How was Gas introduced to Hinckley

Days when the Parish Church was lighted with oil and candles

From the Parish Magazine of 1875

hinckley gas works in 1945
Hinckley Gas Works in 1945

The town of Hinckley was not supplied with gas until the year 1834. The difficulties arising from this want were such as to render it impossible for any but those who experienced them to describe, and especially so in a thriving market town, with good houses and shops, commodious inns and taverns, and an increasing trade. The Parish Church and all the other places of worship were lighted with oil and candles, which made it not only an unpleasant, but expensive, mode of effecting the purpose. With a view to making a reduction in the expenditure and of increasing the comfort and convenience of the various congregations, the churches and chapels were all, as opportunity afforded, fitted up and lighted with gas. In process of time nearly all the shopkeepers availed themselves of it, and almost every house of business, as well as public buildings and other places of resort and amusement were lighted from the Hinckley Gas Works. The benefit derived from this facility led many of the principal inhabitants to have gas placed in every room in their dwellings, and the same thing was continued to be done to a greater - or less extent in all parts of the town.

The first meeting of the shareholders

The first meeting of shareholders of the Gas Company was held 13th March 1834, the Rev. J. Bray in the chair, at which it was resolved that £2,000 be procured in £10 shares. The persons appointed to draw up the rules for the carrying on of the business were, Rev. J. Bray, Messrs. James Hollier, J.S. Needham, T.C. Harris, N. Ward, W. F. Gramshaw, A. Murcott, T. Felton, R. Heathcote. The company’s solicitor was Mr. Wm. Cowdell, jun. There was also a committee formed to secure a site, and they purchased a piece of ground from Mr. John Blakesley, situate on the road leading to Coventry, at a cost of £165 on which to build the works. The company consisted of over 30 shareholders, who for a time did not receive 5 per cent, for their capital; but, with a good management, it was made to average a higher rate of interest per annum. The project was not, however, entered into for the special purpose of benefiting the shareholders, but it was for the good of the people commercially interested in the town. Mr. Samuel Crossley, of London, supplied the first meters, and Messrs. Barlow and Oakes, of London, were the contractors for the erection of the works, at a cost of £2,000. A further sum of £400 or £500 was necessary to furnish the number of meters required.

Townspeople who feared explosions

white lion yard that ran between trinity lane and lower bond street, hinckley
White Lion Yard that ran between Trinity Lane and Lower Bond Street, Hinckley

On the day of opening, there were illuminations in various parts of the town, and dinners were provided at certain public houses. Some of the oldest people amongst its inhabitants were so alarmed at the lighting of the town for the first time, that they left the homes and beds for the night, lest they should be killed by an explosion.

Owing to the great demand for gas, occasioned by the extensive business of the town, the shareholders found it necessary to erect new and enlarged works, which would supply enough, even with an increasing consumption, for many years to come. The inhabitants had frequently been driven to great annoyance owing to the insufficiency of gas, and on some occasions the manufactories, the shops the domestic hearth, and the public streets, were suddenly thrown into darkness, which created much confusion and alarm.

The new works were opened on 8th August 1873, and the convenience which the public have derived cannot be too highly estimated, as it is one of the things requisite to facilitate the commerce of the town. The outlay has been £7,500, and the dimensions of the works were adapted to a town of 7,000 inhabitants and, if necessary, for a larger population. There can be 160,000 feet of gas made in twenty-four hours. There is a large retort room measuring 72 feet by 34 feet, in which are eight beds adapted for 40 retorts. Only part of these were fitted in the beds formerly in the old works (which had been sold for £6,000). They used to be of cast iron, but the new ones are made of clay of a cylindrical form, are much superior to the iron retorts, and can be kept at full red heat. They would not cost so much as iron ones, and are more durable, can be heated with less fuel, and kept at a uniform heat, thus producing a larger quantity of gas. There was a large house for materials, with a directors’ room, manager’s office, meter fitting place, and fitting shops, etc. A station meter was also purchased by the company, showing the amount of work done. The gasometer will hold 60,000 feet of gas. There is a tall chimney 87 feet high, square at the bottom, and 2ft. 9in. in top of the flue.

Mr Thomas Pridmore the first secretary

Other parts of the works involved a scientific principle as well as a vast amount of ingenious contrivance. Mr. M. Billing, of Hinckley, was the contractor for the new works, and they were inspected by Mr. Goodacre, who said they would now bear comparison with those of any town of the size in the Midland Counties. Air. Thomas Pridmore was appointed secretary at the commencement of the old gas works, and until his death took great interest in anything which promoted the success of the under-taking. He was present on the occasion of lighting the new retorts. Mr. W. Pridmore has for some time held the office of secretary, and at the commencing of the present works, in - showing the continued increase in the consumption of gas for the town, said that he had noticed in the books when there were only 74 meters in 1 use, and the quarter’s gas accounts would be something like £30. Now they had 400 meters, and the accounts per quarter were over £200. He also f stated that there were single factories consuming more than the whole of the town at one period. The manufactories have been considerably augmented within the last few years, and the general trade being very prosperous, it is believed that there will be a still greater demand for gas. There are now 106 public lamps supplied with gas by the Company, as a cost of £3 5s. per lamp, making a little over £300 per annum.

The chairman of the Company is Mr. W.G. Farmer, and there are over 100 shareholders. The new works cost over £13,000, and there is also a residence for the manager, Mr. Surl, erected on the spot.

The opening of the new works was celebrated by a public dinner, after which a pleasant evening was spent, and toasts were given for the chairman, the directors, shareholders, and all who had exercised themselves for the welfare of the undertaking. In his remarks the chairman, speaking of the difficulties which had beset them in the past twelve months, paid the highest commendation to Mr. Surl, their manager. While the building was progressing he must have been placed in the most difficult circumstances to make gas at all, and that many under such disadvantages would have gone away and left it all. He said the directors had every confidence in him, and believed he had done his best to satisfy them and the public. Several gentlemen spoke on the occasion, all of whom seemed particularly interested in the success of the Hinckley Gas Company, and judging by the healthy state of trade, believed that such would be the result.

The Hinckley Local Board in 1874 contemplated purchasing the above works for the town, in the expectation of making a profit from the consumption, hoping thereby to somewhat reduce the rates, which pressed heavily on the ratepayers. A sum of £17,500 was offered by them to the Gas Company; but as such could not be accomplished within a given time, together with the cost of obtaining an Act of Parliament, and other things, the offer was declined by the Company.

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