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Saturday, 8 August 2009

Locations of industrial chemists who bought gas industry chemicals in the 19th century

The sites from which these chemists operated were concentrated towards the east of London and all, except one was in the modern metropolitan area. This exception was Firmin who bought ammonia salts and liquor from the 1820s. George (or Richard) Firmin was, like some others among this list, a friend of Philip Taylor. Firmin was one of the instigators of the Colchester Gas works where he became manager and installed oil gas making machinery from Taylor and Martineau. By the late 1830s he had abandoned this and moved to an address in Great Alie Street near the Tower of London. The directory entries change to 'Mrs. George Firmin' in this period and by the 1860s the company had moved to Borough Road. in Southwark.

The gas company records examined have all been in East or East Central London and it may be inevitable that the chemists too have an east London bias. The most westerly identified, were Foot and Co, in Battersea, mentioned above. Only two other sites are found in inner south London. Macdonald's saltpetre work was in today's Southwark Street then known as 'The Grove' Great Guildford Street. Macdonald however dealt with the gas companies from his City office at 62 Old Broad Street. He tendered for liquor from several companies and sold acids to them.

The only company possibly based in Bermondsey was MacMurdo. This name sometimes occurs in combination with Pitchford and together they were Stratford based. However, the same, or another Mr. MacMurdo operated chemical works in Abbey Street, Bermondsey, together with a Mr. Davey (another name that crops up in several other combinations).

He may have bought liquor alone - the minutes are not clear on this point. MacMurdo, along with Hills and some others, exhibited ammonia salts at the 1851 Great Exhibition.

Some chemists bought for a period of many years. Those who bought from the first tended to come from areas adjacent to the City.

To the north of the City was Wilkinson. The minutes are not clear how many Mr. Wilkinsons bought ammonia from the gas companies. One is listed in 1823 as 'of Battlebridge' - that is the area to the immediate north east of today's Kings Cross. In 1839 a Thomas Wilkinson has a varnish and japan manufacturer in a Holloway Road, near Kings Cross, and this could be the same person. He is almost certainly a forerunner of Wilkinson, Heywood and Clark who were in 9 Caledonian Road before 1876 and later moved to West Drayton. However the connections of a Mr. Wilkinson with the future Wilkinson Sword company has been noted above and there are other candidates - in particular as the owner of a large chemical works on the Surrey canal. They may well have all been separate organisations but all seem to have bought liquor from the gas companies.

In the Haggerston area Pryce has been noted above. Another chemist with a works in the area was Copeman who had a site at Haggerston.


The remainder were sited to the east of London and north of the Thames. One group can be found in Millwall although they did not really begin to move there until the 1830s and after. They include Richard Laming and Owen and Mertens who are described in detail elsewhere in connection with purification patents.

One important ammonia manufacturer was George Elliott who had bought in auction the Imperials' defunct Millwall products works. He also is described elsewhere.

A number of chemists operated in Stratford. Crane is described above. MacMurdo also mentioned above, was in partnership with Pitchford at Tokenhouse Yard in Stratford where they are described as turpentine manufacturers. John Pitchford seems to have had interests also on Bow Common. He was another friend of John Taylor from Norwich and a close personal associate of the Quaker banking families of Frys and Gurneys, themselves Essex based. Elizabeth Fry. the prison reformer, lived in Plaistow and knew Pitchford. He was the son of a surgeon and a member of the Chemical Society. Pitchford Road in West Ham probably commemorates him.

Perhaps the most typical Stratford ammonia purchaser is Mr. Crow. Thomas Crow had an ammonia works and a laboratory near what is still known as Crows Road, in West Ham - on the edge of the Imperial Gas Works at Bromley by Bow. He dealt with several of the gas companies for a range of products. In 1836 Thomas Crow rented Westbury House in Barking, and was probably a Conservator of the River Lea- both implying considerable prosperity. In the 1850s a Mr. Edward Crow established a sulphate of ammonia works on the east side of Barking Creekmouth. It is very likely that this was a second generation of the same family moving to an expanded greenfield site.

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