Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Deptford by gaslight

Deptford may have been the home of electricity generation, but earlier in the nineteenth century gas was the energy of the moment. By 1830, most public lighting in cities was gaslight, including Deptford's. The townspeople were obviously concerned to get the best lighting on the best terms, and to that end joined together with their Greenwich neighbours.

On Thursday 16 October 1834, the 'resident householders of the Towns of Deptford and Greenwich' met
for the purpose of considering the expediency of immediately forming a Gas Light Establishment, on the most improved principles, for supplying the Towns of Deptford and Greenwich and their vicinities, with Gas Light, upon a fair remunerating scale of charge, and the subject having been fully discussed:

IT WAS UNANIMOUSLY RESOLVED,

That the Town of Deptford presents peculiar local facilities for the advantageous formation of a Gas Light Establishment.

That the Improvements made in the Erection and Management of Gas Works, coupled with the great reduction in the cost of Materials, since the first introduction of Gas Light into this Neighbourhood, entitled the Inhabitants to a better supply at a more moderate rate, than they, at present, are enabled to obtain.

That it is expedient that a Company be formed, for the purpose of more efficiently supplying the Towns of Deptford and Greenwich and their vicinities, with Gas Light of the purest kind, at the lowest price.

That such Company be formed and be called “The Deptford and Greenwich Gas Light Company.”

That for this purpose a Capital be raised of £25,000 in 1000 Shares of £25, each.
This document raises many questions about the supply of gas in Deptford - and the answers are by no means clear. The plans were certainly ambitious and would have required the passing of an Act of Parliament as well as the raising of the large amount of capital mentioned. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that no company of that name appears to have been formed. It would have been all the more difficult since an existing gas company (if not two) already served Deptford.

Pigot's Directory for 1840 lists the Gas, Light and Coke Company in Creek Street (now Creekside). They were presumably the company from whom the inhabitants could not obtain 'a more moderate rate'. Intriguingly, there are two candidate companies in existence at the time.

The first was named simply the 'Gas, Light and Coke Company' which on the face of it is the best match for the listing. Based in Horseferry Road, Westminster they had been established in 1812 - the first such company in the country. At the time the residents met, the Company had works in Poplar, Brick Lane and Westminster. Among its innovations was the invention of the gas meter! In 1868, it would establish huge works in east London which it named for the company chairman Simon Adams Beck: Beckton.

However, there was also a much more local company, the Phoenix Gas Light and Coke Company whose works were in Thames Street, Greenwich (ie on the east bank of Deptford Creek). They had been established in 1824 to serve Southwark, parts of Brixton, Deptford and Greenwich; in 1880 they would amalgamate with the South Metropolitan Gas Light and Coke Company. Presumably they would have been providing gas to the area in 1834? Something for me to research further, unless somebody reading this knows the answer...

Despite the established competition, the idea of a Deptford gas works appears to have persisted for some time. Mary Mills, writing in the GLIAS newsletter for June 1999, was able to list a number of references to such projects in the local newspaper including, intriguingly, a grand dinner in 1844 to celebrate the Act of Parliament to allow Deptford to be lit by gas. Since 25 toasts are listed, perhaps this project collapsed under the weight of the collective hangovers!

Image: Goodwin's Court off St Martin's Lane, still lit by gaslight.

1 comment:

Minnie said...

Always assumed gaslight arrived long after Waterloo (my watershed for the period, bit like BC/AD in effect), so delighted to learn more. Even more so to see the pic of a favourite location. It's one of those enclaves, like Little Britain in Smithfield, where the past seems to live on, strange sense of peace prevailing despite surroundings.
PS Hat-tip to your blog over at mine.