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Friday, 7 August 2009

Oil Gas

'Gas and Water' has become a cliché as part of the history of the growth of urban areas. They nevertheless provided a very real basis for urban growth at the same time as they caused problems. The early gas industry was being criticised for putting its effluent into the water system while it was simultaneously being asked about the cleanliness of the gas it was selling. A number of suggestions were made to solve these interrelated problems.

One suggested solution was in the promotion of companies selling gas made from oil rather than coal. Oil gas works were designed, promoted and sold by a company known as ‘’Taylor and Martineau’. Oil gas had been patented by John & Philip Taylor. John Taylor was the mining engineer, Philip was his brother. Together with John Martineau they had set up an engineering company, based initially in Whitecross Street and then Winsor Iron Works, City Road. They developed and sold a range of machinery including printing presses and steam engines. They also promoted Oil Gas Companies around the country

One of the selling points for oil gas was its comparative 'purity'. Witness after witness testified to this at the Enquiry into a proposed London and Westminster Oil Gas Company. Oil gas was advertised as being without noxious effluent or dangerous vapours. At the Enquiry a long procession of local traders testified to the damage, or otherwise, done to their stock by coal gas used for lighting in their premises.34 The coal gas industry fought back and presented evidence on the efforts made to solve the problem. This included a contribution made by scientists working from outside the industry.

The failure of the London & Westminster Oil Gas Bill has been attributed to the 'extraordinarily lucid evidence' given on behalf of the coal gas interests by George Lowe. Lowe was able to demonstrate by 'exhaustive comparative tests' differences between oil and coal gas; his work was endorsed by John Dalton who described him as 'competent as much as any person could be'.

Lowe had come to the attention of the London gas industry following his letters to the scientific press. He had demonstrated to the Chartered company a means of purifying foul effluent with charcoal and evaporating it in pans under the retorts. As a result he had been taken on as superintendent at Curtain Road. Evaporation did not prove the complete answer but it helped cut down the amount to be disposed of elsewhere. The description of Lowe as a 'gas engineer' is significant. It demonstrates that the gas industry now had a name for those it employed with technical expertise, albeit self educated.

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