Chapter 9.

TRING: History About Library Contact TRING: Home

Contents Site Search



then electricity.

“ON THE SUPERIORITY OF GAS: It should be scarcely necessary, at the present day, to insist on the superiority of gas over other means of artificial illumination.  But prejudices still linger against its use in private houses which it is desirable to remove; and there are some points of advantage which gas possesses that require to be more extensively known.  We will, in the first place, dispose of the objections to the introduction of gas into dwellings, which are founded almost entirely on its assumed danger and insalubrity . . . . It is, perhaps, the best answer to the alleged danger of using gas, that the fire-insurance offices are now so fully convinced of its safety, that they neither make any extra charge where it is used, nor do they require any notice when it is laid on.  This practical estimate of the safety of gas is founded on the experience that houses into which gas is introduced are in less danger of taking fire accidentally than where candles and lamps are burned, with their constant liabilities to emit sparks, and with the danger that arises from the careless dropping of unextinguished snuffs and the carrying about of lighted candles.

The Manufacture and Distribution of Coal-Gas, Samuel Clegg (1866).


The development of gas lighting in the 19th century had a dramatic impact on people’s domestic and working lives.  Gas provided a far more efficient and economic form of lighting than the candles and oil lamps that preceded it, although it did have the disadvantage of making rooms very hot and stuffy by taking oxygen from the air to feed the flame.  Gas was later used for cooking and heating, uses that became more common for the less well off when gas companies began to hire out cookers and install coin-in-the-slot (i.e. prepayment) gas meters.

Unlike our forebears, who during hours of darkness had to feel their way around the town with the aid of lanterns, we live in an age in which
light pollution from street lighting, buildings and traffic is so intense that we rarely experience real darkness and take illuminated streets for granted.  While there is not much to say about the lamplights that provided much of this light, more can be said about the fuel that in bygone days was used to illuminate them, coal gas (also called town gas).

Where did it come from?  Today, we expect state run organisations and large public companies to satisfy civic needs, but in bygone times, more often than not, people had to use their own initiative and resources to get things done.  In Tring, for example, the owner of the land on which the railway station was to be built asked far more for it than the London & Birmingham Railway Company was prepared to pay, so its construction had partly to be financed by local businesses and the townsfolk
― and as there was no direct route between the Town and its new station, Station Road was built using donated land and funds raised by local subscription.

And so, when towns and cities around the country began to light their streets and houses with gas, and the citizens of Tring wished to do likewise, they had to look to their own resources to raise the necessary capital to build a gasworks
(Appendix 1) and lay the necessary pipework, the ’mains’:

“The whole difference between the gas-light process and the miniature operation of a lamp or candle, consists in having the distilling apparatus [the gasworks] at a distance instead of being in the wick, and in transmitting the gas, after having been stored up in the gas-holder, through pipes, to be burned as it issues from an aperture, instead of burning the gas the instant it is generated on the spot where it is produced.”

The Manufacture and Distribution of Coal-Gas, Samuel Clegg (1866).

The town
s gasworks located in Brook Street (many townsfolk today are unaware that Tring ever had a gasworks!) was to survive for over a century, in its later years producing gas for domestic heating and cooking, mains electricity having by then supplanted gas as a fuel for lighting.  What follows describes how all this happened.


“The introduction of gas into any town, is, in a great measure, a protection to property, and a safeguard against fire, which is too often the fatal result of the use of oil lamps and candles.  It must also be considered . . . . that all towns lighted with gas receive consideration from society generally, and are treated by the visitor and merchant as possessing some peculiar importance . . . . It is with pride that I aver that I have not yet erected any Works that have not paid an excellent interest on the capital invested in them.”

Thomas Atkins promoting gaslight to the inhabitants of Hungerford in 1845.

With words such as these, Thomas Atkins, gas engineer, convinced many of his listeners
― including those in Tring that they would benefit from a public gas supply.  The outcome was that Atkins made a respectable living bringing gas to the streets and homes of mid-19th century England:

“The projector of this new idea was originally a factory boy, but by force of character he has elevated himself most meritoriously to a respectable position in society.  After acquiring a general knowledge of mechanics, chemistry, and other branches of science, he has chosen the profession of gas engineer and is stated to have lighted upwards of thirty towns with gas.  Among the number we may instance Berkhampstead, Rickmansworth, Tring, Woburn, High Wycombe, Great Marlow, St. Neots, Uxbridge and Barnet.”

Herts Guardian, 26th June 1855.

. . . . . Olney and Hungerford were other examples of Atkins’ gas lighting achievements.


The first town in this area to acquire a public gas utility was Aylesbury.  In 1834 the Aylesbury Gas Company (Appendix 2) was formed and commenced operations on a site located at Hale Leys adjacent to what, in 1839, was to become the town’s High Street railway station.  In the following year town gas became available at Hemel Hempstead when a gas works opened in Bury Road. [1]  In 1849, the Great Berkhamsted Gas Light & Coke Co. [2 and APPENDIX] was set up to provide street lighting.  Then, in 1850, the citizens of Tring voted to install gaslight in their Town:


A public meeting will be held on Thursday evening next, March 14th 1850, at the Commercial Hall at 7 o’clock to take into consideration the report of Mr. Atkins on the practicability of introducing Gas into the Town.”

. . . . so read the notice circulated to the townsfolk.  It seems that Atkins had already made a preliminary survey, for at the Commercial Hall he explained to his audience the particulars of a report that he had prepared for building a public gasworks in the Town. [3]  His scheme must have displayed obvious merits, for the meeting concluded with the motion being carried unanimously “That in the opinion of this meeting it is desirable that gas should be introduced into the Town of Tring”.  A committee was formed comprising William Brown, Frederick Butcher, H. S. Rowbotham, Henry Faithfull and Alexander Parkes, their task being to “ascertain the practicability of establishing a Gas Company in this Town.”  When the Committee met four days later, Edward Pope, General Practitioner, was elected a further committee member and Parkes was appointed Secretary pro tem.

It was decided that the prospective company would require capital of £2,000, to be raised in £10 shares, and that each director would need to hold at least five shares to qualify.  A further notice, signed by the Secretary, was then sent around the Town to canvass support:

Sir, In consequence of the decided feeling shown at the meeting of the inhabitants on the 14th instant in favor of the introduction of Gas into this Town the committee appointed to organize a company for that purpose beg to request your co-operation and will wait on you shortly to ascertain to what extent you will support them herein.”

Tring Gas Company Minute Book, 18th March 1850.

In an age when gas was used solely for lighting, the method chosen by the committee for assessing the town’s likely consumption of gas was to estimate the number of gaslights that prospective customers planned to burn.  The directors’ survey revealed this to be 130, while those interested in investing in the Company offered to take up 132 shares, including 50 by Atkins for whom the Committee had by then received “several letters from parties connected with different Gas Works established by Mr. Atkins” that confirmed his “respectability and competency.”

