FRAGMENT OF THE OLD WORKS.
Like some quiet backwater which is undisturbed by the constantly flowing river, the old retorts shown in our illustration have stood till now untouched by the rapid current of progress which has been for years passing so near to them. But their fires have long been out and the mouthpieces and ascension-pipes are passing into what Ruskin calls 'living iron' -•-the iron rust which enters so intimately into the life of animals and plants.
No. 6 Retort House was built nearly forty years ago, and a portion of it stands on the site of old Christchurch, a consecrated building which was erected in 1838 (five years after our Company began to supply gas), and, after a brief existence of thirty years, was demolished and replaced by the present church in Old Kent Road to allow of the expansion of our rapidly growing works. The special Act of Parliament authorising this was passed on May 26th 1865. The removal was as necessary for the comfort of the worshippers as it was for the purposes of the Company; the works being so near the sacred building as to be a nuisance. The new church was consecrated July 1, 1868. It was in 1868 (probably just before No. No 6 Retort House was built) that the fifth edition of Clegg's 'Treatise on Coal Gas' was published, and it may interest some readers to know what is said therein of the Old Kent Road Works.
|No.8 retort house|
It is significant that or something like half a century the South Metropolitan Gas Company - originally founded to supply cannel gas - has held the distinguished position of supplying the cheapest gas in the metropolitan area, and one feels proud of the fact that forty years ago, as now, this was known to be the result of 'general good management.'
The use of brick retorts at Old Kent Road lasted until very recently. All treatises on gas manufacture, from Clegg to Hunt, allude to the brick retorts at Old Kent Road; and the valuable 'Gas Lighting' of Mr. Hunt was published as recently as 1900. The retorts are D shaped, and constructed of rebated and grooved fire-bricks of very similar shape to those which Mr. J. E. Clift used at Birmingham. I think Mr. Grafton was the first to construct D-retorts, after experimenting with square ones, about 1820. The section of an Old Kent Road brick retort in Mr. Hunt's work is similar to that given in King's treatise in 1878, and differs somewhat from that shown by Mr. Carpenter to the Society of Engineers in 1891, which may be taken as representing the final development under the late Mr. Frank Livesey, whose keen interest in retorts and their settings is well known.
The use of oxide of iron in the purifiers (to the exclusion of lime) was, it would appear, a somewhat unusual practice then, although oxide had been used--more or less - for some twenty years. Now the sulphur clauses are less stringent than they were, it is recognised that oxide is the most suitable purifying agent for use in town gasworks. The fact of there being 'no station-meter and no governor' - deficiencies which were supplied not long afterwards - is important as proving that good management can exist with incomplete plant.
|George Livesey's chimney, newly finished|
WALTER T. LAYTON.