Hinckley Gas Works

Hinckley was first supplied with gas during 1834 by the Hinckley Gas, Light and Coke Company

Hinckley Gas Works Gasometers
Hinckley Gas Works Gasometers c.1911

In 1821 no town of less than a population of 50,000 did not have gas lights. 5 years later only 2 towns with a population of over 10,000 did not have gas lights, Hinckley at this time had a population of just over 6,000.

Hinckley was first supplied with gas during 1834 by the Hinckley Gas, Light and Coke Company. Before the gas was available, it caused great difficulty in such a thriving market town as Hinckley.

The Parish Church, along with the other places of worship, was lit by oil and candles, which was an unpleasant and expensive way of lighting the building.

13th March 1834 A site was purchased on Coventry Road from Mr John Blakesley to build the Gas Works which would be known as the Hinckley Gas Light and Coke Company. Mr. Samuel Crossley of London supplied the first meters and the contractors for the building were Barlow & Oakes of London which came to a cost of £2,000.

Over a course of time once the Gas Works were in operation, a vast majority of the shopkeepers had gas installed. Almost every house of business, public buildings and places of amusement were lighted from the Hinckley Gas Works.

The benefit of having gas led many of the principal inhabitants of Hinckley to have the gas placed in every room in their homes, this was also done to a greater or lesser extent in all parts of the town.

Gas Works 1873

Due to the increasing demand for gas caused by the growing business of Hinckley, the shareholders of the Gas Works found it necessary to build a new and enlarged works which would supply enough gas even with an increasing consumption.

The insufficiency of gas, caused on some occasions the factories, shops, houses and the streets to be thrown into darkness, this created much confusion and alarm amongst the population of Hinckley.

The Contractor for the new Gas Works was Mr. M.Billings of Hinckley, they were inspected by Mr. Goodacre of Leicester (who had done alterations to The George Inn and would go on to do work on St.Mary's Church and St.Mary's School) said they would now bear in comparison with those of any town of the same size in the midland counties.

8th August 1873 The new Gas Works came to a cost of £7,500 and was formally opened. The Gas Works was designed to light a town of 7,000 inhabitants.

Hinckley Gas Works The Bleak House along Coventry Road
The Bleak House along Coventry Road c.1911

Apart from the works and meters, there was a large house for materials with a Director's room, Manager's office, meter-fitting place and fitting shops. The Gas Works also had their own water, gas and electrical systems.

The Gasometer (gas holder) held 60,000 cubic feet of gas, there was also a tall chimney of 87 foot high and square at bottom, and 2 feet 9 inches within the top of the flue.

1874 In Hinckley there was now 106 public street lamps supplied by the company which cost £3 5s per lamp.

1881 The Hinckley Local Board purchased the Hinckley Gaslight and Coke Company Ltd for £35,000 which brought the Gas Works into public ownership, and they also added the residents of Burbage to its clientele.

1894 The Hinckley Local Board was replaced by The Hinckley Urban District Council which now the Gas Works came under control.

1912 The capacity of one of the Gasometers on the site was increased by 20,000 cubic feet.

February 1922 It was announced that £40,000 was to be spent on improving the Gas Works with 'vertical retorts' (held large amounts of coal to be burnt which produced the gas) and other additions, due to the existing carbonising plant was 'inadequate, obsolete and very expensive to work.'

The Consumption of gas in the town had increased by 53% over the previous ten years and by 176% over the last twenty. 2,000 tons of coal a year would be saved when the new carbonising plant went in to operation. The output in the previous year had reached 580,000 cubic feet in 24 hours and was increasing. The maximum quantity sent out in 24 hours was 653,000 cubic feet. The new plant provided 750,000 cubic feet in 24 hours. A tender for the new Gas Works had been accepted from the Woodhall Duckham Vertical Retort Syndicate Company at a cost of £37,388, the total cost was expected to be nearer £40,000.

1926 The wages for the yard-men was eleven pence an hour (nearly five new pence), while the shift-men would earn a further two pence and hour (one new pence). The charge hands would earn one shilling two pence an hour (six new pence).

March 1928 Additions that cost £25,000, these included £17,085 for a Gasometer, tank, foundations and connections; £6,000 for the purifiers and connections; £1,000 for station meter and connections; £250 for the washer and £665 for the contingencies.

Hinckley Gas Works Scubbers
The Scubbers c.1911

Coal conveyors with coal hoppers ran up the side of the retort houses, the gas was extracted via exhausters from the retort houses. Once the coal was baked, coal came out the other end as coke. The working conditions of the retort houses for the men were as good as they could be at the time, but during the summer months the retort houses could become exceptionally hot to work in.

Working in the Boiler house was a better place to be, when the fuel was delivered to them all that had to be done was to make sure water was going in the boiler. When the fuel was going in the boiler the men maintained the required pressure.

1940s During the early part of the 40s when Britain was at war, the Gas Work suffered with the coal supplies and there was difficulty with labour due to so many of the employees having joined the forces for Britain's war effort. The remaining employees had to work a lot harder during this period and on top of that they had to do Home Guard and Fire Watch Duties.

The Gas Works during this difficult time had its own armed Home Guard for security with an ex-Sergeant Major who was placed in charge. When the ex-Sergeant Major issued the rifles out, he would also count the bullets given to each individual man. He would then proceed to take the men to their posts for the night, in the morning he would expect the men to be still at their posts. The rifles and bullets would be handed back over and the bullets would be counted to make sure none went astray.

During the war years there were other by-products being produced apart from producing gas and coke. The main by-product was Benzole, It was formerly mixed with petrol and sold as a motor fuel under trade names including 'National Benzole Mixture' and 'Regent Benzole Mixture'.

The other main by-product was Tar which was treated in a similar way. It went to the tar distillers and in turn distilled it and got out other by-products from it.

1948 West Midlands Gas took control of the Gas Works from the Hinckley Urban District Council.

Hinckley Gas Works in the 1947
Hinckley Gas Works in the 1947

1950 The Gas Works were said to be the most up-to-date in the country.

1962 The production of gas ceased at the Hinckley Gas Works and clearing of the site began.

1963 The Gas Council took over the Gas Works.

20th September 1968 Natural gas had arrived. Hinckley was one of the first three towns in the West Midlands to receive the new gas.

1973 The Gas Works was taken over by British Gas. Shortly after British Gas took over the redundancies started. Everyone was interviewed and offered another job in Coventry, Birmingham, etc. The majority of office staff was offered jobs at Solihull, all the staff that did not want to move away from Hinckley were made redundant.

There was a small team left at the Hinckley Gas Works to help with the closedown.

The chimney was pulled down with a method of cutting a piece out of the bottom and replacing it with timber, once this process had been down halfway around the bottom the wood was set on fire. Once the fire had burned through the wood the chimney would come down.

1975 The buildings fronting onto Coventry Road that were known as the Bleak House were demolished and the Gas Block was built in the same place.

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