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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The Promoters of the Imperial Gas Company

Who were the men who set up the Imperial Gas Company? The following list is taken from the preamble to the Company’s first enabling Act of Parliament and describes those who were prepared to put their name to it. Where possible short biographies are also given.

Everard and Matthews, in their accounts of the Imperial Company, make great play of the financial mismanagement and irregularities in its early years. It is also true that some of the leading players - in particular the Clarks - have eluded very much research into their exact identities, although, as many others, those with common names are often very difficult to pin down.

What has emerged from those proprietors who have been identified are three strands of mutual interest. One, is that those members who seem to come from the London area often have a connection with clock and instrument making and, perhaps, the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers. The influence of City Livery Companies in new initiatives like gas making should never be underestimated.

A second strand is the possible input of investors from the American and Canadian seaboards - and some irregularities noted by Everard and Matthews which could be explained by absentee shareholders. People who made money out of whale oil and fishing may have a felt a need to put their profits into a new technology which might be heralding the future demise of their business – that of supplying fish oil for street lighting.

The last strand is investment coming from leading interests in North East England - Newcastle and Sunderland. Members of the Surtees family were major figures in financial and civic circles in Newcastle on Tyne and it is wholly understandable that they should invest in a new industry destined to become a major coal user.

The Company’s first Chairman:

Rowland Edward Williams: Almost nothing has been discovered about him. Both Sterling Everard and Derek Matthews interpreted his “Shaking signature” as that of “a senile old gentleman" and took this as a sign that he was put into post as a malleable, dummy candidate -although shaky handwriting can have many causes, most of which don’t necessarily mean mental incapacity. Nevertheless very little is known about Williams. He died in 1826 soon after the Company began business.

and the Company architect:

Francis Edwards: An artist and architect who won prizes and exhibited at the Royal Academy. As an architect he had been described as a "public house and brewery man". He was a pupil of Sir John Soane who, among other things, laid out and built the Milner-Gibson estate in Islington as well as, of course, the St.Pancras Works, and the Millwall Products works for the Imperial Gas Co.

Both Everard and Matthews accepted that the leading light in the Company was:

Joseph Clarke: Clarke is one of the most interesting - and difficult to trace - investors in the Imperial Company. His career in the Company was outlined by Sterling Everard, who said that Clarke 'made himself indispensable' along with his brother, Henry, the Company Clerk. In 1825 the Company borrowed £10,000 from Joseph Clarke to pay a dividend following a number of accusations about Henry Clarke’s financial management.

The Clarke brothers were involved, along with William Congreve, in the scandal over the Arigna Iron Company mining shares. A number of Imperial Gas Company shareholders' meetings following these revelations were held at which Henry Clarke was voted out of office. In 1829 another scandal concerning embezzlement of funds emerged and Joseph Clarke, with some others was asked to resign - which he did. He was then taken to court by the gas company, but had gone to Ireland, presumably on Arigna business. He was eventually jailed over the Aringa affair.

Joseph Clarke lived at Kilburn Priory and he and his brothers were said to be ‘scavengers and contracting dustmen’. He was also a subscriber to Imperial Continental Gas Association and United General Gas Company. Beyond this nothing very much has emerged.

A Joseph Clarke was employed by the Imperial Gas Company as a works superintendent, dying in the 1870s - but it is very unlikely that this was the same man. Another tempting candidate is the husband of Mary Ann Clarke, mistress of the Duke of York involved in the selling of army preferments.

Another subscriber could have been a connection of Clarke:

George Clarke

Beyond these leading figures Imperial Company subscribers included City of London businessmen……..

James Henry Deacon: In 1824 accused the rest of the Board of misappropriation of funds. He was then disqualified on a technicality. He was also a Director of British Steam Navigation and was a Stock and Exchange broker, based at 9 Finch Lane, Cornhill.

Joseph Hawker: Possibly the member of the College of Heralds who lived in Alfred Place, Bedford Square.

