Search This Blog

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Making and selling gas

Once in existence the new company needed to set up a works to make and sell gas ‑something about which they were surprisingly ignorant.

The Court of Governors invited Winsor to a meeting and offered him the post of 'engineer' - chief officer to the company. Problems arose immediately and they recorded, 'it was at once apparent ... that no reliance whatever could be placed on Winsor's aid'.

Accordingly they next set up a 'Committee for Chemistry' which was to look into how to make gas. At its first meeting, in May 1812, the Committee questioned Frederick Christian Accum. He had been their chemical advisor and had given evidence on their behalf to the 1809 Committee of Enquiry - a bad omen because at that Enquiry he had refused to continue in the middle of cross-examination because he had not been paid. At the meeting of the Committee for Chemistry Accum's first answers were clear and co‑operative, but more questions led to long inconclusive answers and another request for payment. The new Company had thus, in its first year, lost the two people, Accum and Winsor, on whom it had most depended for technical expertise.

Some members of the Court of Governors of The Chartered had some gas making knowledge. Two directors, Hargreaves and Barlow proceeded independently of one another to develop their own plans for producing gas. Their combined knowledge was not very great. Accum, who had lectured and written on gas making had been seen as the expert, but, when asked to design a gas works in Shoreditch, he was not very successful. None of this added up to anything very much.

Some gas was certainly made. Winsor seems to have had a gas-making site on Millbank. Gas was also made in the company's Pall Mall Offices previously occupied by Winsor and his friend 'Professor' Hardie as the 'Theatre of Science'. The first actual works opened by the Chartered Company was on a small site in Cannon Street Row, off Whitehall, and soon closed.

The setting up gas manufacture by the Chartered Company thus seems to have been rather haphazard. The company was in desperate need of someone who actually knew about coal gas manufacture. In January 1813, they appointed a consultant, Samuel Clegg. He had been a student of the scientist, John Dalton, in Manchester and later part of the Boulton and Watt gas lighting development team. He had then come to London where he had recently installed a gas lighting plant at Ackerman's print works in the Strand. He brought thirteen experienced staff with him. Clegg's 'young men' - and they really were young - learnt their trade in these early days and then went out to build gas works around Britain and the world.

While the gas making process was being sorted out, other Chartered Company directors negotiated with local authorities and agreed the first contracts for street lighting. To fulfil these orders the Company opened a works in Great Peter Street, Westminster, and another, following a contract with the Liberty of Norton Folgate, at Curtain Road in Shoreditch. Gas was first supplied to streetlights in Westminster in August 1813.

Under Clegg's direction the Company built another new works. This was in Brick Lane (now Central Street), Clerkenwell and became popularly known as 'The Great Gas Manufactory'

No comments:

Post a Comment