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Ketton Gas and Coke Company (limited).

Chris Hunt

Today, unless you live in a very rural village, you take a gas supply as the norm. Of course it has not always been the case.

In September 1965 forty odd miles off the Lincolnshire coast Natural Gas was discovered and so began a speedy decline and demise of the Coal Gas industry, which was colloquially called Town Gas.

The production was of course not dependant on the size of the settlement, but more on the ease of obtaining cheap coal balanced by customer demand, or should that be a population that could afford the cost of the product.

It was not until the first decade of the 19th century that the technology for the safe production and distribution of gas was available. This led to the world’s first gas company in 1812, the London and Westminster Gas Light and Coke Company. Initially outside of Britain’s coalfields the only places where cheap coal was available, were ports, riverside sites and towns supplied by canals.

A major factor was that the use of gas for street lighting was so much cheaper than the use of oil lamps or candles. In Stamford’s case it was not until June 1823 that Royal assent was given for a Company for lighting the streets of the town which were first lit in March 1825.

Locally to Stamford there were gas works at Easton on the Hill, King’s Cliffe and Ketton. Cheap coal only being available with the coming of the railways to these villages.

The Ketton Gas and Coke Company (Limited) was incorporated in 1862. The Company was capitalised at £1,250 made up of 250 £5.00 shares. In November 1862  it was reported in the Stamford Mercury that a few shares were still available from the Company Solicitor, a Mr. John Dabbs of Stamford, and it further stated that ‘there is reason to believe that an ample Dividend of a permanent character will be realised’.

The chosen site close to Ketton Railway station had been purchased and a contract had been entered into with Mr. George Bower of St Neot’s to provide the engineering equipment. The Directors of the Company had plans and specification drawn up for the building work which were made available between November 7th and 14th 1862 The tenders to be in the hands of the Secretary at the Office in Stamford by 1.00pm on November 15th or by 6.00pm on the same day at the White Hart Inn, at Ketton. Notice was given that the Directors would be meeting at the Inn on the same day to consider the Tenders and that those Tendering were invited to attend.

Mr. Bower had also entered a Tender for the building work as on November 21st 1862 the Company announced that his Tender had been accepted, that the work would commence immediately with completion in ‘about two months’.

George Bower, 1826-1911, was an industrialist and developer of gas appliances, whose products were sold at home and abroad from his iron foundry in St Neots. By 1880 he had also provided Gas Work equipment locally to gas works at Easton on the Hill and Kings Cliffe, and locally to the Marquis of Exeter at Burghley House,  the Great Northern Railway at Essendine, Apethorpe Hall and Shillingthorpe Hall.

The Ketton Gas and Coke Company must have initially been seen as a successful venture for in June 1865 five of the £5.00 shares were sold at auction by Mr. William Langley at the Assembly Rooms in Stamford for £6 2s 6d per share (a profit of 22.5% over three years). This success was short lived as at auction held by Mr. Richardson in March 1867 at the George Hotel, twenty fully paid up £5 shares went unsold as they only achieved £4 7s 6d and were bought in. If share prices are a guide to business success it would seem that the Company was not seen as a firm investment for when sixteen fully paid up £5 shares were offered by auction in January 1869  they sold for prices varying from £3 6s 0d to £3 10s 0d. In comparison shares in the Stamford Gas and Coke Company which had a face value of £50 were selling for £83 or £84 each.

Clearly by 1891 the Company was in difficulty as in the August of that year the then Company Secretary, a Mr. H.B.Barnett, issued a notice that a meeting would be held on September 1st to consider the ‘Financial and General Position of the Company, and determine whether the business of the Company ‘shall be continued or wound up voluntarily or otherwise, and to transact such other Business as may be necessary’. The decision was made to issue a Winding-Up Petition for the Company which was duly advertised in the London Gazette on September 25th 1891.

On October 20th 1891 the Ketton Gas Works and Plant were offered for sale by auction. This included the Gas Manager’s House, Retort and Purifying Houses, Purifier, Scrubber, Condenser, Meters, Mains, and other Effects, on a site of approximately 600 square yards.

It therefore comes as a surprise to discover that the sale of shares in the Company were still being advertised in the Stamford Mercury in May 1899 when thirty fully paid £5 shares were offered at auction.

Clearly Ketton still enjoyed a gas supply for in May 1908 the Gas Works and Plant were again offered for sale as a going concern. The site was described as having a Stone-built and Slated Manager’s house, Stone-built and Tiled Retort and Purifying Houses, Gasometer, Purifier, Scrubber, Condenser, Meters, Mains, and other Effects. The purchaser was Mr. J.H.Silcox, the managing director of the Pontardawe (Swansea) Gas Company for £360.

New ownership under new management resulted in a degree of investment for when finally the ‘fixed and loose plant’ was sold in April 1916 some of the equipment was relatively new. What effect the Great War had on the supply of coal, a labour force to run the plant, or the demand for gas is uncertain.

Messrs. Richardson, the auctioneers, split the machinery into Lots, including a Gasometer in excellent condition with 6,000 cubic feet capacity, a new 3¼h.p. 1915 Gas Engine by Crossley with fitted water cylinder, a Gas Engine by Robinson of Manchester, a new 1914 Exhauster by Bryan, Donkin & Co., a Scrubber, a set of Condensers, a 1914 Station Meter by Willey & Co., a Winch for raising the Purifier Box Top, two Retorts Beds (one of three beds and the other of one bed) with lids, a Boiler, two Water Tanks, eighty nine new slot and ordinary Gas Meters, and thirty one Gas Cookers (1914). Along with other numerous Gas Fittings and other effects. The site was sold separately and in 1923 the cottage, retort house, outbuildings, along with about three miles of gas mains; was bought by Mr. Sivers of Ketton for £250.

So ended Ketton’s gas supply until the arrival of natural gas sixty odd years later.

Ketton Gas Works 1886