William Healing: Possibly a solicitor of 20 Lawrence Lane.

Richard Oakley: Perhaps a stockbroker in Bartholomew Lane, City.

Timothy Francis Power: In 1839 a wine merchant in Cornhill.

Daniel Adams: Lived in Islington. Master of the Barber-Surgeons’ Co. 1793.

William Campbell: A Merchant, based in Great St.Helens.

Thomas Dodd: A contemporary Thomas Dodd - and possible candidate - was one of a family of instrument makers. Dodd violin bows were famous. He dealt in instruments from premises in the Soho area and died in 1830. Another Thomas Dodd in 1820 was a merchant in the Blackfriars Road.

Thomas Dyer: Broker, Mincing Lane.

William Styan: A tea dealer and the Treasurer of the Merchant Tailors’ Co., 1828.

some of them had a connection to the Clock makers’ Company:

James Beck: Watch and clock maker, Sweetings Alley, Cornhill & Mare Street, Hackney. Wrote at least one book on gas lighting. A James Beck also lived at Allesley Park, Coventry – nearby to the addresses of other directors of this company.

Evan Roberts: Roberts is interesting in that he was the original Chairman of the South Metropolitan Gas Company, resigning after an apparent financial scandal - as Derek Matthews has said: "in the habit of issuing cheques and pocketing the money". Roberts's address is given in the South Metropolitan Gas Company's Deed of Settlement as Mayfield Street, near Dalston. He is also listed as a slate merchant of 29 Mill Lane, Tooley Street. In the City Corporation Guildhall Museum is the Evan Roberts Collection of Watches - although they do not know the identity of the donor. A family history web site indicates that an Evan Roberts lived in London about this time and that descendents went to America. More details under South Met.

Isaac Rogers: A prominent watchmaker - Rogers watches have now become collectors' items. He was a Member of the Clockmakers’ Company, with a business in Little Bell Alley. A Member of the Levant Co. According to Everard he ‘ran off to Paris’ as the result of financial scandals in the Imperial Gas Co.

Some may have had an interest in using Gas Company by-products:

Charles Francis: Best known as a Roman cement manufacturer and a shipper of lime and bricks. A wharfinger, limeburner and cement and marble merchant with works at Earl Street, Blackfriars and Phoenix Wharf, Nine Elms. He was also a City of London Corporation broker. He was also a subscriber to the United General Gas Co.

James Birch: Ship's chandler, tar and colour manufacturer. London agents to Dundonald's British Tar Co. and to St.Patrick's Marine Insurance. Partner of Cleverly, Northfleet shipbuilders, and connected through marriage with the Roshers – and through them with the cement industry. Lived Crete Hall, Northfleet in 1854. Crete Hall was a riverside house built in an old chalk pit and surrounded by shipbuilders, cement works and lime burners.

and some with a definite connection to industry - and coal fields - in North East England:

Aubone Altham Surtees: Both Everard and Matthews outline the numerous accusations of corruption made about Surtees and the Imperial Gas Co - including directorship of multiple companies while having an appointment in the Navy Pay Office. The Surtees family were leading citizens of Newcastle upon Tyne with numerous business connections - banking, shipbuilding, and mining. Aubone Altham’s sister Bessey had eloped with Jack Scott, a future Lord Chancellor (Lord Eldon). It is therefore worth asking why people so rich and well connected should bother with squalid financial scandals.

Matthew Surtees: Brother of Aubone Surtees (above). The Imperial Gas Company’s coal agent - no doubt reflecting the Surtees family’s interest in coal sales. He died in November 1825 having lived in Kenton Street.

James Griffith: A merchant of 23 Great Knightrider Street, Doctors Commons. He may also have been a landowner in County Durham - with links to the coal industry.

