Officially founded in 1812, the Gas Light and Coke Company were responsible for the first operational works to supply gas for public use. The chief offices were in Horseferry Road, whilst their first gas works was located in Great Peter Street.
As our Ordnance Survey map shows, both these locations are only a stone’s throw from Westminster City Archives (shown as the public baths and wash house on the map).
According to Stirling Everard’s history of the company from 1812-1949, the drive behind the creation of the company began with Frederick Albert Winsor, formerly known as Friedrich Albrecht Winzler; a native of Moravia. Everard describes Winsor as ‘more of a promoter than innovator’, with Winsor advocating use of gas for public lighting in London from 1803.
The company first met in July 1807 at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand. After a lengthy process the group obtained a charter from the Prince Regent on behalf of King George III. Granted in 1812, the charter gave the Gas Light and Coke Company powers for 21 years to supply gas in the Cities of London and Westminster and the Borough of Southwark. Unfortunately, Winsor’s input had dwindled and from this point his ‘vague and ill-defined schemes, supported by calculations in which he himself immediately found serious errors’, meant he became more of a hindrance to the company than any practical use. The appointment of the enthusiastic and skilled engineer Samuel Clegg was of much more use to the company.
Providence Court on Great Peter Street, although not ideal due to its distance from the river, was deemed by Clegg as a much more suitably sized location than the previously planned site of Cannon Row. With demands for Westminster public lighting increasing, the acquisition and building of the Great Peter Street Works created the first permanent gasworks ever to be erected for public supply. Despite some objections (Clegg had to light the lamps on Westminster Bridge for the first few nights due to the stubborn refusal of the lamp lighters to do so) and other issues, the company declared its first dividend to investors by 1817.
The Great Peter Street gas works brought lighting to Westminster. The growth of the company can be further demonstrated through the number of showrooms and works in London. North Kensington had the Kensal works (shown below) and a showroom just off the Kensington High Street, whose high arched windows can still be seen today – I often wait for a bus outside.
The Gas Light and Coke Company continued to reward its shareholders without break for the next 123 years. The gas works at Beckton, which opened in 1870, became the largest in Europe – the company went on to form the basis for North Thames Gas.
Westminster Archives holds historic images of this revolutionary company. Feel free to visit us to delve deeper into the varied businesses of our borough through images, newspaper cuttings, and many more resources.
Please note: although the Gas Light and Coke Company was situated so close to Westminster Archives, the full company records are actually held at the London Metropolitan Archives.
*Keep an eye open for the Gas Light and Coke Company’s ‘GLCC’ on local street gas markers*.