapel, in east London, must have had one of the highest concentrations of early gas works in the world - they will continue to be scattered through these pages for some time yet. The only evidence for the plant at Liptrap is in the Boulton and Watt archive in Birmingham. There, scribbled on a piece of paper which, from other evidence, dates from around 1811, are the words 'Liptrap, Whitechapel'. The words seem to be associated with a sketch of a gas making plant.

Liptrap were certainly customers of Boulton and Watt who had supplied them with a 17 inch rotative engine in 1786. Dickinson gives some detail of their unusual gearing arrangement. Several of Boulton and Watt's customers diversified into gas making equipment when it was available, and so why not Liptrap?

Who were they? Davey E.Liptrap appears in the Mile End Old Town Rate Books but the site location is not clear in that source. In 1800, in the dense urban area of Whitechapel a number of authorities were able to levy rates. While Mile End Old Town collected money to support the, no doubt very numerous, poor, money to pay for sewage disposal went to the Spitalfields Sewer Commissioners. It was in the Sewage Commission rate books for 1818 that I found two entries for adjacent sites on 'Tickle Belly Common' - they were 'Liptrap. Prop, 8 Bucks Row' and 'Liptrap & Thomas Smith, whole premises'.

Bucks Row is not hard to track down. It is today, Durward Street plus a triangular open space at the back of Whitechapel Station, on which an old school has now been turned into flats. On the 1813 edition of the Horwood plan it is quite clearly shown but called 'Ducking Pond Row’ - another place name which implies a rural past for Whitechapel, something which, I am sure, was just a very distant memory in 1800.

Who was Thomas Smith? Munby says, from evidence he found in a Parliamentary report, ''The firm of T. & G. Smith of Whitechapel .... .. in Durward Street ..... was one of twelve distillers in England in 1832, and the second largest of these'. On the Horwood plan there is indeed a large distillery site on the north side of the street - today it is under a Sainsbury store (what else?). So - we have come a long way from a tiny scrap of paper to the second largest distillery in England!

Did they have an on-site gasworks? I really don't know and there may be no way of being certain but it does seem very likely.

What I do know is that if we add in all the distilleries around East London, that area must have been producing a very, very large percentage of the total alcohol produced in England. The distillery out at Three Mills was also very, very large .... and they really did have a gas works.

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