The Chartered Gas Light and Coke Company was the first gas undertaking in the world, concerned chiefly, until the 1880s, with the production of gas for lighting purposes. It was incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1810 and the charter was granted by the Prince Regent in 1812.
The origins of the gas industry lay with the discovery of coal gas in the early 18th century. Gas lighting for homes, buildings and streets was pioneered by William Murdoch, a Scottish engineer, who with his pupil Samuel Clegg of Manchester and John Malam of Hull, designed and built gas works for mills and factories from 1800 to enable them to be lit. They worked with entrepreneurs such as F A Winsor to secure financial backing. Winsor's ideal was to have a central gas works making gas for illumination in every town and city in the country. Samuel Clegg joined the Chartered Company and constructed the first operational public gas works in Peter Street, Horseferry Road, Westminster, which began producing coal gas in September 1813.
The gas light alternative proved to be popular; simple open flame gas burners provided a much brighter light than could be obtained from candles or oil lamps and also proved to be safer and cheaper. By 1823 it was reported that the Company's three stations at Peter Street, Brick Lane and Curtain Road, were annually consuming 20,678 chaldrons of coal, producing 248,000,000 cubic feet of gas, and lighting 30,735 lamps through 122 miles of gas mains.
Developments at Westminster were followed by the rapid expansion of gas works and their Companies across London and other cities and large towns in England and Wales. By 1830, there were 200 gas Companies, by 1850 there 800 gas Companies, 13 of which were in London, and by 1860 there were nearly 1,000 gas Companies.
The Chartered Company was quick to explore more effective and efficient means of manufacturing gas. Coal gas was first produced using retorts (horizontal tubes) which were charged (filled with coal) and, having given off the gas, discharged (the coke removed) by hand through a door at one end. These retorts were made of iron and distorted badly with prolonged heating. Fire clay retorts with iron lids were introduced around 1822 and the through retort, a coal-gas retort with charging door and discharge door, 20 feet long and sharing heat at the former dead-end space, was developed in 1831 by George Lowe, the Company's Superintendent of Works. The through retort raised the charge to 600 pounds and lowered heating fuel to 400 pounds.
Falling dividends caused by the rising competition between companies in London impelled the Company's Directors in 1850 to nominate a special committee to consider the question of amalgamation. The Gas Act 1860 ended the severe competition and encroachment on Companys' gas supply areas, by permitting companies to arrange for the lighting of allotted districts. However this also encouraged London Companies to exact greater profits. It was reported to the House of Parliament that the public were paying £1,700,000 a year for gas, a far greater sum than outside London. Public opinion and the Parish Boards became increasingly dissatisfied with the monopoly of the private companies. In 1866, the Board of Trade and the Metropolitan Board of Works wished to restrict the powers and heighten the obligations of the 13 Companies supplying London with gas. The City Corporation considered buying out the Companies' rights and managing a municipal supply.
A committee in the House of Pariament advocated amalgamation in 1867. The City of London Gas Act 1868 brought the Chartered, City of London and Great Central Companies to a working agreement and reserved their rights to 10% dividends, and to raise money via loans. In return they submitted their production and finance records for Government inspection.
The new Act also enabled the right of further amalgamation with any Metropolitan gas company without Parliamentary sanction. During the 1870s and 1880s the Chartered Company absorbed the other large gas Companies operating in London:
Brentford Gas Company: established 1820 and amalgamated 1926 (Gas Works at Brentford and Southall, Harrow, Norwood, and Richmond
City of London Gas Light and Coke Company: amalgamated 1870: (Gas Works at Dorset Street, Blackfriars, Fetter Lane, Aldgate and Whitechapel)
Equitable Gas Light Company: amalgamated 1871: (Gas Works at Pimlico)
Great Central Gas Consumers Company: amalgamated 1870: (Gas Works at Bow Common)
Imperial Gas Light and Coke Company: established 1821 and amalgamated 1876: (Gas Works at Bromley, Fulham, Saint Pancras, Shoreditch, Bow and Limehouse)
Independent Gas Light and Coke Company: amalgamated 1876: (Gas Works at Haggerston)
London Gas Light Company: amalgamated 1883: (Gas Works at Nine Elms, Vauxhall)
Western Gas Light Company: established 1844 and amalgamated 1873: (Gas Works at Kensal Green)
As a result of amalgamation, the Company's output of gas increased dramatically from 1,285,602 cubic feet in 1869, 9,934,489 in 1877, to 21,357,687 in 1900.
From 1878, the Company began to experience increasing competition from newly established electrical lighting Companies which were applying to the Government for powers. The passing of the Electric Lighting Bill 1882 granted these Companies right of exploitation in public areas. At the same time the expanding Company broadened its business into the letting of gas stoves for heating and cooking. In 1879 the Company applied to Parliament to seek 'powers to apply capital to the purchase or manufacture of engines and apparatus which they proposed to sell or let on hire, with the object of encouraging the use of gasfor cooking warming, and other purposes'.
In 1949, the Chartered Gas Light and Coke Company was nationalised and placed under control of North Thames Gas Board.
Chartered Gas Work Sites:
Brick Lane, Curtain Road, Cannon Row (Westminster), and Peter Street (Westminster). In 1868, Beckton Gas Works (North Woolwich) was erected and named after Simon Adams Beck the Company's Governor. Beckton replaced City gas works and operated up to 1949.
Chartered Chief Office:
Horseferry Road (Westminster)
James Ludovic Grant 1812-1813
David Pollock 1815-1846
William Bateman 1846-1850
George Wigg 1850-1851
Benjamin Hawes 1851 - 1860
Simon Adams Beck 1860-1876
Richard Howe Browne 1876-1883
Sir William Thomas Makins 1883-1906
Sir Corbet Woodall 1906-1916
John Miles 1916-1918
Sir David Milne-Watson 1919-1945
Arthur Edgar Sylvester 1945-1946
Michael Milne-Watson 1947-1949
John Pedder 1812-1823
Richard Gude 1823-1832
Charles Burls 1832-1862
John Orwell Phillips 1862-1892
John William Field 1892-1903
H Rayner 1903-1916
Beckford Long 1916-1917
William Lyle Galbraith 1917-1937
Brian Wood 1937-1949
Chief Engineers and Chief Superintendents of Works:
Samuel Clegg 1812-1817
George Lowe 1832-1863 (Lowe was appointed Superintendent of Curtain Road Gas Works in 1821 and was later transferred to Brick Lane)
Frederick John Evans 1863-1872 (died 1880)
George Careless Trewby 1884-1904
Thomas Goulden 1904-1922
Thomas Hardie 1922-1935
Robert W Hunter 1935-1941
Falconer Moffat Birks 1941-1945
Norrie Willsmer 1945-1949
Alexander Angus Croll (born 1808, died 1887) was Deputy Superintendent, then became Principal Superintendent. He took an active part in the formation of Great Central Gas Consumers Company in 1849, and became the President of the British Association of Gas Managers.
For further information on the Chartered Gas and Coke Company's history see 'Gas Light and Coke Company 1812-1912' (LMA reference 24.41 GAS), and 'History of the Gas Light and Coke Company', by Stirling Everard, (LMA reference 24.41 EVE)