A further public meeting took place at the Commercial Hall on the 19th April, at which the Secretary presented to the gathering the Committee’s report on the “practicality of establishing a Gas Company in the Town.”


We the undersigned, appointed at a public Meeting held at the Commercial Hall Tring, on the 14th March last, a Committee with power to add to our numbers for the purpose of ascertaining the practicability of establishing a Gas Company in this Town and having by virtue of such power added to our number Mr. Edward Pope and Mr James Andrews and having also elected Mr A. T. Parkes as the Secretary pro tem; and having by different deputations severally waited on the principal inhabitants to ascertain their opinion on the subject; also to what extent they will support the same, and having fully considered all matters connected therewith we beg respectfully to lay before you this our report.

Taking as the Basis of our Calculation the Statement which Mr Atkins has already laid before you, it appears that a Capital of £2000 will be required which we recommend should be raised in shares of £10 each.

We have already received promises from the inhabitants of Tring and Neighborhood that they will take to the amount of 150 Shares, and although Mr Atkins is willing to take the remaining 50 Shares, which will make up the amount of Capital required, still a portion of them can be had by the Consumers and others feeling an interest in the project.

We have received promises of 150 private lights; in addition to these, the probable consumption of Gas in the places of Public Worship, the Silk Mill and in the public Streets will be equal at least to 60 more.

Taking then into consideration the result of our Canvass and enquiries, and feeling convinced that the introduction of Gas into the Town will be a great benefit to the inhabitants and the means of improving it, we feel ourselves justified in recommending the immediate formation of a Gas Company in the Town of Tring.”

(Signed) Fredk. Butcher, Henry Faithfull, William Brown, J. Andrews, H. S. Rowbotham, A. T. Parkes, Edward Pope.

18th April 1850.


The Tring Gas Light and Coke Company was
registered on the 27th July 1850.

The Committee’s report having received a favourable reception, the meeting voted to form a company, which Atkins was to register provisionally.

At this stage a site for the Gasworks had yet to be found.  To that end the directors conducted Atkins on a tour of the Town during which a former gravel pit on Brook Street was identified as a suitable location.  The gravel pit was the property of David Evans, owner of the Silk Mill, who agreed to sell part of it to the Company for £60 “exclusive of a growing crop” (a further £13 7s 8d was later added “for labor & damage done to bean crop”).  The directors “resolved that this arrangement be confirmed and that the Solicitors be instructed to convey the same to the Company forthwith.”  The solicitors in question were Messrs Faithfull of Tring, who charged £10. 3s. 4d for performing the conveyance.

On the 10th May “It was resolved that the Solicitors be instructed to prepare the Deed of Settlement as speedily as possible.”  Until early Victorian times, companies could only be incorporated under Private Act of Parliament or Royal Charter, a time-consuming and expensive business.  As manufacturing developed, the need for a deregulated form of incorporation came to be recognised.  This led to the Joint Stock Companies Act of 1844 under which unincorporated ’deed of settlement’ companies with a share capital could be created using a type of debenture trust deed, its purpose being to name individuals of the company as trustees of the assets jointly owned by the company and to outline rules relating to its management. [4]

Extract from the Tring Gas Light & Coke Company Deed of Settlement.

On the 19th July, 1850, “The Directors attended this day at the office of their Solicitors [Messrs Faithfull] for the purpose of signing the Deed of Settlement of the Company.”  And so The Tring Gas Light & Coke Company was formed, its stated aim being to provide public lighting for the town of Tring and adjacent districts.  On the 23rd August, “The Solicitors’ Bill amounting to £91. 12. 8 for registering the Company & preparing the Deed of Settlement was laid before the Directors and discussed and a cheque for £84. 3. 4 was drawn in discharge thereof” ― in the Minutes the difference between what was billed and what was paid goes unexplained.

So far, each investor in the Company had paid a deposit of 1 shilling a share on their allocation and as cash was now required to settle accounts ― principally to fund construction of the Book Street Gasworks ― the Secretary was directed to issue a circular calling in the balance outstanding, by instalments:

1st instalment   

£1 19s 0d

Due on the 1st August 1850


£3   0s 0d



£2 10s 0d

2nd September 1850


£2 10s 0d

1st October 1850


Having obtained a site, [5] Atkins’ prepared plans and specifications for the Works following receipt of which the Directors took the prudent course, “that the same should be amended and submitted to some other Engineer for his opinion thereon” (Tring Gas Company Minute Book, 16th May, 1850).  Whether an independent engineering opinion was obtained at this stage isn’t recorded, but on the 22nd July Atkins and William Brown (Company Chairman) signed a contract “for the erection and completion of the Works and Buildings.”  The Minutes don’t record what price Atkins was to be paid, but subsequently he received £1,600 in four instalments, plus a further £87 for “extras.”  From this sum Atkins invested £300 in the Company’s shares.

Following contract, construction went ahead during which no significant problems are recorded.  Gas was first released into the mains in September 1850:

“On Wednesday last, [4th September] the town of Tring was all in a bustle, in consequence of that being the night which was fixed upon by Mr. T. Atkins, of Oxford, the contractor, to light the gas for the first time.  Great preparations were made to celebrate the event, and an immense concourse of people was present.  The men who had been employed at the works were sumptuously regaled with a supper, at the Green Man Inn.  The preparation on the occasion reflects great credit on Mrs. Philby, the worthy landlady.  Mr. Atkins presided at the head of the table, and was ably supported by Mr. Andrews as the vice chairman.  Ample justice being done to so good a spread, Mr. Atkins reminded the company, about 40 in number, that there were great crowds outside and that something must be done to amuse them.  The whole then turned out and headed by a band of music paraded the town, halting before the residence of Mr. W. Brown, the chairman of the board of directors, and also before the residence of T. Butcher, Esq., banker, and several others, playing favourite airs and marches on the road.  The whole returned to the Green Man Inn, in front of which simple preparation was made for fireworks, which on the signal being given (a gun fired) were let off.  Here the concourse of people was immense, and for those who are fond of such sights we may confidently state they were satisfied, for seldom if ever have we seen so good an exhibition of fireworks in a country place.  This over, the people began to disperse, but many remained for some time gazing intently on a large star which was fixed in front of the Green Man, and splendidly illuminated with gas.  On enquiry we were informed that the price of gas here at the commencement will be somewhat about 8s. or 8s. 4d. per thousand, with a discount for large consumers.  The opinion of the board is that a large consumption and not high price is the most remunerative.”

Bucks Advertiser, 7th September 1850.

It is likely that this event was a display rather than the commencement of regular operations, for construction had still to be completed and a Works Manager appointed.

