Glossop Heritage Trust
The History of Glossop Gas Company
Towards the end of 1945, almost coinciding with Glossop Company's Centenary, the government was examining the question of nationalising the gas industry. Alderman J D Doyle wrote a history of the Glossop Gas Company which was serialised in the Glossop Chronicle over four weeks, from 14 December 1945 to 4 January 1946. The history has been edited slightly to form this single article.
It is almost exactly one hundred years ago since the Glossop Gas Company came into existence. A hundred years ago and from the first day of supply, no matter what the economic vicissitudes through which the town has passed - and it has known some difficult times in the last hundred years - the company has continued to discharge the functions conferred upon it by Act of Parliament on July 21st in the eighth year of the reign of Queen Victoria.
To-day, the use of gas, for light, heat, and power, is a commonplace. A hundred years ago in Glossop it was still a novelty. To-day, we are accustomed to high-powered lights that, both in our homes and in the streets, and our public halls, turn night into day. A hundred years ago in Glossop, before the construction of the gas works, there were no such lights, and it is difficult for us, accustomed to these conveniences as an ordinary commonplace of life, even faintly to understand how our great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers went about their ordinary lives and their ordinary work with such illumination as was then available.
The principal source of light for all purposes was the candle, and even to-day we speak of the power of a lamp by its candle power. Everybody burnt candles, high and low, rich and poor. The well to do had elaborate chandeliers with servants to attend to the all important job of snuffing the candle wicks. The poorer people had cheap candle sticks, and aspired to become possessors of more elaborate brass candle-sticks which whilst being ornamental had the supreme merit of also being useful; their function was not to grace overmantels or sideboards as brass ornaments, their function was to hold a lighted candle during the dark nights. Those who possess brass candle-sticks can easily discover whether they are genuine antiques; the really old candlesticks have a plunger underneath, the purpose of which was to push up the candle as It burnt down, so that it could be used to the last half-inch. Candles were as precious then as pennies are to-day when the gas is locked up in a slot meter!
Snuffing the candles was a very important operation, and by “snuffing” is not meant putting out the light, but trimming the candle wick so that a “thief” would not run away one side of the candle. For this purpose a special pair of scissors was kept ready to hand; on one of the blades was secured a box into which the used wick was safely guided. They can be bought yet, in antique shops. The old newspapers, contain many advertisements of many and varied kinds of candles, and in every town were to be found “chandlers’ shops” places where tallow candles were made. A directory for Derbyshire for the 1854 gives the names and business addresses of two tallow chandlers and a candle wick maker at Littlemoor, Glossop, and the name of a candle wick maker at Chunal. A typical advertisement appears in the Stockport Advertiser for December 13th, 1844. The maker is advertising a candle which he says “burns more brilliantly than any other candle, and as they contain no cocoanut or any other oily ingredient, are pleasant to handle, are free from smell and do not become greasy or sweal in warm rooms.” These were advertised at 9d. per lb. weight, and could be burnt in “Papier Mache” candle lamps which cost 2s. each.
To properly understand what we now would consider to be the tribulation of living in the days when candles were the principal means of lighting, we have only to cast our minds to the times when German raiding aircraft were so close - judging by the nearness of the bomb explosions and the glow in the sky - that we put out all the lights and sat in our houses by firelight and candle-light. To us it was a misery. To the people who lived before the days of gaslighting it was their normal state of life; they knew nothing better. There was no general system of education; very few people could read; there were very few newspapers and such as were in circulation were dear in price and all had to pay in addition, the Newspaper Tax. Newspapers were read to groups of men by the only one of the group who could read: they were weekly papers and were bought by general subscription. In addition, news was still being circulated by “Broadside or Broadsheet”.
If candle light made it difficult in the domestic circle, what was it like in the factories? By the time gas had arrived at Glossop, there were some fairly extensive factories in the neighbourhood; Sumner’s Mill was commenced in 1816 (this would be “th’ owd end”); Wood’s about 1809; whilst Barber’s, of Padfield, had started before the end of the 18th century. In addition there were a number of water power factories, such as Robinson's, of Gnat Hole, which manufactured woollens.
|Front and rear views of the Gas Company offices in Arundel Street.
Note that although the wording on the front records the establishment of the company in 1845 the building (as can be seen from the map segments below) was not erected until years later.
Both men and women who have worked in the cotton factories, handling with a necessary degree of accuracy fine yarns will be able to understand better than anyone, the physical strain the workers of those days experienced, if they will try to imagine the mills at which they have worked, lighted by candles instead of high-powered lights. Remembering also that the science of optics was undeveloped and the only spectacles workers could afford were sold by cheap-jacks at the great fairs that then were customary. Goldsmith has immortalised the sale of spectacles in his story of “Moses at the Fair”. And there was the further danger of fire; in his paper to the Royal Society on the 25th February, 1805, the inventor of gas lighting speaking of its advantages over candles said it was “free from the inconvenience and danger resulting from the sparks and frequent snuffing of candles, . . . tending to diminish the hazard of fire, to which cotton mills are known to he much exposed”. To-day at the Parish Church of Glossop, as in all old churches, candles are used for purposes of ritual: a hundred years ago, candles were used as well for lighting the church, albeit, there would be no services ordinarily held in what we now call the evening.
There were, in addition, some types of oil lamps, these usually burned whale oil or seal oil fed Into a wick. The great paraffin era had not quite arrived; it followed the beginning of industrial development in America, and was enormously assisted by the English invention of the steam boat which greatly reduced the time occupied in crossing the Atlantic.
