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Wednesday, 12 August 2009

the patent coke company

To the first promoters of the Chartered Company it seemed that the manufacture and sale of coke was as important as the production of gas for lighting. Frederick Albert Winsor wrote several pamphlets promoting the company. His first, in 1804, was called

'The Superiority Of The New Patent Coke Over The Use Of Coals, In All Family Concerns, Displayed Every Evening, At The Large Theatre, Lyceum, Strand ....' Addressed To All The Enlightened Inhabitants Of London And The British Empire'.

The second, which also appeared in 1804, was

'New Patriotic Company, Imperial & National Patent Company, For Establishing Sundry Manufactories To Make & Extract For Home Consumption & Exportation, Coke, Charcoal, Ammonia, Acids, Oil, Tar, Chemical Salts, &c. From All The Combustibles In Nature; & For Applying The Inflammable Air Obtained From The Raw Fuel To The Purposes Of Heating, Boiling, Smelting, Lighting, Illuminating'.

This second leaflet makes it seem that the most important activity of the proposed company would be to make coke, and chemicals. The manufacture of 'inflammable air' appears as the third activity by a very long way. It appears as if Winsor's first intention was to start a coke company - to which 'gas' was added as an afterthought.

There is more evidence for Winsor's original intentions. In 1818, seven years after the Chartered Company had begun manufacture, 'coke' was included as an entry in Abraham Rees' Encyclopedia. Rees highlights a patent held by 'Mr. Winsor ... for the manufacture of a superior kind of coke'. That Rees picked on Winsor as a major element in coke manufacture suggests that Winsor's publicity methods had been successful and that he was seen as the purveyor of something new and exciting and that was - coke.

Of course many of the claims about coke which were made before the launch of the Chartered Company were just 'puffs', aimed at attracting finance. The public might be more ready to invest in coke ‑ which was already in use and profitable - than in gas lighting which was still unknown. Accum's claims at the 1809 Enquiry need not be taken too seriously because he was a paid consultant employed to ratify the virtues of coke, and whatever else was wanted.

The Chartered Company's emphasis on 'coke' at the 1809 Parliamentary Enquiry can be shown to partly be tactical. Their defence strategy was described in a brief drawn up by Boulton and Watt's lawyers and now in the Birmingham archive. In this it was said that Chartered were to mount 'the defence of a corporate coke company'. It has already been suggested above that Winsor's supporters saw the promotion of by-products of a way of avoiding a confrontation with Boulton and Watt on arguments about the priority of invention of gas for lighting. For one reason or another before the Enquiry James Watt Jnr. sent a note to 'Patent Coke Office Pall Mall - the pencilled address is in his handwriting.This is the same Pall Mall address as that at which Winsor was giving lectures and demonstrations of gas lighting.

Winsor was not the only person to produce something called 'patent coke'. He himself mentioned 'that celebrated haacter (sic) Doctor Clarke'13 who set up a patent coke company in 1804.' He also described a 'phantasmagory celebrity', a Mr. Philipstall 'who subscribed to a patent coke company'.14 Patent coke seems to have been a feature of the period. It was a way of identifying the product.

Sales were to be either to industry or for use in the home but Winsor wrote his leaflet about patent coke to interest the potential domestic and set his descriptions of use in the home. Coke used in a domestic setting would not necessarily be suitable for industrial use - although knowledge about types of coke was limited in 1804. Winsor avoided discussion on this point by saying that his coke could, with extra firing, be used by industry. Coke was known to industry and perhaps needed less advertisement but nevertheless it was clearly hoped to appeal to potential customers both in the home and the workplace.

The Chartered Company, and probably several of its successors, was set up with the manufacture of coke very much in mind. The 'Gas Light and Coke Company' could just as well have been called the 'Coke and Gas Light Company' and there would have been no difference in its activities.

When the new company began business, coke sales were relatively easy to set up, in contrast to some other proposed activities. There has been a great deal of emphasis on gas, its early manufacture and sale. It may have been the coke sales that got the first companies up and running.

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