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Thursday, 6 August 2009

The Westminster Gas Supply Co.

It is not really clear if this works was purely for demonstration purposes or set up to supply gas - as the name of the company implies. If so then it is clearly the first ‘ gas works’ in the world - although there no evidence of any customers at all! It was sited on the industrial riverside adjacent to Westminster - both the Abbey and the Palace of Westminster, to supply a perceived demand in that area.

Winsor had an experimental gas making plant on Millbank. I only found out about it by chance – in a footnote in an article about the Marquis of Chabannes by Andrew Saint. I had known about Chabannes for some time – in connection with the infant briquette industry around 1800 – and the article illuminated many corners of his heterogeneous life.

In this Newcomen Society article Messrs. Meade and Saint described how the Marquis of Chabannes set up a manufactory for briquettes on Millbank around 1799 and – tracing it through the rate books – they note that by 1808 the site was ‘in the hands of another vagabond entrepreneur of talent and ebullience, Frederick Albert Winsor’. So was this the site of Winsor’s demonstration gas making plant? They also note his company name – ‘The Westminster Gas Supply Company’. Is this in fact the first public supply gas company? - which puts the great Gas Light and Coke Co. firmly into second place.

One question remains. Exactly which site on Millbank does this note refer to? I am very aware that the Gas Light and Coke Co., had a wharf in that area from about 1814. They seem to have acquired it from a Mr. Sergeant, a coal merchant who was to deal extensively with many of the London gas companies. Was this in fact Winsor’s old site?

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