By the beginning of October, the Directors felt “for the satisfaction of the shareholders, that some Gas Engineer or Surveyor be employed to inspect the Works, they being now nearly completed, and Mr. Dickinson, the Secretary of the Macclesfield Gas Works being present . . . . recommended Mr. Chadwick [6] . . . as a proper person”; they also resolved at their next meeting, “to look over Mr. Atkins’ contract with the Company to see that he had carried out the same in executing the Works.”  November saw the directors decide that “circulars be immediately issued with directions to consumers [presumably on their use of gas] and stating the price of coke, tar, etc. for sale by the Company”.  Gas was not to be the only saleable product manufactured at the Works and there are numerous entries in the Minutes to the sale of coke and tar.  For instance, on the 3rd March 1851 it is recorded that there was a large stock of coke on sale at 4
½d a bushel or 12s 6d per chaldron, [7] while gas tar was being offered at 2d a gallon or 5s a cask.

Bucks Herald, 11th May 1889.

At this stage there remained £100 of Atkins’ contract price outstanding, which directors decided to withhold until “the Works were certified.”  It was arranged that Chadwick would undertake a further survey of the Gasworks on the 4th March 1851; whether he did so on the appointed date isn’t recorded, but his bill for services rendered ― £2 17s. 0d. ― was not settled until October.  Presumably he found Atkins’ work satisfactory, for nothing to the contrary is recorded.  Atkins, however, wasn’t paid the balance owing him until the 8th July, 1852, when:

“It was resolved that the Balance of the Contract with Mr. Thos. Atkins for the erection and completion of the Works (viz. £100) be now paid to him after deducting therefrom £3. 8. 10 for Stocks and Dies which he did not furnish according to his Contract: and a cheque was accordingly drawn for the Balance thereof say £96 11. 2 to be handed to him on his giving a stamped receipt in full of all demands against the Company.”

The contract for the construction of the Gasworks doesn’t appear to have survived; however, for insurance purposes, an entry in the Minutes for July 1865 lists the plant and buildings with their insurance valuations as: Cottage and Offices £100; Retort House £100; Coal Store £50; Lime Shed £30; Purifying House, Coke Shed and Condensers £60; Governor House £10; Small Gas Holder £100; Large Gas Holder (built by Atkins in 1857) £150; Total value insured £600.

A distant view of Tring Gasworks, date unknown.

For many years it has been the misfortune of gas-works to be placed almost at the head of the list of disagreeables; and this is not the worst which has been said of them.  With that complete want of knowledge and of discrimination which settles many other questions in the view of the public, and against which it is of very little use to appeal, the manufacture of gas, or rather the odours emanating from some of its products, have been set down as being exceedingly injurious to health . . . . Nothing is more difficult than to make some people understand, and especially those who interest themselves in sanitary measures, that what are called offensive odours are not necessarily injurious.

The Manufacture and Distribution of Coal-Gas, Samuel Clegg (1866).

We have been unable to trace any photographs of the Brook Street Gasworks other than that above, which is of the nearby brook in which the Gasworks appears in the background.  However, at the same time that Atkins was erecting Tring Gasworks he was involved in a similar project at another small country town, Woburn in Bedfordshire. The photograph below shows the Woburn plant
probably built to a similar specification to that at Tring as it is believed to have looked in 1900.

Above: Woburn Gasworks c. 1900.  The retort house and furnace chimney are right background.

Below: schematic diagram of a typical small gasworks - as first built, Tring was probably along these lines. Additional equipment beyond the gas holder - the 'governor' - regulated the gas pressure in the mains.



While the Gasworks was in course of construction, much other work was proceeding in the background to do with setting up the Company, organising its day-to-day administration and deciding on what price to charge for gas, especially to large consumers.  While it is beyond the scope of this account to set out details of the Company’s workforce during the century covered by its Minute Books, some mention of the Company organisation during its early years is appropriate.

THE BOARD: at Shareholder and Director meetings held on the 25th April, 1850, the various positions required for the administration of the new Company were filled by election, namely Thomas Butcher and John Brown, Trustees; Messrs. H. S. Rowbotham, Frederick Butcher, William Brown, Edward Pope and Joseph Gurney, Directors; William Brown, Chairman of Directors and Edward Pope, Vice Chairman; John Chapman and Thomas Woodman, Auditors; Thomas Butcher, Treasurer; Messrs Butcher and Son, Bankers; and A. T. Parkes, Secretary, at the time the only remunerated officer of the Company at a salary of £12 p.a.

Board members came and went over the years, and until the Company was sold in 1930, most were well known local businessmen.  Among their number William Brown (auctioneer and land surveyor), George Butcher (of the Tring banking family), Walter Mead (butcher and farmer) and John Clement (watch and clock maker) each, in their turn, chaired the Board for many years.

COMPANY SECRETARY: the first Secretary to be appointed was Alexander Thomas Parkes, agent of the Tring Park Estate.  He was described in his obituary (Bucks Herald, 15th September 1888) as “excellent man of business, kind in all relations of life, just, methodical, and great worker.”  Parkes was succeeded by Frederick Gotto who remained in post until May 1861, when he was succeeded by John Amsden at a salary of £30 p.a.  At the Board meeting for that month the directors resolved “that he be required to enter into a bond jointly with a respectable person in the sum of £150,” a large sum for the time.  Whether this requirement had applied to earlier Secretaries or, if not, why it should apply to Amsden, isn’t recorded.  The Minute Book also lists the duties that Amsden was required to perform:

To make the returns required by the Act of Parliament;
To register all shares the parties themselves paying for the stamp and transfer fees;
To inspect meters, and register gas consumed whenever required by the Board to do so;
To collect rents quarterly and pay wages to Manager at Works weekly;
To visit the Works not less seldom than six times per week on an average
[his predecessor was required to visit once a week];
To examine the Manager’s petty cash acct and to receive monies for coke, tar, etc weekly;
To examine all accounts, send notices of meetings and undertake all correspondence;
Travelling expenses, postages, stationery etc. etc. to be provided and paid for by the Company.
When the various monies in the hands of the Secretary reach £15, £10 is to be paid into the bank.


Bucks Herald, 29th September1917.

Amsden was to remain in post until August, 1888, when he was taken seriously ill, dying in June of the following year.  His obituary writer described him as:

“ . . . . one of the best known men in Tring, where he was born and had always lived. For a number of years he was Secretary of the Gas Company, and a collector of rates, positions in which his integrity was highly appreciated . . . . He was formerly engaged in the [straw] plait trade, and latterly did some business as a coal merchant. He was a man of good ability and of business capacity, and no man in Tring, probably, knew more of its general affairs for the last half century.”

Bucks Herald, 22nd June 1889.

WORKS MANAGER: the first Works Manager was David Pike, appointed in January 1851 at a wage of 16 shillings a week; he was “also to have the privilege of putting in fittings to consumers on his own account . . . . It was also resolved that one man be employed under Pike during the winter months at 10s. per week wages,” the long nights of the winter months being those in which consumption of gas was likely to be highest.  There is no indication at this time that anyone else was permanently employed at the works, which suggests that Pike was running the plant almost single-handed.  In addition to their wages, Works Managers received free coal, gas and accommodation in the cottage on the site.  Whether the cottage had been built as part of the gasworks, or was pre-existing isn’t known, but the Minutes record that in March 1852 Pike informed the Board that “the cottage was very inconvenient and unhealthy”.  Regardless of whether that was so, the cottage remained the Works Manager’s home until 1907, when it was replaced by the house that stands on Brook Street today, the sole relic of the Tring Gas Light & Coke Company.

