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Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Mr Flockton

In the case of Mr. Kempson, and many others, it is only possible to guess what their trade was and why they wanted to buy tar. There are, however, a number of recorded purchasers about whose intentions guesses are slightly better informed. One such was active later, in the 1830s ‑ Mr. Flockton of Bermondsey.

By the 1830, tar had found some markets and Flockton was one of those who seemed to know what they were and the best way of getting himself, and his tar distillates, into them.

Webster Flockton first bought tar from the Chartered in 1828. In 1836 he registered a patent for timber preservation ‑only a few months after the opening of the first railway station in London, Spa Road, on the London and Greenwich Railway. It may, or may not, be a coincidence that the station was next to Mr. Flockton's tar works.

It may seem natural that railways should need tar ‑ for the preservation of timber sleepers - indeed, this is a subject to be discussed later. London and Greenwich used stone blocks for sleepers at first - an unused pile of which could still be seen at New Cross Station into the 1990s. The company changed to wooden sleepers, two years after opening in 1838.

The London and Greenwich Railway had from the start, its own gas works, producing gas for station and line‑side lighting. Mr. Flockton appears to have had an interest in this enterprise, which soon after opening was taken over by the specially constituted Deptford, Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Gas Company - of which Mr. Flockton was a director.

In 1840 a meeting of the railway company shareholders questioned their Directors' interests in a number of companies supplying plant and materials to the various railway companies in the area, including London and Greenwich - perhaps Mr. Flockton was one of those they had in mind.

Mr. Flockton seems to have prospered. By 1839 there were branches of his tar and oil business in Bermondsey and Weybridge - both sites near the entrance into the Thames from canals, the Grand Surrey and the Wey Navigation. The business was described as 'turpentine & tar distillers, and seed crushers' ‑a common enough combination of activities for what was basically an oil distillery. Many such businesses ‑like the long established Charles Price oil distillery on Millwall -were to produce timber preservatives of various kinds. By the 1860s, in partnership with others, Flockton had moved to Plough Lane, Rotherhithe - nearer to the Surrey Canal and an area where several other tar distillers were sited.

He is an example of a tar buyer who seems to have had a clear purpose - and perhaps the benefit of the experience of those who had failed, like Mr. Kempson. Flockton appears to have flourished.

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