The history of the invention of gas and its application and development for communal and industrial purposes is just another page in the story of the indomitable enterprise of man, in his determination to wrest for himself and his fellows better conditions of life. Gas was invented and immediately employed to give better artificial light; its application as an agent for power and heat belongs to the period of improvement that invariably follows an invention, and its extensive uses in those directions belong to a relatively recent date.
The existence of gaseous emanations that were inflammable were observed at Wigan in Lancashire as far back as the year 1659, and were reported to the newly formed Royal Society in the year 1667; a similar phenomenon was discovered on the Lowther Estates at Whitehaven when a coal pit was being sunk. In this case the gas was discovered by the proximity of a candle carried by the pit sinkers; a rush of air caught fire and startled the sinkers out of their wits. Later, the gas oozing from this pit-sinking was led by a funnel into an animal bladder and this, lighted, was exhibited to the Royal Society in 1733 by Sir James Lowther. A few years later, Dr. Clayton, Bishop of Cork and Orrery, after observing the emanations of gas from a shale pit at Wigan, first distilled coal and accidentally discovered that the vapour which was the product of the distillation was inflammable. He then proceeded to fill animal bladders with what he called the “spirit” and entertained his friends with this physical curiosity. This was reported to the Royal Society in 1739; many more experiments were made, but to none of the experimenters did it occur that the new compound could be put to any practical use until the year 1792.
In this year the application of coal gas for the purposes of artificial lighting was accomplished by William Murdoch at Redruth in Cornwall. Murdoch was an engineer of an inventive turn of mind, and although the date upon which he first began to make experiments with a view to producing a new means of artificial lighting, is not known, all authorities agree that Murdoch distilled every inflammable substance he could get hold of, including wood, peat and coal, in order to achieve the end he had in view. By the year 1792 Murdoch had been so successful with his researches that he lighted his offices and a street lamp at Redruth in Cornwall with the new illuminant. He also constructed for his own use a steam car, filled bladders with the newly discovered illuminant, lighted them and thus ran about the streets to the great astonishment of the inhabitants. In 1797 Murdoch moved to Old Cumnock in Ayrshire and here also he introduced the new illuminant. A year later he had removed to Birmingham, and applied his invention to the lighting of the factory of Messrs. Bolton and Watt, but his great chance came with the signing of the Treaty of Amiens in the year 1802. At the general celebrations that followed, Murdoch employed gas for outside illuminations and according to the account of a gas historian. “Birmingham poured forth its numerous population to gaze at, and to admire, this wonderful display of the combined effects of science and art.”
|The location of the Gas Company as shown on the Poor Law map of 1857 and the OS maps of 1879 and 1919.
In the year 1804, the new illuminating gas arrived in Manchester, when Murdoch was commissioned to construct an apparatus for lighting the private house of a cotton spinning manufacturer, one of the partners of Messrs. Phillips and Lee. This is said to have been something in the nature of an experiment in order to determine whether the new illuminant would he satisfactory in a cotton mill, that is to say whether it could safely displace the candle illumination then employed. According to a paper read by Murdoch before the Royal Society in February 1805, the work of displacing candles by gas commenced In 1805, with the lighting of two rooms of the mill and the counting house, and notwithstanding the disadvantages due to the imperfect knowledge of the inventor in the matter of purification of the gas, and the vile smell of leaking gas, the lighting of the whole factory was proceeded with and completed by 1807.
By this time Murdoch had trained some assistants, and one of them, Samuel Clegg, was commissioned by the Borough Reeve of Manchester to light one of the lamps in King Street in that town, in order to see if the newly-discovered illuminant could be utilised for street lighting. To supply the light, Clegg constructed a gasometer, filled it from his own apparatus in “Dean’s Gate”, and then inserted it in a tank of water. As at Birmingham, the town turned out to see the new lamp, and the light was very much admired. The attitude of the people to the great discovery varied; the common people were thrilled; the scientific men were In large part contemptuous and sceptical; the commercially-minded saw in it something new to exploit. But almost everybody was afraid of it. Murdoch, in a paper to the Royal Society compared the expenditure on gas with an equivalent lighting power in candles: the case for the new gas had to be proved beyond a peradventure. The owners of the factory lighted in Manchester declared through Murdoch that “the cost of attendance upon candles would be as much, if not more, than upon the gas apparatus, whilst Murdoch, estimating the annual cost of the gas apparatus at £600, gave this comparison to the Royal Society; “that of candles to give the same light, would be about £2,000, each candle consuming at the rate of four-tenths of tallow per hour; the 2,500 candles upon an average of the year two hours per day . . . " What a job! Looking after 2,500 candles!
The prejudice against gas continued and was expressed not only by the illiterate and unlettered, but also by men of science. Sir Humphrey Davy, the inventor of the miner's safety lamp sarcastically asked Clegg if it were intended to take the dome of St. Paul's for a gasometer. To which Clegg replied that he hoped to live to see the day when gasometers would be as big. Lighting a town was thought to be the scheme of a visionary, and the antagonism continued, it was the general belief that the pipes conveying the gas to the burners were hot and people would feel at the pipes with gloves on their hands for fear of getting burnt.
When gas was first tried in the House of Commons the architect insisted on having the pipes laid five inches from the walls to avoid the danger of contact fires; some were made of wood and paper and barrels the muzzle of one being screwed into the breach of another.