The former gasworks site redeveloped as 'Brookside' - luxury apartments.
The house in the foreground (by Tring architect William Huckvale) was the Manager’s house.

The longest serving Works Manager was Thomas Thompson, who was appointed in 1862.  In May, 1901, the Board resolved “that in recognition of the long and valuable services of Mr Thompson the Manager of the Works & because of his recent serious indisposition, he be given the opportunity of a rest & change for 3 weeks to be prolonged one more week if deemed advisable, also a gratuity of £10.”  The Minutes for October 1901 record that “That this Board deeply regrets the death of Mr. T. Thompson who for upwards of 39 years was a faithful & capable Manager of the Company’s Works.”  The curious thing is that Thompson’s surname was in fact Roberts, which is the name inscribed on his gravestone in the New Mill Baptist Cemetery ― how he came to be addressed as Thompson throughout his long service with the Company is a mystery.  Following Thompson’s death his son took over as Manager.

In the Company’s later years, its workforce were able to
participate in a profit sharing scheme, paid in proportion

 to their wages.

STOKERS: conditions for the manual workers employed in early gasworks were harsh, and this was especially true of the stokers.  Their work was to load coal into, and, following carbonization, unload the manufactured coke out of the ’retorts’ (ovens in which the coal was baked over a furnace to extract the gas ― see Appendix 1).  They also had to tend the furnaces in hot, dirty and dangerous conditions.  The following describes the stokers’ working conditions at a typical gasworks of the time:

“There were four stokers, whose main job was to load the retorts with coal, discharge the coke when carbonisation was complete and attend to the furnace.  It was hot, hard, and dirty work.  The front wall of the retort settings became so hot that the stoker had to work from several feet back, using long-handled tools.  In order to get the coal evenly spread out, the stoker had to throw the first shovelful straight to the far end of the retort, a distance of approximately 5 metres (16 feet) from where he was standing.  When the red hot coke was emptied from the retorts after carbonisation it burst into flames on contact with the air and had to be quenched with water, making the atmosphere in the retort house even more unpleasant and difficult to work in.”

Stokers wore hats to protect their hair from sparks, but it was too hot to wear many clothes, and of course nobody even thought about protecting their lungs!  Despite the terrible working conditions in the retort house, some of the Tring stokers served for many years.  The Bucks Herald mentions two.  In July 1937, Mr. & Mrs. T. Brooks celebrated their golden wedding anniversary, he having served for 49 years with the Company, and in October 1948 Mr. & Mrs. Fred Harrop celebrated theirs, he having served for over 30 years, partly as a lamplighter in the Town.

Stokers drawing the retorts in a large gasworks.

The pay and terms of service of the stokers don’t appear in the early Minutes and it is not until the 1890s that there is any indication of what they were.  The entry for 8th May, 1894, records that at that time only one stoker was employed, his wage being 19s. a week.  When the stokers requested a pay rise two years later “the wages of the two stokers and the lamplighter be raised 1s. per week for the winter months commencing the 1st week in October.”  Working hours must have been long and unsociable, for in 1897:

“An application was received from Brooks and Finney, the gas stokers, that they be permitted each to have one clear Sunday per month off from the Works.  After discussion it was resolved that their application be acceded to.”

Tring Gas Company Minute Book, 9th March 1897.


Despite the rigour of the gas stoker’s lot, Mr. T. Brooks (pictured with his wife on their 50th wedding anniversary in July 1937) managed to endure 49 years of service with the Company in that capacity.  However, by 1946 the Company was facing real difficulty recruiting people prepared to take on this gruelling work:

“SERIOUS POSITION AT THE TRING GASWORKS. ― The Ministry of Fuel and Power wrote calling attention of the Council to the continuing serious position existing at the Tring Gasworks, due, the letter stated, to the complete inability of the gas engineer (who in the past has been compelled to carry out his own stoking) to obtain stokers.  The Works were badly in need of two, and their absence endangered the maintenance of gas supplies to the district . . . .”

Bucks Herald, 10th May 1946.

When this problem was raised at a meeting of the Tring Urban District Council, it was agreed that German prisoners of war be put to work in the retort house and that a letter be sent to the Ministry to that effect, but the solution that was eventually adopted is unrecorded.


Coal was the raw material from which Tring’s gas was manufactured and throughout the life of the Company there are numerous references to it  in the Minutes.  These relate to  trials to identify the best gas-yielding coal, obtaining quotations from coal merchants, signing supply contracts and to the cost of hauling coal to the Works.

The earliest record of coal being bought was in January 1851, when it is recorded that “Messrs. Rowbotham and Frederick Butcher reported that they had agreed with Mr Alfred Penny, Coal Merchant of London, for the purchase of 49 tons of South Peareth Coals to be delivered to Tring Wharf at 18s 6d per ton”.  Subsequently one Parker was paid £2 10s 3d for haulage to the Works.  The names Mead & Bailey appear in the early Minutes ― 8th July 1852, Mead & Bailey paid 16/4 for “wharfage of coals”; 7th September Evans paid £1 8s 0d for “carting coals”.   Mead & Bailey were the owners of Gamnel Wharf, so it is reasonable to assume that early coal deliveries were by canal.  However, in 1859 the Minutes refer to coal being delivered to Tring Station, and there is no further mention of Gamnel Wharf.

As one would expect, the quantities of coal bought by the Company (and its price) gradually increased over the years as the town’s population grew and more people were connected to the supply, which they later used for cooking and heating.  By 1876, the modest initial order of 50 tons at 18s 6d per ton had grown to “500 tons of coal from the Wigan Coal Company at 19s 5d per ton delivered in Wigan [railway] trucks to Tring”.  In 1885, the Company bought 700 tons of Madeley screen gas coal at 15s 7d per ton; in 1898, Messrs Hackett & Co contracted to supply 1,000 tons of coal at 18s 11d per ton; by 1925 the annual order had risen to 1,600 tons and, by 1929, to 1,800 tons.  Although the Minutes don’t state it, it seems fair to assume that these quantities equate approximately to the annual coal consumption.

Not all coal was suitable for conversion into gas ― a process referred to as ’carbonisation’ ― and from time to time the Minutes refer to trials of different types of coal being made to identify that which produced the largest quantity of gas per ton.  For example, in April 1925, 4 types of coal were tested, the results being:


Low Staithes 31s 11d 12,800
Leashbridge 32s 03d 12,450
Barrow 33s 05d 12,375
Old Silkstone 32s 04d 12,060

After further tests the Minutes record that the board decided to order 1,000 tons of Barrow at 32s 11d, 400 tons of  Leashbridge at 32s, and 200 tons Low Staithes at 31s 11d.

From the Bucks Herald, 16th March 1921.

