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British Industrial History

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South Metropolitan Gas Co

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1920/30. Thornycroft lorry outside their works. Reg No: XL 8561.
February 1904.
September 1909.
October 1909.
December 1910.
August 1912.
February 1913.
April 1913.
February 1914.
1929. British Industries Fair catalogue.

Coal Tar Products of Old Kent Road, London, SE15.

of Regis House, King William Street, London, EC4. Telephone: Avenue 2755. Cables: "Chemetro, London" - Products Department. (1947)

The South Metropolitan Gas Company, the nation's second largest, was a maverick among gas concerns, and was renowned for placing its individualistic stamp all it undertook. From the beginning of the twentieth century the Company adopted a new approach to gas production and utilisation, by supplying gas of unvarying quality to consumers, using appliances which operated at full efficiency without requiring adjustment, manufactured to a set standard.

Following a protracted fight in Parliament, alterations gained to statutory regulations allowed more efficient methods of manufacture and purification. Under the 'Metro' brand name, appliances suitably designed were made by, or produced for, the Company to specified standards.

1833 Its first works were erected on 3 acres of land along the Grand Surrey Canal, on the eastern side of the Old Kent Road. It and the Phoenix Gas Co were described as competing in the sale of "a commodity whose nature, power and possibilities they only dimly understood.[1]

The South Metropolitan Gas Co started operations with the good resolution of supplying the public with a pure article. To that end it built a purifying house, which is described as being a model of all that such a house ought not to be. "Its windows were glazed; there was practically no ventilation, and it is surprising that it lasted so long as 1836, when it was completely destroyed by an explosion." However it weathered through that and many other similar teething troubles, and kept up a stern struggle with its great rival the Phoenix Gas Co.[2]

1873 One of 9 companies supplying gas to the London metropolis[3]

1879 Amalgamated with the Surrey Consumers Gas Co

1880/1 On January 1st 1880, it merged with the Phoenix Gas Light and Coke Co[4]. Though as early as 1853 a working agreement defining the spheres of activity of the two concerns, as well as that of the Surrey Consumers Gas Co - a later competitor - had been come to, largely by the good offices of Thomas Livesey who was secretary and manager to the South Metropolitan Gas Co from 1839 to 1871.[5]

The "South Metropolitan" has always been a progressive company, and the volume tells of the various steps which it took to "get out of the rut." The rule-of-thumb gas fitter was superseded, his place being taken by a trained staff under the company's control; then it established its own physical and chemical laboratories, and devised its own standard apparatus. After trying in vain to get a satisfactory burner from outside, "it applied its chemicals and physicists to the problem, designed its own burner, set up its own burner shop, manufactured its own gauges, and so got the article it wanted." The company, went to work in the same spirit on the problems of heating and cooking, "and in the end made the gas oven and the gas fire indispensable to the house-wife. As gas became more and more of a blessing and less and less of a nuisance, the women of South London became the friends and allies of the 'Metro'. Thus equipped, the company could face with equanimity its new foe in shining armour" It's "new foe" be it said, was electricity.[6]

1882 One of only 4 companies remaining which supplied gas to London; the South Metropolitan supplied gas to customers south of the River Thames[7]

1884 Amalgamation proposed with the Woolwich, Plumstead and Charlton Consumers Gas Co (incorporated 1835), and the Woolwich Equitable Gas Co, both of which served areas close to the company's new works at East Greenwich[8], the last to be built in the London area.

Post-WWI. Following the First World War, the industry took increasing advantage of more efficient vertical retorts for gas production, with use of carburetted water gas to augment peak demands. However, the South Metropolitan continued to supply gas manufactured from horizontal retorts only.

1920 Dr Charles Carpenter was chairman of the company.[9]

From 1920, to maximise efficiency, tight control was made on coal supplies regarding quality and standards of cleaning. A system of meticulous works inspection was placed over each phase of gas manufacture, ensuring optimum production performance. With this level of control, bringing carbonisation in horizontal retorts to its zenith, the Company were able to claim production efficiencies equal to vertical retorts.

1922 British Industries Fair Advert for 'Metro Chemical Products': Coal Tar Products; Ammonia Products; Heavy Inorganic Acids; Intermediates of Dyes; other Inorganic Products. (Stand No. A.1) [10]

1929 British Industries Fair Advert for 'Metro Products' Coal Tar and Ammonia Products; Heavy Inorganic Acids and certain other Inorganic Products. (Chemicals etc., Section - Stand Nos. K.95 and K.100) [11]

1938 The Bankside property was sold as East Greenwich and other gas works provided the capacity needed.

1939 Together with the Gas Light and Coke Co, the Commercial Gas Co, the Wandsworth and District Gas Co, the South Suburban Gas Co, the company promoted a Bill in Parliament concerning the efficiency of gas appliances to be installed in London[12]

1947 Listed Exhibitor - British Industries Fair. Manufacturers of Benzole; Toluole; Naphtha; Creosote; Pitch; Crude Whizzed Naphthalene; Anthracene 40%; Black Varnish; "Metrotect" for preserving outdoor ironwork; Road Tars; "Metrix", the Binder for Tar Carpets; "Metro" Sulphate of Ammonia. (Olympia, Ground Floor, Stand No. A.1256) [13]

1950s The East Greenwich works were reconstructed after a run-down of plant and standards during World War II, but this was the beginning of the end for town gas manufactured from coal.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1925/05/01
  2. The Engineer 1925/05/01
  3. The Times, Aug 28, 1873
  4. The Times Jan 10, 1881
  5. The Engineer 1925/05/01
  6. The Engineer 1925/05/01
  7. The Times Oct 10, 1882
  8. The Times, Jul 03, 1884
  9. The Engineer 1920/12/03
  10. 1922 British Industries Fair Advert cxcviii; and p74
  11. 1929 British Industries Fair Advert 9; and p156
  12. The Times, Feb 09, 1939
  13. 1947 British Industries Fair p257
  • [1] Newcomen Society