But the work went on in spite of all the opposition, and gas began to gain ground. After the refusal of the Borough Reeve of Manchester to accept Clegg's estimate of £140 to light the whole of King Street, Manchester, the Commissioners of Police took a hand, and commencing to make gas in a small way installed a light outside the door of the chief police office in King Street. The effect on the people of this illuminant and the anticipation of its effect upon social life can be estimated from a picture acting as a frontispiece to an early work on the history of the invention of coal gas by Matthews (1832). This is a picture of a lady holding in her hand a lighted lamp under which is the legend “this as an art that does mend nature.”
There was a story related of an old Glossop worthy who, with his cronies, frequented one of the many alehouses that used to be found in that locality. They had heard of the new light in King Street, Manchester, and so “clubbed up” and drew lots as to which one of them should go to the town to see the light that did away with candles and whale oil lamps, and make a first hand report as to its possibilities. The lot fell to an old man who was known as “Owd Shulley Newton,” and to Manchester he went by coach. This in itself was an adventure, for the coach only went twice a week. Tuesday and Saturday mornings, starting at the unearthly hour of 6-30 a.m. and returning on each of the two evenings from the town at 8 o'clock p.m. When “Owd Shulley” returned and got himself settled with his pint before him and had performed the necessary delays due to so important an emissary, one of his cronies asked “Well, Shulley. What's this leet like?” “What’s it like?” replied “Owd Shulley.” “Why mon, dayleet’s a damn foo’ to it!"
A shop in the Strand in London having been lighted with the “novelty” as an inducement to people to install gas lighting, made such a sensation that it is reported that a lady begged to be allowed to take the gas lamp off the shop counter and take it home in her carriage! These stories are no exaggerations; they are the normal reactions of people who had never known any light but that of candles.
The first application for an Act of Parliament was made by the London Gas Light and Coke Co., in 1809, and by 1812 gas illumination had reached the neighbouring town of Hyde, when Messrs. Samuel Ashton Bros, lighted their mills with gas that, by now, was beginning to be improved. Twenty years only had elapsed since Murdoch first displayed the new lighting medium that he had Invented; its value had been recognised and men were hard at work improving the method of its manufacture and purification, with a view to its greater exploitation.
In twenty years it had reached such a state that a Hyde mill owner decided to light his mills with it. All sorts of people were tinkering about with small Installations with a view to using it for their own ends but apart from the London Gas Light and Coke Company, not much was done by way of real exploitation. The Police Commissioners of Manchester, however, had been giving serious consideration to the possibility of lighting the principal streets of that town with gas, and thus displacing the street lamps that burned whale oil or seal oil and to this end convened a meeting of ratepayers to consider the matter. Hence on April 30th 1817, a meeting of ratepayers resolved ‘‘That it will be expedient to adopt the proposed mode of lighting the central points of the town with gas,” and to encompass this, decided to increase the Police Rate.
There followed the first real attempt in Manchester to manufacture gas on a commercial scale when the Police Commissioners proceeded to erect a gas works in Water Street and those who purchased gas from the Commissioners were charged the price of 14s per thousand feet. It is worthwhile noticing here that the Commissioners sought Parliamentary powers to apply its funds for trading purposes, that is for the extension of the undertaking, and, viewed historically from the angle of the vast trading powers that municipalities now possess, this is of some importance for this was the first application to Parliament so made.
From this point the production and use of gas in Manchester, developed rapidly: the Commissioners elected a Board of Directors of 30 men to control the undertaking and in 1834 they erected another gas works at Rochdale Road and absorbed another, and then an unprofitable privately owned undertaking at Gaythorn. In 1838 the town of Manchester was incorporated under the provisions of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, and five years later, control of all these gas works passed to the new Corporation.
|Advertisements run by the company in 1928.
We have seen that gas lighting was installed in the neighbouring town of Hyde in the year 1812, but there is no record of which we are aware that tells us of the commencement of gas lighting in Glossop. The Glossop Gas Company obtained Parliamentary powers authorising it to possess exclusive rights to manufacture and sell gas in a specified area on the 21st of July, 1845, the “Manchester Guardian” for April 9th, 1845, having reported “The Glossop Gas Bill passed its second reading” on the day previous. It is interesting to note that whilst only twenty years elapsed from the officially accepted date of invention of gas lighting by Murdoch in 1792, and its adoption as a means of lighting the mill of Ashton Bros., in Hyde, over fifty years passed before steps were taken to officially introduce it to the people of Glossop.
It is possible to deduce from the fact of its early introduction in Hyde that improvement and development of gas as a commodity was proceeding at an astonishing rate, and it is safe to assume that, when the Glossop Gas Company was incorporated, all possibility of financial risk had been eliminated.
There are not now in existence any exact records to show by whom and where gas was first manufactured in Glossop, but there are sufficient fragmentary records to make it quite clear beyond controversy that there were at least three small private plants manufacturing gas in Glossop as speculative ventures.
All the plants were small, and none possessed Parliamentary powers. They were, in fact, superseded by the new company, almost certainly by agreement. Records that might have helped us to reconstruct the popular feeling of the times, and which would have some bearing upon the formation of the town’s company for general supply have been destroyed. Two wars, in the conduct of which, the salvage of paper has been an important factor, have been fought. But we know that besides the three private gas plants operating in a small way in Glossop, there were also three other industrial plants operated by three cotton magnates. Sidebottom's at Hadfield and Francis Sumner at Glossop, both made their gas for lighting their mills, and it is possible that at the former at any rate, some houses in the vicinity would be supplied.
John Wood Bros., of Howardtown Mills, set up a plant of their own to manufacture gas for their mills, and if they also sold gas to householders they would be prohibited from doing so after the passing of the Act. They continued to ignore the Gas Company for the best part of a century.