Coal supplies were seriously curtailed on three occasions, which in turn caused shortages in the amount of gas available to the town.  The first disruption was during the miners’ strike of 1912, the first national coal strike in Britain.  The strike took place at a time when the distribution of wealth derived from the pits was disproportionately in the favour of the mine owners.  Wages were set on a sliding scale ― when the coal price went up, wages increased slightly; when the price of coal decreased, wages plummeted.  Thus, the miners’ goal was to secure a minimum wage.  After 37 days of disruption, and fearing widespread civil unrest, the Government abandoned its stance of non-intervention and rushed a Bill through Parliament, from which emerged the Coal Mines (Minimum Wage) Act (1912).

News of the impending strike caused heavy buying that in turn caused a coal shortage, forcing up prices.  At the Company meeting held on 1st February 1912, the Secretary reported that Messrs. Foster, the Company’s supplier, had only sent 94 tons of coal since January.  At the following meeting, 150 tons of coal having been received from Fosters,  and in view of the continuing shortage, the Secretary was instructed to purchase what coal he could.  This resulted in some 30 tons being obtained from local coal merchants together with another 10 ton of broken up coal, otherwise known as ’slack’.  The directors also decided not to light the street lamps after 24th March until coal supplies returned to normal, but this resulted in one of the periodic spats with the Council Lighting Committee, who insisted that their contract with the Company had to be honoured and were not not prepared to have any lamps unlit.  The outcome was that only 9 lamps in various positions in the town were lighted.  By April 1912 the coal position was serious, all that was available was 3 to 4 tons with local merchants at 32s a ton and a truck at the station at 31s.  However, by June 1912 the position had returned to normal and the Company was able to obtain 1,000 tons of coal from their supplier.

Bucks Herald, 3rd July 1926

A further strike took place in 1921.  During the First World War the state took control of the coal industry on account of its importance to industry.  Under government control, miners’ wages, hours and safety improved, and at the end of hostilities the miners wanted to retain the status quo.  Being unwilling to provoke strike action, Lloyd George’s Coalition-Liberal Government retained control of the mines until 1921, when the industry was returned to private ownership and to pre-war working conditions.  The ensuing miners’ strike lasted for three months, at the end of which they were forced back to work on worse terms than they could have had at the start.

A further disruption occurred during the General Strike of 1926, when the Minutes refer to the serious position obtaining coal and great difficult maintaining gas supply, but they give no more detail.


The Minutes makes no mention of the original extent of the Company’s gas mains, although from the business that later transpired it is evident that the supply ran up Brook Street to the Robin Hood and then along the High Street (then called ’Market Street’) to the cross roads before turning up Akeman Street.  Later evidence suggests that the mains also extended into Frogmore Street.  Then, in September 1854, the directors decided to extend the mains to the “West End” of the Town.  A Special General Meeting of the Shareholders was called at which this decision was endorsed, subject to the approval of an engineer (this was the only time that such a formal procedure for extending the mains was used, later extensions being decided solely at Board meetings).  The plan was that:

“the Company’s Mains be extended from the end of Market Street to the Bricklayer’s Arms and from the top of Akeman Street to the Turnpike Road at Miswell Lane.”

Minutes, 24th September 1851.

In today’s terms the two extensions were to run (i) along Western Road to the corner of Duckmore Lane (once the site of the Bricklayer’s Arms) and (ii) from the top of Akeman Street along Park Road to Chapel Street, and then down to Western Road.  Atkins was invited to give an opinion on the plan’s feasibility and in due course:

“A Report of Mr Atkins upon the proposed Extension of the Company’s mains was read by the Secretary, approving of the said Extension, when it was resolved that the Work be proceeded with, and that in addition a 2 inch main be laid from the proposed main by Mr Robert Wright’s along Pleasant Terrace to Mr Garnett Jones’s. [8]

The Secretary was directed (with the assistance of the Manager at the Works) to draw up Specifications to be submitted to Mr Atkins and then to invite Messrs Killy, Mr Atkins, and Mr Chas Grace to tender for the execution of the proposed Works.

It was resolved that in every case where the Consumers have Gardens intervening between the Public Road and their Hose the Company do carry their Services through their Inclosures towards the House to the extent of 40 feet.

The Secretary was directed to write to the Surveyor to the Turnpike Trustees for permission to break the Ground in order to lay the Company’s Mains.”

Minutes, 28th September 1854.

The work was to be financed by the issue of 30 new shares of £10 each, to be offered to existing shareholders in proportion to their holdings.  Three tenders for the project were received.  A Mr Crichton having submitted the lowest bid, at £208 12s., a contract for the work was signed with him on the 18th October.  Work then commenced and continued into the following month, during which Crichton was paid £150 in three instalments.  It appears that the directors took the prudent step of inserting a retention clause in the contract, for when a gas leak was discovered in March of the following year, which Crichton failed to remedy, the Company offset the estimated cost of lost gas against the balance outstanding on the contract (the question of public safety is not mentioned).

In September, 1857, the directors considered two possible lengthy mains extensions.

In adverts for the Raleigh Light Delivery
Van (c. 1934) the Tring Gas Company is listed
among the vehicle’s ’discriminating users’.

The first request was from Sir Anthony de Rothschild ― who in the early 1850s had acquired Aston Clinton House ― who asked the Company to quote for supplying gas to his house and estate.  The reply was that the Company would lay on gas and erect a gas holder for £1,150, and would supply gas at the same price as for private consumers.  Nothing more came of the proposal, but Sir Anthony later erecting his own private gasworks on the bank of the Wendover Arm Canal at Aston Clinton (his relation erected a similar private gasworks on the canal bank further West to supply Halton House).

The second proposal concerned the railway.  When Tring Station was constructed in 1837, a small gasworks was built at the south end of the up platform to supply gas for lighting.  In September 1857, the Minutes record that the directors were aware that the London & North-Western Railway Company was planning to rebuild Tring Station and that the gasworks was to be taken down.  As a result the Secretary was instructed to write to Captain Huish, the L&NWR Company’s formidable General Manager, to advise him that the directors were prepared to lay on gas to the Station, but nothing further is recorded.  In later years the L&NWR asked on several occasions for a quotation to lay on a gas supply from the Town, but no agreement was reached and the Station continued to generate its own gas from a small gasworks, by then located on the North-East side of the Station Road bridge.

Nothing further is recorded on extending the mains until November 1875, when a considerable extension was made, although its impact appears to have been limited to supplying gas to the residences of just two of the Town’s better off citizens:

“A detailed statement of the cost of laying the new Main from Brook Street to Mr. Wm. Brown’s residence [and] from thence to the entrance of Mr Williams’ Park in the Station Road, a distance of 1765 yards, was laid before the Meeting.  The total cost of same amounted to the sum of three hundred and forty nine pounds.

Also the Moiety of the cost of laying the new three inch main from Beech Grove to the entrance of Pendley Park, a distance of one thousand and seventy five yards amounting to the sum of one hundred and four pounds nineteen shillings and seven  pence was examined and approved.”

