POPLAR GAS COMPANY
The Poplar Gas Company is an early example of something which was to become very common in the gas industry - a purpose built works provided by a contractor - often described then as an ‘ironmonger‘ - or, more accurately, an 'iron founder'. The entrepreneur set the site up, provided some sort of management and then passed it on to another body - in some cases this would be a local authority and several works like this were built at the request of local people. A number of companies developed which provided this sort of service and some others will be described in regard to works at Greenwich and Woolwich. Members of the Barlow family seem to have been the earliest to undertake this sort of activity.
The Poplar Gas Company was set up by members of the Barlow family. The first proprietors were
John Barlow - the Sheffield ironfounder
George Barlow: his brother
William Wheatcroft: Had previously worked for the City Co. In 1839 a William Wheatcroft was a brass founder in Clerkenwell - and presumably was the source of the finance.
A speculative gas works built in order to pass on to a management body. Sited in the heart of the east end and very near the new West India Dock complex and port activity. It is still an open question as to how far the continued development of the port area in this period influenced and was influenced by the number of gas works built nearby.
One historic gas works site was in Docklands – it is now covered by road widening in Ming Street, Poplar (once called 'King Street' and, before that, 'Back Lane').
The gas works site can clearly be seen on Crutchley’s New Plan of London (1829). It was known as Poplar Gas Works and was built by members of the Barlow family on behalf of a Mr.Wheatcroft. William Wheatcroft had previously been employed as a foreman with the City of London Gas Co. He was probably one of many contemporaries who thought that they were onto something good with a gas works. In 1824 17 people living in Robin Hood Lane signed a petition urging Poplar Vestry to buy gas for street lighting and the Barlows were ready with a gas works for them.
The Barlow family were one of number of such groupings specialising in ready made gas works. John Barlow was from Sheffield and he had set up an iron foundry at Wenlock Iron Wharf, City Road Basin. He had eight sons and as a result few early gas companies were without a Barlow somewhere.
Poplar works cost £16,000 to build and was adjacent to the West India Dock wall. The Dock Company, frightened of fire, insisted on certain standards of gas holder design. Barlow seems to have 'failed' before 1827 and the works was run by a committee of unnamed proprietors under the direction of - 'William Smith, Clerk'.
They were under pressure of competition from both the Commercial and British Gas Companies and in 1846 lost the parish lighting contract. The works was closed in 1852. Stewart says that between 1840 and 1849 it was run (like so much else) by F.J.Evans, of the Gas Light & Coke Co. and sold to the Commercial Company in 1849. Poplar was typical of many small gas works, which mushroomed up in the early 1820s, suffered a bankruptcy and were gone within a few years.
Poplar Gas Works is shown on a map of 1847 – standing on the edge of the West India Dock and the Blackwall Railway. The area is now one of intense redevelopment but both dock and railway (as the Docklands Light Railway) remain. Some of the Georgian warehouses shown along the north side of the West India Dock have been saved to become the Docklands Museum.
The area has undergone numerous changes since the works was built and closed. In the 1980s it became part of the London Dockland Development Corporation’s area and was cleared as part of a road widening scheme. It is still possible to find Ming Street but the old gas works site is now near the junction of two major, and busy, roads.