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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Mr. Pinkess

I find it very hard to believe in a gas works at 49 Ratcliffe Highway, although Mr. Pinkess (or Pinkus, or Pincus) certainly had some dealings with such a body. The reference to this address comes from the minutes of the City of London Gas Company when they were approached by Mr. Pinkus about the ‘new olificiant gas’.

Ratcliffe Highway is today's ‘Highway’ and number 49, is shown on Horwood. It would have been sited on the south side of the road, roughly opposite the end of Cannon Street - near St.George’s Church. It is not that far from Welclose Square and the East London Theatre, but far enough and on the other side of the road. More importantly Horwood shows just a small house or shop in row of similar buildings. I guess Mr. Pincus lived, or had some sort of office there. Who was Pincus and why should we be interested in his claims to be part of the East London Gas Co?

Henry Pinkus came from Philadelphia and in 1826 had done a deal with one Hercules Poynter (or Paynter). The nature of this and its relation to the East London Gas Company was to be crucial some ten years later. Pinkus and Poynter set up something called the Domestic Gas Company. This was a ‘new method’ of making gas (weren’t they all!) in which rather than get your gas from a gas works you made it at home yourself. The gas was made in your ordinary domestic grate and then stored in ‘the cellar or some other convenient location’. Pinkus and Poynter promoted this from an address in the Strand. Whether any of them were ever bought is not known - the suggestion being that the smell kept the customers away.

In the next few years Pinkus acquired a string of patents which related to gas making and similar subjects. It might be noted that at the same time a Henry Pinkus enrolled at University College for a course of natural philosophy, heat and chemistry.

In the 1830s Pinkus seems to have changed his interests from gas to locomotion. In 1834 he advertised a model of atmospheric propulsion, claiming to have been experimenting on this since 1825. He demonstrated this at an address in Wigmore Street in the West End. The project was seen by a number of prominent engineers of the day and, following some changes, a demonstration railway may, or may not, have been built along the Kensington Canal.

The really strange thing about this is that the person who made atmospheric traction work a couple of years later - and who had undoubtedly seen what Pinkus was up to - was none other than Samuel Clegg himself, the father of gas lighting! Within a couple of years Pinkus was suing Clegg for infringement of his patent. As we will see this was not the first time that Pinkus had seen the inside of an English Court of Law.

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