Minutes, 11th November 1875.

Nothing further is recorded in the Minutes, but later business shows that the work was completed.

In 1886, the mains were extended along Brook Street to New Mill Baptist Chapel (dealt with in the next section) and to Tring Wharf.  In the previous year an enquiry had been made to the Company (under the Tring Drainage Scheme) to know what their terms would be to extend the mains to the new sewage works for lighting and to power a 1 h.p. gas pumping engine.  The Company estimated the cost at £300 and offered to do the work if the Tring Local Board would either pay half the cost, or guarantee gas consumption at the Works of at least £50 p.a. for 7 years.  Nothing further is recorded in the Minutes, but it is possible that the extension to Tring Wharf, carried out in the following year, also satisfied the new sewage works’ requirement.  Then, in 1890:

“Mr Carr, Lord Rothschild’s agent, having requested the Directors to state the terms upon which they would lay in a new gas main to supply the new laundry house offices, now in course of erection, was informed that this Company would lay in a main from the present main in Frogmore Street to a point opposite the entrance to the new laundry, using 2½ inch and 2 inch pipes now in stock at the Works on condition that Lord Rothschild pay the Company £25 towards the cost thereof.  Mr Carr on behalf of Lord Rothschild having accepted those terms the Secretary was directed to proceed with the work forthwith.”

Minutes, 15th July 1890.

The Rothschild laundry was on the right at the crest of Dundale Hill where St Peters Place now is.  Although a public electricity supply to the Town lay some years in the future, Lord Rothschild installed a private electricity generator at the Silk Mill to provide lighting for the Mansion, the new laundry and other Rothschild concerns.

Further extensions took place during 1891:

“A new 6 inch main be put in from the GEORGE corner to a point opposite Chapel Street and thence continued with a new 4 inch main to the end . . . . The Secretary was instructed, after consulting Thompson,
[the Gasworks Manager] to ask Mr Grace to give him an estimate for supplying and laying in the proposed new Main, also an estimate for carrying out the Works, the Company supplying the pipes, etc.”

Minutes, 10th March 1891.

“Mr Grace’s tender for supplying all material, carting and laying in the new main along Western Road, according to specification, for the sum of £235 15s 0d was accepted, the work to begin early in June and completed 5 weeks from the time of commencement.  The Secretary to write to the Chairman of the Local Board asking permission to open the ground as required.”

Minutes, 19th March 1891.

“As agent for and on behalf of J. G. Williams Esq., I
[Septimus G Foulks] hereby sanction a Gas main to be put under the new Road (Christ Church Road) extending from Parsonage Bottom to the entrance of Mr Frank Brown’s new residence, such main being the property of the Tring Gas Co. and they be allowed free access to the same at any time.”

Minutes, 14th July 1891.



Frank Brown was then the principal partner of William Brown & Co., auctioneers and land surveyors, later to become Brown & Merry.  ’Parsonage Bottom’ was the name for the dip in Christchurch Road, then the location of a farm.  “Mr Brown’s new residence” refers to ’Okeford’, the splendid house that he built at the top of Christchurch Road, now the site of Okeford Drive ― the house name was taken from Okeford Fitzpaine in Dorset, from where John and William Brown originated.  In its latter days the building served as Osmington School before being pulled down to make way for residential housing. 

In following years, as the town grew, the gas mains were extended further, but as extensions became common less details are recorded in the Minutes.


The reasons for erecting a gasworks in the Town were to provide improved street and domestic lighting ― other uses of gas lay well in the future.  To estimate how much gas would be needed for these purposes, the directors undertook a survey of potential customers:

“We have received promises of 150 private lights; in addition to these, the probable consumption of Gas in the places of Public Worship, the Silk Mill and in the public Streets will be equal at least to 60 more.”

Tring Gas Company Minute Book, 19th April 1850.

The Lighting and Watching Act of 1833 was the first statute to deal with the establishment of paid police forces in England and Wales.  It enabled, but didn’t require, boroughs to form police forces along the lines of London’s Metropolitan Police, which had been set up in 1829.  The Act allowed groups of property owners to form committees to organise local police forces (the ’watching’ part of the Act) and street lighting (mainly to combat street crime) and they were empowered to levy a rate on householders to pay for these services.  In fact Tring had recruited two watchmen some years previously:

July 1826: “A vestry was held ’for the purpose of considering the propriety of establishing Watchmen in the town’, and the Guardians of the Poor were requested to look out two of the paupers for this duty.  There were two watchmen who walked round at night, but did not call the hours.”

From Arthur MacDonald Brown’s notes.

The policing provisions of the Act appear to have been implemented in Tring by 1836, for an article in the Bucks Herald of November that year refers to “H. J. Coulter, one of the Tring police” making an arrest on suspicion of the theft of fowl; Arthur MacDonald records in his notes that “Coulter and Johnson were the first two policemen here ― they came shortly before the railway opened” [1837], by which time the Town had acquired street lighting:

“A public meeting of the ratepayers was held to determine whether the Act for Lighting and Watching Parishes shall be adopted in Tring.  It was carried unanimously and the Provisions of the Act should be carried out in the Town and the suburbs, and that there be 7 Inspectors for the purpose, also that £105 be raised for the purpose.  It was resolved that the boundaries of the Town and suburbs be considered to extend to Miss Miles’ house in London Road, Mr. John Mead’s house in the Wingrave Road, Mr. W. Griffin’s house in the Aylesbury Road, the house of the Revd. Jeffery, Aylesbury Lane, Tring Park and premises, and Maidenhead Street.”

From the Tring Vestry Minutes for 1836.

Tring’s original street lamps are believed to have been Naphtha flare lamps, the forerunners of the nowadays widely known high pressure paraffin ’tilley’ lamps.  Invented around 1830, they were also widely used by showmen, market-stall holders and circuses until World War I:

“1844: Situation of lamps to be fixed ― pillar lamp in open space near Robin Hood; Bracket lamps at Green Man; Ivy House. Wright’s; by Bull’s Ally (Bank Ally); on James Wilson’s cottage.  Mrs Mary Tomkins & Son ordered to procure lamps and about 30 gallons of Naphtha.  Order to Overseers to raise £44 by rate upon occupiers of property adjoining the road from Mile Post at Dunsley to Mr. John Mead’s house at the entrance of the Town from Aylesbury.

Oct. 1845: Lamps not lighted since April 7th. Mrs Northwood’s lamp over Rose & crown half expense of lighting to be borne by Inspectors.

Nov. 1846: Pillar lamp to be placed at Cross roads near Post Office (Bedford’s shop) in such position as may hereafter be determined. Meetings held in Commercial Hall.”

From Arthur MacDonald Brown’s notes.