The Duke of Norfolk also possessed a gas manufacturing plant which operated on a small scale, from which, owing to the special position of His Grace as Lord of the Manor, he proceeded to lay mains and to supply a limited number of customers. This concern appears to have been the base around which the new company constructed its larger works, for we learn that the company bought out the Duke’s interest for the valuation sum of £250 “along with the pipes connected therewith” and “having made use of a great portion of the old works in the formation of the new ones.” There is also in existence a fragment of an old account book which reads “Howard Town Gas Works. March 25; 1840. To cash paid to Messrs. J. W. and R. Barber for Gas Works as per valuation £125.” Howard Town in those days was what we now call Glossop, and it is believed that the situation of what must have been a very small installation was somewhere about the site of the present Shepley Mill. Sufficient has been written therefore to show that Glossop people, before the incorporation of the Company, had become familiar with the great advantages of gas over both candles and the growing number of paraffin lamps, and to justify the promoters stating in their prospectus in 1844 “The superiority of Gas over every other mode of lighting public buildings, houses and shops, having already been demonstrated at Glossop on a limited scale, it has been deemed by parties having an interest in that place, advisable to extend the works now furnishing that article; and with a view to secure a provision of gas equal to the present and any future demand, to form a Joint Stock Company”. All of which makes it abundantly clear that the incorporation of the Glossop Gas Company was the coordination of existing manufacturing plants, and the adventuring to ascertain whether such a company would be likely to be a success, was over.
Glossop Gas Company has always stood in a peculiar relationship to the people of the town; it was for many years regarded cynically as something like a close Corporation, and if we bear in mind the statement above, that the Company was formed when the experimental period was over, and the formation of the Company was entirely devoid of financial risk, and offered prospects of good returns, and then look at the names of the first directors and shareholders, we shall begin to understand some, at least of the reasons for the cynical attitude of the people of Glossop towards the Company.
The first thing that strikes one on examining the names of the promoters and first shareholders is the almost complete absence of the names of the owners of the extensive mills then in operation in Glossop; the Estate management, the local lawyers, and tradesmen appear to dominate the list. Thus we find Lord Edward Howard, John des Jardins, Michael Ellison, Richard Ellison, Michael Joseph Ellison, and the Rev. Theodore Fauvel, private chaplain to the Howards in Glossop and of the then recently erected church of All Saints, all of whom may be said to be representative of the Lord of the Manor, whilst the Ellisons may be said to have been representative of the Estate, the Law, and to be continuing in another sphere, that controlling interest over the affairs of Glossop that was theirs for so long a period. It seems fairly safe to assume that the new Company was sponsored from Glossop Hall: the lawyer who promoted the Parliamentary Bill was the Sheffield solicitor to the Duke of Norfolk, Mr. William Wake, and who later became the first secretary of the Company.
In the prospectus, applicants for shares are requested to apply to either that gentleman or “Mr. John des Jardins, Glossop Hall.” In the list of persons backing the application for the Act of Incorporation appear also the names of other members of the Wake family, of Sheffield, but the remainder are a mixed bag of tradesmen, not mill owners. There are grocers, drapers, chemists, ironmongers, gardeners, and the Postmaster who was also County Court Bailiff.
A number of gentlemen met and decided that there should be a Gas Company for Glossop and issued a Prospectus inviting people to apply for shares in a Company that was to have a capital issue of £5,000 in shares of £10 each, this prospectus being issued on October 26th 1844 from the Sheffield office of the solicitors to the intending Company. The first official meeting of the provisional committee took place on the 22nd of November, 1841, at Glossop Hall, there being present Michael Ellison, in the chair, John Dalton, calico printer, Matthew Ellison Hadfield, John Kershaw, of the Hurst, cotton spinner, Thomas Collier and Joseph Robinson, both of whom we believe were grocers in Howard town.
Mr. Wake, the solicitor, of Sheffield, was also present, and it is worth noting that on November 22nd, 1844, the railway to Sheffield from Manchester had not been completed and Mr. Wake would have to travel to Glossop either on horse back or by coach over the wild Snake Pass, in the days when the weather knew how to snow.
At this meeting the Committee decided to increase the proposed Capital of the new concern from £5,000 to £6,000, the applications for shares presumably being In excess of the amount originally proposed and allotted the whole of the 600 £10 shares. Mr. Kershaw was instructed to canvass the mills and factories to ascertain whether, and to what extent they were likely to become customers of the new Company, and the result apparently having been favourable, the Committee at their meeting on January 20th, 1845, decided to request the Sheffield United Gas Light Company to allow their Manager to plan and estimate the cost of a new works and place a valuation figure upon the existing works then owned by the Duke of Norfolk.
|Views of parts of the Gas Company plant.
In presenting to the Provisional Committee his estimate of the works, the Sheffield Gas Manager observed “I would warmly recommend that the greatest attention be paid to the manufacture of Gas regarding its purity, that it may not only be introduced into the Mills, shops and public houses, but into the dwelling-houses of the mill proprietors and other respectable houses”. He added that he “never yet knew an individual give up the use of gas where it was introduced, but they have considered it an indispensable necessity.” At this time the price of gas in Sheffield was 6s. 8d. per thousand feet. By the middle of the year, the Bill had become law and the exclusive right to manufacture gas, to construct all the necessary works, to take up the streets in the fashion with which we are now familiar became vested by right in the Glossop Gas Company, the territorial extent of which rights was defined in a succeeding Act passed in 1855, as comprising the townships of Glossop, Whitfield, Chunal, Simmondley, Charlesworth, Dinting, Hadfield and Padfield.
