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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Wellington Street

This was a public supply gas works built by an unknown company but taken over and managed by the Phoenix. It is unlikely that gas was ever made on the site. It was just off a main road out of London to the south of the river in an area containing both industrial and residential property.

On the 1872 Ordnance Survey the 'Phoenix Gas Works' is marked, just off the Blackfriars Road. It is a long narrow site, crammed full with twelve gas holders. The site seems to be that of Friars School in Pocock Street, SE1. The Phoenix Gas Company's records show that the site, described as Wellington Street, was used as a holder station, until closed down in the 1870s.

Parliamentary Sources show that in 1823 it belonged to the Phoenix's predecessor, the South London Gas Company. It is has proved very difficult to find out anything more. Minutes for the South London Gas Company exist, but the London Metropolitan Archive will not allow any access, because of their condition. These minutes begin in 1823, by which time South London had been working for several years from their works at Bankside. Was the Wellington Street site their second works or the first works of the Phoenix Company - or something entirely different?

There are indications that the South London were negotiating with a Kennington and Camberwell Gas Company - both a bit too far away to have had a works in the Blackfriars Road. Who were they? Trying to find out has proved an exercise in frustration. I started with the ratebooks - lists of who owned what - for 1820, administered by the local parish. Pocock (ex-Wellington) Street has changed its name several times since then and was, confusingly, on a parish boundary.

It took a lot of searching to find it. The works was listed first in 1818, as 'Gas Light and Coke Works' no help at all. Were there any deeds for the property which might help to tell me who had been the first owner? The site is now a school, so there should be something in the public records. Staff at Greater London Record Office discovered that a parcel of deeds had been passed by the London Residuary Body to the London Borough of Southwark, but I have been unable to find out who has them now. I have been unwilling to approach Friars School directly, not wanting to raise alarm about possible ground pollution (perhaps they know all about it anyway!).

The list of deeds GLRO gave me showed that in 1818 the site had been leased - but who from! Did the original ground landlords still have records? Bridge House Estates and the Society of Friends owned adjoining sites - but not the site itself. So, despite a lot of help from archivists, I know no more than when I started.

I only have one small theory about the origins of the Wellington Street site. In the British Library is a piece of paper, an advertisement, about 'Mr. Barlow's proposals for establishing ... a company to light the County of Surrey from the end of Blackfriars Bridge to the Obelisk, Borough'. Mr. Barlow I have written about before, in respect of the Poplar Company - he was a speculative builder of gasworks in the 1820s. Wellington Street would be a good site for a works to light Blackfriars and the Borough. If Barlow built the works, perhaps he then leased it to South London. For lack of other evidence I would like to suggest that he did.

In 1823 Sir William Congreve reported to the House of Commons on the London gas industry, and gave some details about Wellington Street. No gas was being made there but three gasholders were in action taking in 73,565 cubic feet of gas. It appears that the intention was to make gas when retort houses were built and in the meantime the holders were supplied with gas from Bankside Works. It seems very unlikely that gas was actually ever made there but the site was used for storage until 1882 when the large, No.13, holder was built at the Old Kent Road.

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