The Gas Company Minutes don’t record how many gas street lights were erected, but by October 1850 their contractor, Atkins, reported to the Board that the new gas lamps were nearly ready for use.  The Board therefore decided to approach the Town’s Lighting Inspectors with a proposition:

“That the year shall end on the Second week in April 1851 if so long required by the Inspectors, and that the lamps shall be lighted entirely at the Expense of the Company at 42s per lamp and that the lamps be not lighted at the full of the Moon five nights on average.”

Tring Gas Company Minute Book, 2nd October 1850.


On its formation in 1850, the duties of the Lighting Inspectors were taken over by the Tring Local Board of Health. [9]  Although the Gas Company Minutes continue to refer to the “Lighting Inspectors”, a Lighting Committee of the Local Board took over the management of street lighting, and, until gas lighting was replaced by electricity in 1928, there were to be exchanges of correspondence (and sometimes of views!) between them and the Gas Company over the price of gas lighting and the cost of maintaining the town’s street lamps.

Eventually, in 1861, the Company agreed a contract with the Local Board to take charge of the town’s (then) 40 street lamps, keep them painted and repaired, light them on 140 nights from 1st June for an average of 6 hours a night at a cost of £2 10s. 0d per lamp.  But the agreement didn’t always run smoothly and there are a number of entries in the Company’s Minutes that record spats between the Local Board and the Company over lamplight maintenance.  For instance, in May 1899, the Local Board Secretary wrote to the Company complaining that insufficient allowance has been made in their half-yearly charges for “partial lighting” (i.e. nights on which the moon was sufficiently bright to allow the lamps to be lit for shorter periods).  In their reply the Company disagreed, pointing out that the existing agreement had been made when there were 51 public lamps in operation, a number that had gradually increased to 72 without any corresponding increase in the amount charged for lighting them.  This retort silenced the Lighting Committee, for nothing further is recorded on the matter; they should have kept quiet, for in the following year the Company increased their charges to take account of the increased number of street lamps, by then 75.

Gas street lamp at the junction of Akeman Street and Park Street, Tring (courtesy Mike Bass).

For the remainder of the life of Tring’s gas street lights, a supply and maintenance contract ― updated from time-to-time ― between the Gas Company and the Local Board (from 1894, the Tring Urban District Council) remained in force.  By 1922, shortly before electricity took over from gas as the lighting agent, Tring had 80 street lamps in operation for which the Company quoted £4 3s per lamp for gas and maintenance.

In addition to correspondence on the operational costs of street lighting, an occasional request was received from the Council to extend the gas mains so that additional street lights could be provided.  The following is a case in point:

Tring 9th Novr. 1885
Dear Sir
I am directed by the Board to send you for the consideration of your Company the enclosed memorials as to the public lighting of the road between the gas works and New Mill with a recommendation to your Company to consider the matter formally.
I may say that the Board would be willing to erect the necessary public lights on your Company laying the mains.
Yours Faithfully,
A. W. Vaisey

Subsequently the Council Lighting Committee offered the Gas Company 10 shillings extra per lamp per annum to supply and maintain the new lamps for a period of five years in consideration of the Company paying for the whole work of laying the new main.

Tring Gas Company, Feb 1st 1886
In reply to your letter of the 11th Jany. last I am directed to inform you that the Directors of the Gas Company fear that the offer of the Local Board will entail upon them a heavier loss than they ought to bear and they regret a more equitable offer has not been made.  But considering that the new lamps will be a great public benefit they have resolved to accept it and they will lay a four inch main from the Gas Works to Tring Wharf in accordance with the wishes of the Local Board.
I am
Yours Truly
J. Amsden, Secretary

News of the project to lay the new main soon reached the ears of the New Mill Chapel elders, but rather than approach the Gas Company they decided to enlist the support Frederick Butcher, a leading citizen of the town and an ardent Baptist:

15 Akeman St Tring
31st March 1886
Fredk. Butcher Esq
Chairman of Tring Local Board
Dear Sir.
On behalf of the New Mill Baptist Church I am requested to inform you that we learn with much pleasure the decision of the Board to light the road from the gasworks to the Tring Wharf.  We earnestly hope that you may see your way to laying a main along the new road to the Chapel as we are anxious to light it with gas.
I am
Yours very Respectfully
Thomas Grace

. . . . who in turn sent it forward to the Gas Company:

Tring Gas Company, April 21st 1886
Dear Sir
Your letter of the 5th Inst. containing a copy of Mr. T. Grace’s letter to the Chairman of the Tring Local Board was duly laid before my Directors at a meeting here last evening.  And it was unanimously resolved to comply with the request contained therein and lay a main to New Mill Chapel.
I Am
Yours Truly
J. Amsden.

Whether the Gas Company saw any profit in so doing is not recorded, but gaslight came to New Mill Chapel in 1886.

The interior of New Mill Chapel in the 1920s showing the gaslights in place.


Gas mantles.

In 1887 an important improvement was made to gas lighting with the invention of the ’incandescent mantle’.  Gas mantles are fabric items impregnation with metal nitrates.  When heated by a flame, a mantle forms a rigid but fragile mesh of metal oxides that produces a very bright light, much brighter than the naked gas flame that preceded it.  The gas mantle was to form an important component of street lighting until replaced by electric lamps.  Today, mantles are still used in portable camping lanterns, pressure lanterns and some oil lamps.


In his unpublished notes, the late Tring local historian Ron Kitchener commented “Many folk were frightened of ’the new-fangled things’ and stuck to coal and wood fires, candles and paraffin lamps even as recent as the 1960s.”

The initial purpose of a gasworks was to provide gas for lighting, principally for street lighting but from the mid-19th century gas was used increasingly for domestic lighting.  As people had a coal fire for heating, they generally had a coal fired ’kitchen range’ for cooking.  Although rudimentary gas cookers had been invented during the 1820s, they were little used.  It was not until gas cookers were shown at the World Fair in London in 1851 that they began to gain acceptance, although their use at this time was restricted mainly to more wealthy households.

By the 1880s it had become apparent that electricity would eventually replace gas as a source of lighting and, having looked around for other potential revenue-earning uses for their product,  gas companies began to promote gas for cooking and heating.  This coincided with the appearance of the pre-payment (or slot) gas meter, which, together with gas companies beginning to offer their customers gas cookers to rent, were important steps in making gas more affordable to the wider community.  The invention of the oven thermostat in 1923 was a further development in popularising the gas cooker.

Early gas stoves by Sugg.

As for gas heating, by the mid 19th century gas fires had been designed, usually incorporating tufted asbestos heated by gas burners, but coal remained the preferred fuel until well into the 20th century.  Ceramic radiant fires were introduced in 1905 and the efficiency of gas fires was improved substantially in the 1950s with the development of convector fires, which use a heat exchanger to recover heat from the flue gasses.  The big change to heating followed the Clean Air Act (1956), which restricted the use of solid fuel in urban areas and led to a massive increase in the popularity of gas fires, space heaters and central heating boilers.

At Tring, the earliest reference to prepayment meters and rented cookers in the gas company’s Minutes was in 1896, when . . . .

