Search This Blog

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Winsor - Public Recognition and Support

As early as the 1st January 1807 Winsor was publicly attacked in the scientific press. It is a measure of his ignorance about the scientific establishment in England that he had not heard of the ‘Journal of Natural Philosophy’ and had some difficulty buying a copy to see what had been written about him.

‘Nicholson’s', as the Journal was widely known was a most respectable publication which had, in the past few years, published articles about the gas made from coal and its constituents from several of the leading chemists of the time - they included William Henry, himself, William Cruickshank of the Royal Military Academy and William Brande of the Royal Institution. It is not difficult to imagine what they thought of Winsor. This episode marks the beginning of what was to become a campaign against Winsor - something which at that stage could not have been clear. It shows that people who already had a stake in gas lighting were beginning to take Winsor's skills as a publicist seriously and did not intend that he should get in their way.

Once Winsor had got hold of the Journal - having not been able to find it in any bookseller and having to call at Nicholson’s 'Scientific Establishment' at 10 Soho Square - he found that he was mentioned in an editorial comment on a letter from ‘a correspondent’. The anonymous contributor had written to ask if Winsor’s claims were worthy of encouragement and the editor had replied that they were 'worthless'.

This drew from Winsor a whole flurry of pamphlets. First of all a spirited reply to Nicholson in which he defended himself and described much of his past - indeed much of the biographical information which we have about Winsor comes from this pamphlet. He said that Nicholson’s ‘laboured insinuations, to raise if possible, public suspicion against my private character, conscious honour and rectitude promoted me to overlook with a smile ..but' he goes on, ‘I'll shame by silence or by satire joke’ - and this is just what he continued to do.

Winsor produced four - or possibly five - more publications during the course of 1807:

"Ludicrous debate among the Gods and Goddesses in a Grand Council assembled on the proposed destruction of the notorious London smoke by the use of Gas Lights. by Obadiah Prim, MD, BA, FRS, FAS."

This claimed - perhaps with some justification - that the introduction of gas lighting would ‘purify all’ and get rid of ‘vapours most vile.. clouds of black smoke’ by which ‘the sky of Great Britain - my favourite isle - is shamefully obscured’. Smoke pollution was a subject of growing public concern and one in which a number of scientists were actively involved at the time. There is no known copy of this leaflet in any of the main national collections. Elton saw a copy in 1949 at the then Gas Light and Coke Company HQ in Horseferry Road. I saw this leaflet - presumably the same copy - in the 1990s in a cardboard box together with other books at the now defunct Bromley by Bow Gas Museum. Its present location is not known.

"Analogy between animal and vegetable life. Demonstrating the beneficial application of the patent light stoves to all green and hot houses".

This - deals with the topic of heat and light to the forcing of plants - currently a fashionable subject in scientific circles of the day.

"National Deposit Bank: or the bulwark of British Security, credit and commerce, in all times of difficulty changes and revolutions."

This concerns the need for new mechanisms to raise large sums of capital - which would be necessary if a gas company were to be set up.

"Plain Questions and answers refuting every possible objection against the beneficial introduction of coke and gas lights".

This includes the answers to what must have been common questions about gas. Winsor stated, for instance, that gas would not catch fire without a spark to 'inflame' it - and that a room full of gas would not catch even if a candle were brought in. He also said that it ‘is more congenial to our lungs than vital air’.

"Cowpox and gas lights contra malice and ignorance of life, health and fortune against death and poverty. A simple dialogue between Messrs. Life & Co. and Death & Co. Published by a friend of truth for the uninformed".

This - which attacks a number of (unnamed) learned professors and pontificates on the subject of vaccination. Elton thought that the ‘Professor’ attacked was a Mr. Hyde who had demonstrated the effects of asphyxiation on bird - and he comments that he felt that it was this leaflet which finally exhausted the patience of Winsor’s body of supporters.

In these leaflets the emphasis had clearly changed - Winsor had begun to defend himself against critics and to publicise a wider range of uses for coal gas.

A provisional committee of Winsor’s supporters had already been formed. On 4th June 1807 he gave a public demonstration of gas lighting to co-incide with the celebrations for the birthday of George III. This display was arranged along the wall of Carlton House, the residence of the Prince Regents and thus would have had to have permission from the Prince. This fact alone implies some sponsorship from the Royal Family.

There were thirty two burners along the wall between Carlton House and the Mall. At a door into the Mall from the gardens was a device made to resemble the Prince of Wales feathers and at the back gate of Carlton House was a ‘grand transparency over the gateway, consisting of ... cut glass stars .. with gas lights behind besetting the crown and the letters GR’.

Unfortunately there was also the suggestion of some sabotage to the central device - Elton quotes a report in a contemporary journal in which Winsor complained that ‘liquid asafoetida’ had been poured along the wall. It has been claimed that the hardware for this demonstration was supplied by the ironmongers, Sugg - relations of Hatchard described earlier and later major supplies of gas appliances.

On July 24th 1807 a meeting was held at the The Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand to consolidate support to petition Parliament for a Charter and turn the provisional committee into the ‘National Light and Heat Company’.

Most famously, Winsor lit part of the south side of Pall Mall, opposite Carlton House at the end of the year. This consisted of thirteen hollow iron lamp posts each twenty four paces apart, and each supporting three glass globes. He had good reason to feel pleased with himself and on 22nd December 1807 he advertised the company in The Morning Chronicle and at the same time warned the public against ‘impostors who ... ignorantly assert, that Gas is pernicious to inhale, whereas every Apothecary's apprentice knows the contrary’. Winsor, his supporters and the cause of gas lighting were on their way!

No comments:

Post a Comment