The Provisional Committee now passed out and their places were taken by a a Board of Directors, the first meeting of which was held in the Glossop Town Hall on August 18th, 1845. There is no indication that these gentlemen were appointed by the first ordinary meeting of shareholders which was held on the same day at 12 o'clock mid-day, after being advertised in the “Derby and Chesterfield Reporter” and the “Derbyshire Chronicle and Advertiser” neither of which papers now circulates in Glossop. The composition of the Board was changed by the introduction of a chemist in business in High-street, Howardtown, Mr. T. Peacock Wreaks in place of Mr. Matthew Ellison Hadfield, and the Board proceeded to set about the business of supplying gas to the town, and preparing to make good the promise contained in one of the clauses of the Act which permitted them to pay dividends of 10 per cent, on the invested capital, which was, no doubt the great attraction to the tradesmen who mainly comprised the Glossop Gas Coy. The salary of the first secretary was fixed by the general meeting at £10 per annum; at the end of the year the first two authorised gas fitters, John Shaw and Joseph Higginbottom, were appointed, and to show that they possessed the powers, the Company announced that “no other parties be allowed to do the work of this Company”.
The first superintendent and collector of rents was Mr. George Tomlinson, his salary being fixed at £30 per annum, whilst Mr. James Gill, a sort of works manager, received an increase of wages on the 30th of December, 1845, which placed him in possession of the princely salary of twenty-one shillings per week. His office must have grown in importance with the extensions of the works, for in the directory of 1854 he is described as “working manager, Gas Works, Arundel-street.” By the 12th March 1846, the new company had reached the position that they were able to sell gas to consumers and fixed the price at 7s. 6d. per thousand feet; the directors were working energetically and one year after the passing of the Act were supplying gas from the new works which superseded those of the Duke of Norfolk, but owing to their heavy initial expenses, the company decided not to pay dividend on the first year's working. A year later they announced that the position of the company then was that, the directors could have paid a dividend of 13 per cent., but as they were contemplating an extension of their works “to supply the Old Town of Glossop” they placed some of their money to reserve, and paid a lesser dividend. In May, 1847, the directors resolved “that gas be carried to the village of Glossop” and three months later applied to the Manchester. Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Co. for permission to “lay pipes alongside the railway lines from Dinting in order to supply Hadfield.”
At the ordinary meeting of shareholders held at the Town Hall on February 28th, 1848, the directors were in high feather; they announced the payment of a ten per cent, dividend, the extension of the mains to Hadfield, and a reduction in the price of gas, the directors saying that, “the increased consumption of that article in consequence of such reduction will tend to augment, rather than diminish, the annual income of the company.”
Twelve months earlier according to an old record, Sumner’s New Mill had been completed and was working, and it is possible that this reduction was a bait to Francis Sumner to allow the new company to supply his mills; Francis Sumner however, continued, like Wood’s, to manufacture his own industrial gas and at a later meeting the directors had to admit to their shareholders that increased consumption “has not been realised to the extent contemplated by the directors” and they contented themselves with declaring a dividend of five per cent. A high state of competition had apparently, by now, entered the cotton trade, for there appears a phrase in the directors’ report that was to recur thousands of times wherever cotton was spun and woven, for a hundred years. The directors stated that the lack of consumption of gas could “at once be accounted for by the continued depression of the manufacturing interests of the district.”
Glossop was then, wholly a cotton town. In 1849 the company struck a bad patch: not only had consumption of gas not increased as had been expected, but the clerical staff had made some blunders with the book-keeping for a previous balance sheet, and in consequence the directors were compelled to declare a dividend of four per cent. They recovered, however, and the consumption of gas increased, albeit it should be remembered that wages of working people were extremely low and the price of gas, judged by to-day’s values, extremely high. Not only did they recover, they continued to expand their supply system area by area, the mains being taken into Whitfield in 1851 but it must be remembered that “Whitfield” in the year 1851 commenced at the new Victoria Bridge. But the financial promise of the ten per cent, dividend had not been maintained, and in 1854 not only had the dividend fallen to three and a half per cent., but the chairman announced that the company had exhausted its capital resources and would need to apply to Parliament for powers to raise fresh money. In this year also trouble came from another direction; they were by now accustomed to depression in the cotton trade, but in 1854 they were confronted with largely increased cost of coal, increased general labour costs, and this depression was increased by a reduction in the consumption of gas. In 1854, where the company made application to Parliament for powers to raise additional capital, the company's salaries and wages bill only amounted to £180, although they now had three gas fitters, a works manager and a superintendent. On the 25th of May. 1855, the Bill received Royal Ascent, and the company were authorised to raise a further £18,000 capital, but Parliament had restricted the dividend payable on this issue to seven and a half per cent., and the price of gas was limited to 6s. per thousand feet. So the directors proceeded to “keep it in the family” by issuing two new shares to holders of each old £10 share, and one new in respect of each old £5 share.
So far the progress of the company had been just a story of expansion steadily pursued, often under difficulties, but many little happenings would, at their time, be items of some considerable social importance, and because of the narrow limits of the shareholding community, the infrequency of travel of the inhabitants, there would be general gossip throughout the town, in the ale houses, after the meetings of the strong dissenting communities that regularly took place. Thus although the company’s trading had not lived up to the original promise of ten per cent, nor yet of the seven and a half per cent, of the later issues shares had begun to be sold by public auction. A collector of gas accounts was appointed, Mr. Peter Sidebottom being the second of the line, the appointment having been made after the vacant post had been advertised by the unusual method of sending out handbills inviting applications. Mr. Sidebottom was remunerated at the rate of a commission of 4d. in the pound. The extension continued apace.