James Hartley: Possibly a Solicitor, of New Bridge Street, Blackfriars. Another James Hartley, was the innovative Sunderland glass manufacturer.

and some have a connection to both Poole in Dorset and to Newfoundland

George Richard Robinson: Reference material gives Robinson (1781-185) as a Member of Parliament for Poole and, later, Tower Hamlets. He lived at 27 Chester Terrace, was Chairman of Lloyds in 1834, by which time he was an MP and was an East India Co. Proprietor. Histories of the Garland family of Trinity, Newfoundland give a George Richard Robinson as the grandson of Joseph Garland. Joseph Garland (above) was listed as an early subscriber to the National Heat and Light Co. and later disqualified as a director of the Imperial Co. The Garland family had links with Poole in Dorset and, although the Newfoundland researchers identify this Robinson as a ‘merchant’, the coincidences here are interesting - is it the same man?

Marmeduke Hart, Hart was the son in law of Joseph Garland of Trinity Newfoundland (see above), whose daughter Mary he married.

Samuel Guppy. Perhaps a merchant who moved between Boston in America and Montreal.

There are a number of others about whom rather less information has been recovered.

George Edward Watts: gold and silver dealer of Hatton Garden.

Henry Cadwallader Adams, of Anstey Hall near Coventry. Married Emma Curtis, the daughter of William Curtis (banker and MP for the City of London).

James Alexander de Reimer: Said to have been voted out of office in 1827 following misappropriation of funds. It has been supposed that this is a name of Huguenot origin.

David Dickson: Reportedly bought Henry Clark's bond of indemnity for £2,700 in gold.

Peter Anderson, James Dunstan, James Cole.

John Cole - in 1816 a John Cole was a shareholder in the Bristol Gas Light Company.

Henry Johnson Hope, Richard Gaunt, Benjamin Hill, Rickman Moore, Joseph Packwood, James Parton, Charles Roberts, Catherine Van Dam, George James Watson, William Meggy, MP Yarmouth.


  1. Did Imperial Gas Company have anything to do with Imperial Continental Gas Company based in Antwerp? I believe it was taken over by Petrofina.

  2. I found these pages while researching my own family tree since the records show that the wider family of Clarks were involved in the gas making industry. The Joseph Clark who died in 1881 (note he is Clark not Clarke) was my great great grandfather(John Clark)'s brother. Mary Ann Clark was the wife of John Clark. In his will, dated 1861, John Clark left shares in Sheppey Gas Consumers Company to Mary Ann.

  3. This is an update to my earlier posting based on recent research in the London Metropolitan Archives and other data. The Clark family was very closely involved in the day to day life of the Imperial Gas and Light Company.
    In 1837 Joseph Clark was appointed as Engineer. The Engineer was the Superintendent of the Gas Works and, as such, attended the Committee for Works for the Gas Station that was his responsibility. The minutes of these meetings show Joseph attending for the Shoreditch works but subsequently he appeared for the Pancras works with his son, John Clark, as Assistant Engineer (appointed in 1862) and then also for Shoreditch with his son, Henry Clark (appointed in 1865) as Assistant Engineer. In 1869 a third son of Joseph Clark, Frank William Clark, was also appointed as an Assistant Engineer by the company.
    The minutes of the Pancras Station for 11 April 1866 record that George Clark (a brother of Joseph Clark) made an application by letter for assistance due to his ill health. The minute records that he had been foreman of the smith’s shop at the Pancras Station and was awarded a payment of £1 -1 -0 per week being half the weekly wages that he had been receiving. At that time it was recorded that he had been in the service of the company for 32 years giving a probable starting date of 1834.
    The census records in 1861 for Joseph Clark’s brother, John Clark who also lived in Shoreditch, show that he was foreman of gasworks but by 1871 he was listed a “Gas Manufacturer” and, in his will dated 1866, he left shares in the Sheppey Gas Consumers Company. His son, William Henry Clark entered the company’s service in 1873 as a District Office Clerk and was appointed as an Assistant Inspector in 1875