In 1859 the residents of both Whitfield proper, and of Simmondley, memorialised the directors for an extension of the mains, and the people of Padfield sent a deputation for the same reason. The mains were extended in all directions, the company stretching out its hands for new customers all through their Parliamentary area except Charlesworth, and here they decided against a petition from the residents. People were summoned for “stealing” gas: the main under the railway to Hadfield was inadequate and an extension from Woolley Bridge to Waterside followed, and 1860 the price of gas was reduced to 5s. per thousand. At this time the company were selling coke at the price of five pence per cwt. To-day's price is over 3s. per cwt.
In June, 1860, the authorities applied to the Company for the price of gas for lighting the streets of Glossop; an entry in the minutes makes it clear that in that year, 1860, there was a Toll Bar at Woolley Bridge for the Directors decided to carry their mains from the Woolley Bar to the Gun Inn at Hollingworth, outside their Parliamentary area. The price submitted for the street lighting did not suit the Lighting Committee, and a year of arguing took place, which ended in the lamps being lighted at a charge of 3s. 3d. per thousand feet, and street lighting by gas in Glossop, began in the autumn of 1861.
Soon after, the American Civil War commenced, that period of dreadful unemployment and distress that became known as the Cotton Panic. Thereafter, for more than three years, the consumption of gas, and consequently, the revenue consistently declined; the dividends steadily fell but touched rock bottom at 3½ per cent. In 1861 the revenue for, and the actual sales of gas were but one-third of those for the year 1861, but after the panic ended, and cotton again came to the town, tho Company quickly revived and expanded its sales of gas.
Ten years after the end of the American Civil War, i.e. the cotton panic, the Gas Company was sailing on an even keel; it was paying its maximum dividend, it was sometimes paying a little extra to recoup the shareholders for their patience during the lean years and,
taken by and large, it had reached the stage when, apart from temporary set-backs due to fluctuations in the prices in coal and cannel, and of the growing insistence of labour for better wages it could look forward to being a sound investment which always gave a good return. There was now no likelihood of there being a diminution of demand on the contrary, demand would increase, and every demand for increase made the position of the company more financially secure.
But there was, as usual, a fly in the ointment, in a previous article we have referred to the peculiar facts that, from the beginning, the Gas Company was obviously a combination of small tradesmen backed by the local influence of the officers of the estate, who in turn were supported by the Lord of the Manor. The large mill owners, themselves persons of some considerable commercial importance in the Lancashire cotton belt, had given the Company a wide berth, largely, I suppose, because at least three of them, the Sidebottoms, Francis Sumner, and the Wood Brothers, were manufacturing gas for their own industrial purposes at their own works. In other words, at this time, there were four separate and considerable gas manufacturing plants in the borough, but only one, the Glossop Gas Company, possessed Parliamentary powers.
An aerial view of the gasworks site taken in August 1958.
Reading between the lines of the minutes of the Gas Company, and those of the Town Council, it is evident that for some time a storm had been brewing between these two bodies, and that when the thunder started there would be a pretty fine display. It is not now possible to reconstruct the complete atmosphere of this storm in Glossop's life history, because the newspapers of those days have not been preserved; a complete file of the “Glossop Record” that was known to exist in Glossop has been destroyed because the owner did not realise its historical value, and the only other file of the paper which was in the care of the British Museum was destroyed during the German blitzes on London. From the minute books, however, we can say that the storm broke in 1874. At this time the directors of the company were literally all tradesmen, and with one or two exceptions, all the members of the Town Council were cotton manufacturers. In the year mentioned above the directors called the attention of the shareholders to a letter which had been published in the local paper, by one of the directors of the Gas Company, which the directors declared to be “a serious charge against the management of the company, and a reflection upon the honour and honesty of his colleagues, and the company's manager.” The director was a Mr. John Booth, and the manager Mr. David Clarke. The letter must have been a serious one for the directors demanded of Mr. Booth that if he did not withdraw his charges and apologise they would prosecute him. They at once removed him from the directorate.
Faced with the prospect of a prosecution for slander, Mr. Booth unreservedly and unconditionally withdrew his charges; there would be sensation in the town, and the gossips would be happy. Then the Town Council took a hand.
The minutes of the Council for February 5th, 1874, disclose the astonishing fact that this body actually discussed the possibility of Municipalising the Glossop Gas Works, and under the Mayoralty of Mr. William Sidebottom, passed this resolution:—
“That a sub-committee be appointed to consider the question of lighting and supplying the town with gas, and that such committee be authorised to ascertain the powers of the Glossop Gas Company, and to enter into preliminary negotiations to ascertain on what terms the Glossop Gas Company could become the property of the Corporation, and failing in the negotiations, to ascertain if there are good and sufficient grounds that may warrant the Corporation in seeking Parliamentary powers to erect fresh Gas works.”
The sub-committee was the Mayor, Alderman Edward Platt, James Shepley, J. Stafford, and Councillors W. Smith, Samuel Wood, and John Shepley.
The Gas Directors noted the newspaper report of this Council meeting, but as they had received no official order, like Brer Rabbit, they lay low and “said nuffin”. Meanwhile feeling would be running high, and all the people of Glossop would be “licking their chops” in anticipation of a scrap between “the high-ups”! By September, judging from the Council minutes, the sub-committee had become pretty certain that they would find the Gas Company a hard nut to crack, and had begun to explore the possibility of getting a Bill through Parliament in order to run an opposition Gas Works in Glossop, one owned and controlled by the Town Council.
But they were on the horns of a dilemma. Parliamentary Bills cost a lot of money in lawyers' fees; where was the money to come from? The Rates? The mill owners were not the only people who paid rates, the directors and shareholders of the Gas Company paid rates and they would not willingly find money for filibustering mill owners to put into the pockets of Parliamentary lawyers, and at the same time endanger the stability of the concern in which they had invested their own cash. So the sub-committee of the Town Council hit upon the idea of a local subscription to cover the cost of a Parliamentary Bill to establish another Gas works in Glossop. But here again, a snag rose up out of the smooth; if the Bill received Royal Assent, the cost of promotion would be a capital charge upon the new Gas works, but - what if it failed? So the Mayor, Mr. William Sidebottom reported to the Council on September 24th, 1874 that he had submitted the principle, of a subscription to the principal ratepayers, and they would willingly subscribe but for the fact that if the Bill did not pass they would lose their money. Still no communication was made by the Town Council to the Gas Directors, and by this time it is obvious that local feeling had begun to get strained, and that a good deal of opposition to the Gas Company was manifested.
What was apparently a town's meeting was called in the Town Hall on February 10th. 1875 and after discussion the following resolution was passed: ‘‘That In the opinion of this meeting, the Glossop Gas Company do not afford to the inhabitants of the borough a supply of gas of such illuminating power as is necessary for domestic comfort, for working purposes, and for the proper illumination of the streets, and that such supply as is afforded is inferior in quality, and sold at an excessive price.” The poor Gas Company was certainly running the gauntlet, but the Council was not satisfied. On March 11th. 1875, they passed a resolution deciding to petition the Home Secretary to introduce a General Bill to enable all Local Authorities to erect Gas Works and supply gas to their ratepayers without let or hindrance.
In passing we may notice that the Town Council at this time was suffering from the fever of Municipalisation; after electing Samuel Wood (father of “Young Sam”) Mayor of the Borough, on November 9th 1874, resolved to offer to buy the Town Hall, the other premises Markets and Waterworks, from Lord Howard. His Lordship declined. It is difficult, now to believe that this collection of hard-boiled cotton magnates ever contemplated for a second, the possible construction of another opposition Gas Works in Glossop. It is also difficult to believe in the purity of their motives for wanting to municipalise the Gas Works; but it is not difficult to understand that if they seized control of the Gas Works, the three privately owned industrial Gas Works, could be safely closed down, with great capital saving for the three local cotton masters.
In March, 1875, the Council had made up its mind and reached its decision, and that was, to offer to purchase outright the whole of the Glossop Gas Company and all its rights for the sum of £44,690, and this offer was contained in a letter from the Town Clerk, Mr. T. M. Ellison, dated March 17, 1875. It was submitted to an extraordinary meeting of the shareholders held at the Gas Offices on the same day as the receipt of the letter. This fact alone gives a clear indication of the tension in the town. The report of the Directors is not only interesting, it is an able report; the Directors were not asleep.
We may read in the report that the attacks in the local newspaper, and in the Council Chamber, had been long and severe. On the now available facts, it is difficult to acquit the mill owners of ulterior motive. These gentlemen would be accustomed to dabbling in stocks and shares, of buying in a depressed market and selling in a favourable one. The report does, in fact, charge the Council with this practice. The report states: “the quoted price (£44,690) has doubtless been influenced by the unjustifiable and unfair attacks, which, for a considerable period past have been made against the Company and its Directors, the natural tendency of which must have been to depress the shares.” The Council gambled on the low market value of the shares stampeding the timid into selling out but they were mistaken. After directly charging members of the Council and the Corporation with unfair and unjustifiable attacks, for a considerable period, they unanimously rejected the offer and declined to make any counter proposal, the reason stated in the resolution being “Because they have no wish to part with their undertaking.”
The mill owners of the Corporation of the Council were beaten for two reasons; firstly only the Gas Company possessed the Parliamentary powers of supply; and secondly, the experimental period of gas lighting had long passed, and the Company could look forward to consolidation and expansion. After this the Council gave only one last despairing kick at the Gas Company when, in January, 1876, they instructed the Town Clerk “to obtain Counsel's opinion as to the best means of legally lighting the unlighted part of Hadfield.” Remembering that Sidebottoms were manufacturing gas at Hadfield, such a resolution was only a trick. Of course, nothing came of it, the agitation died down, and the Company was able to devote its energies to the development of its lighting facilities
All this time, and for many more years to come, the only means of lighting was by the old fish-tail burners, nor had gas been used to any real extent for either deliberate heating or cooking, and although in this area electricity had not been made available as an illuminant, gas was not in universal use; there was still a large number of householders whose lighting medium was paraffin. The development of gas on improved lines dates from the institution of schools of gas technology, and from this point the uses of gas for human service were considerably multiplied
The first really great improvement in the use of gas an an illuminant come with the invention of the Welsbach mantle, an invention that startled a world accustomed to the semi-dim light of the fish tail burner. This was about the year 1900 and older people will remember the sensation it created. It was the vertical mantle that was hung on to a peg, and whilst it gave a light infinitely superior to the fish tail burner, it caused everyone using it to have at least one spare always in stock in the cupboard.
The first works in Glossop to use the vertical incandescent mantle was the building contractor's shop of Messrs. Cyrus Garside and Sons, of Surrey-street, and the first shop
to use the new mantle was the hairdressing establishment of Mr. Joe Bunting in Victoria Street, next to the Albion Hotel. This invention caused a great extension of gas lighting, for its adoption was universal and rapid. In order to let the public see for themselves the value of the new invention the company offered to install incandescent lights round Norfolk Square, and the Town Council agreed on condition that the company kept the lights in good order. So at last the hatchet was buried.
Five years later the inverted incandescent burner made its appearance before a sceptical world; the general criticism was that it would be a failure because gas wouldn't go downhill! However at the shop now occupied by the S.H.M.D. Joint Board in Glossop, there was forty years ago a wine merchant's shop occupied by a tradesman named Swire, and in this shop was installed the first inverted incandescent gas burner used in Glossop. About this time some forty years ago gas began to be adapted for cooking and heating, and the illuminant that it was generally believed would disappear with the expansion of electricity, took on an extended, lease of usefulness.
To observe how these inventions influenced the course of gas production it is only necessary to quote production figures; at the time of the introduction of the incandescent mantle the Glossop Gas Company were producing annually, some 58 million feet: ten years later, although the consumption of electricity was increasing, gas production was 81 million feet: in this year of 1945 production will reach nearly 200 million feet.
When everything appeared to be peaceful and quiet, in the year 1908, the Town Council suddenly revived its demand for municipalisation of the Gas Works and undertaking. On March 6th of that year Councillor Tom Eastham suddenly produced a bolt from the blue by proposing that a sub-committee be set up to consider the advisability of purchasing the gas undertaking of the Glossop Gas Company. He secured a seconder but the bulk of the Council refused to serve on the sub-committee, Alderman Edward Partington (Lord Doverdale) saying: “You'll get nothing out of that as we've tried it on before,” whilst Alderman Tom Braddock “trotted” Councillor Dr. Eastham by saying “It's only an election pledge!” However, the sub-committee, consisting of the Mayor (Mr. Herbert Partington), Councillors Isherwood, W. Jones and Dr. Eastham approached the Gas Company with a view to its municipalisation. They got short shrift and no argument. The reply submitted to the Council was: “The directors intimated they had no desire to sell; that the gas works was not on the market; but if the price were tempting enough, they would recommend the shareholders to consider it. They could not entertain a figure less than £100,000.”
This campaign, like its predecessor, was accompanied by offensive letters in the local Press, but unlike the previous effort, it died a sudden death. Now, as these lines are being written, almost exactly 100 years after the founding of the Glossop Gas Company, the Government have issued a White Paper, announcing the possible nationalisation of the industry. We shall see!
The Company has been fortunate in having for its officers men whose periods of service have been the reverse of transient. The general manager, Mr. Ben Goddard, has served the company for forty-eight years, the secretary, Mr. Walter Townend, for forty-nine years. During their period of service for the Company they have assisted in the great development and expansion of its resources; the re-construction of its plant by instalment of mechanical for hand stoking and charging; the enormously increased use of appliances for domestic use, the expansion of industrial gas use; the complete oversight of street lighting, and in the increased technical efficiency of the plant. Two other servants, Mr. R. T. Dyson, chief clerk and Mr. A. Palfreyman, collector, have served the Company for over 40 years each.
Both of the chief officials have been reared with the company and are familiar with its every aspect. They are, consequently, both well known townsmen, who have taken part in the town’s many activities, each according to his tastes. During the war that has now ended. Mr. Goddard was Commandant of the Borough Special Police Force; on previous occasions he has served as Fuel Controller. He was one of the band of men and women who achieved for Holy Trinity some local distinction by their productions of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operas; he has been for many years a prominent member of the Devonshire Lodge of Freemasons, has served on the Council of the Glossop Golf Club besides being its Captain.
Mr. Townend has held the office of treasurer to the well-known Hospitals Collections Committee for a very long period, and has served that body and its public, very faithfully. He was an official of the Glossop Musical Society, but his greatest service to the town and to the religious community to which he belongs has been his very intelligent work us producer to the Littlemoor Amateur Operatic Society, a post he has held for 26 years, and during his tenure of which, he has been the means of assisting a large number of youngsters to take part in really good amateur theatricals, and providing the public of Glossop with theatrical entertainment of a high order. The Littlemoor shows, under Mr. Townend, are an acknowledged feature of Glossop’s entertainment. Both these gentlemen have given honourable service both to their employers and to the town, and the development of the lighting, heating and other household facilities by means of gas is due in no small measure to their alertness and enterprise. A hundred years ago the first chairman was a lawyer; today a hundred years after, the chairman, Mr. G. H. Wilson, is a lawyer, and his colleagues as Directors are Messrs Frank and Leonard Oliver - whose father Councillor Walter was a prominent townsman and tradesman, Councillor Joseph Taylor, and Mr. Fred G. Shaw. And they are all fairly young and shrewd.
A view showing the coke-producing plant in the foreground and the cleaning tower in the background.
In 1948 the government passed the Gas Act 1948. On 1 April 1949 all the individual gas companies were nationalised. Glossop Gas Company became part of the North West regional gas board. Almost 9 years later (in February 1957) the North Western Gas Board announced that the Arundel Street works was to cease producing gas and coke. It would be maintained as a holder station, gas supplies coming from either Hyde or the new works at Denton and coke supplies from Hyde. The two big holders would be left but the retort-house, the tall cylindrical tower, used for cleaning the gas before it passed out to consumers, and the coke-producing plant would be demolished.
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