“The Secretary was instructed to order one each of Nos 8, 9 & 10 Davis’s gas cookers and also 4 prepayment meters.  Mr [Jesse] Hansford of the Grammar School Western Road, having asked if the Company would lay on the gas to the house occupied by him and provide a gas cooker there  and on what terms, the Secretary was instructed to inform him that the Company would be willing to do so without charge on condition that he be supplied with gas through a prepayment meter.”

Minutes, 14th July 1896.

It appears that this innovation soon became popular, for by 1903 the load on the workforce had increased:

“Thompson the manager at the Works attended the meeting and stated that, in consequence of the Introduction into the Town of gas cookers and automatic gas meters, the labour in the retort house and yards is increased, while at the same time the fixing of the cookers, automatic meters and their service pipes had for some weeks past taken up the whole time of Thompson’s son.  Consequently an extra man had been employed.  The stokers also asked for an increase in their wages.  It was resolved that the extra man be kept on and that the wages of the 2 stokers and the lamplighter by raised 1/- per week for the winter months commencing the 1st week in October.”

Minutes, 10th Nov 1903

“Company to reduce rent for gas stoves to 1/- per quarter for those whose house rent does not exceed 5/- per week. This proved difficult to implement, so all prepayment meter customers charged 1/- per quarter.”

Minutes, 27th May 1907

Of course a perennial problem with prepayment meters was theft of the takings:

The Secretary informed the Directors that a prepayment meter in Mr Green’s cycle shop had been broken open and the money, amounting to about 16/- taken out.  Mr Green declined to refund the amount.  After considerable discussion, it was decided not to take any further steps at present in the hope that some precedent of a similar case may be found, and the box of this meter be cleared weekly, which has been done since the occurrence.”

Minutes, 10th Nov 1903.

But on the other side of that particular coin, prepayment was a means of curbing the amount of late payments and bad debts:

The Secretary informed the Directors that Mr John Green of Akeman Street owed for 5 quarters gas.  He was instructed to press for payment and have a prepayment meter put in.”

Minutes, 12th Jan 1904.


Bucks Herald, 6th October 1933.

In later years the Company appears to have made a more determined effort to sell/rent gas appliances, probably encouraged by the decline in the use of gas for both street and domestic lighting following the arrival of mains electricity in the town in 1926:

The Tring Gas, Light and Coke Co., Ltd., begs to inform its Patrons that a SHOW ROOM has been opened at their Office and Works in Brook-street, where a stock of modern Cookers, Fires, Boilers and lamps, etc., may be seen.  An inspection of same is cordially invited.”

Bucks Herald, 5th February 1932.

In addition to promoting their new showroom, the Company also arranged demonstrations in the art of gas cooking:

“COOKERY DEMONSTRATION. ― There have been large attendances at the Church House during the week to witness cookery demonstrations arranged by the Tring Gas, Light and Coke Company, in conjunction with Messrs. Richmond and Company, and the manufacturers of Radiation appliances. The exhibition was opened by Mr. John Bly, Chairman of the Urban District Council, who was introduced by Mr Ed. Wright, Secretary and Director of the Gas Company. Cookery demonstrations on the latest type of gas stove were given by Miss D. Jaques, and a cake-making competition will be judged today (Friday).  Many modern gas appliances were on view, including stoves, fires, geysers and modern lighting.

Bucks Herald, 27th May 1932.

GAS EXHIBITION. ― The gas exhibition and cookery demonstrations recently held at the Church House by the Tring Gas, Light and Coke Co., Ltd., proved to be very successful.  The exhibition extended over four days, and there were two cookery demonstrations daily, given by Miss Jaques, of Radiation, Ltd.  There was good attendance on the first afternoon, when My John Bly declared the exhibition open, but the numbers so increased at every demonstration that on the last night many had to be turned away owing to the hall being full.  The cake competition was very keenly contested.  There were 36 entries.”

Bucks Herald, 10th June 1932.

The Company’s efforts to promote the use of gas for cooking and heating against the declining use of gas for lighting appears to have borne fruit, for at their 83rd annual general meeting held in April 1934, the Chairman was able to report increased gas sales of 16,211,200 cu. ft against 15,144,100 cu. ft. in the previous year.  The Minutes make little reference to the Company’s accounts, but from what information there it is apparent that revenue from appliance rental contracts increased in each of the 5 years (incl.) from 1936 (£229 16s 5d) to 1940 (£363 5s 5d).


In 1930 the Tring Gas Light & Coke Company was bought, first by Mr W. S. Coles of Watford and then ― it is unclear exactly when, but probably in 1935 ― by the General Gas and Electricity Company.  Following an Act of Parliament  in 1936, the Tring Gas Light & Coke Company was dissolved and re-incorporated as the Tring Gas Company, with further powers to improve the gasworks and raise additional capital.  Further change took place in 1945 when the Company was again taken over, this time by the United Kingdom Gas Corporation, a holding company that controlled numerous local gas utilities including, in this area, those at Aylesbury, Thame, Winslow and Woburn.

In 1945 Churchill’s coalition government fell and the Labour Party was returned to power under Clement Atlee.  The new government soon commenced a massive programme of nationalisation.  In 1948, the Gas Act nationalised the UK gas industry by bringing into state ownership 1,062 privately owned and municipal gas companies.  These were merged into twelve area gas boards, each with their own management structure.  These area boards became known to their customers as the ’Gas Board’, a term that is still sometimes applied to British Gas.  From 1st May 1949, the Tring Gas Company was incorporated  into the Southern Gas Board.

Following nationalisation coal gas continued to be produced locally until, in 1957:

Tring gas now comes from Oxford.  For 105 years the 5,000 people of Tring have had a gasworks, but Southern Gas now pipe from Oxford. [10]

Bucks Herald 19th April 1957.

However, coal gas was soon to fall out of use. [11]  Surveys had shown that large reserves of natural gas lay under the North Sea and in 1966 the decision was taken to convert the UK from coal gas to natural gas.  In the following year the first natural gas from the North Sea arrived and over the next 10 years British Gas carried out a massive programme to convert gas appliances to burn this new type of fuel.  Tring switched to natural gas at the beginning of 1969 . . . .


The invention of the incandescent light bulb (around 1880, by Swan in Britain and Edison in the USA) made electric power more attractive than gas for indoor lighting ― it was safer, cleaner and didn’t smell.  In 1881 the world’s first electric street lighting was installed in Goldalming in Surrey; being water-driven, the town’s power station also became the Britain’s first hydroelectric plant.

Most early electricity generating stations used steam reciprocating (i.e. pistons driving a crankshaft) engines to generate direct current (DC), which was stored in lead acid accumulators to provide power when the generators weren’t running.  Some of the early generating systems described below are of this type.

Invented in 1884, the steam turbine proved to be a more effective power source than steam reciprocating engines for producing the high shaft speeds required for generating alternating current (AC), and steam turbine alternators remain the main power generators to this day.  The great advantage of AC over DC is that it is possible with AC (but not DC) to use transformers to increase or decrease the voltage, thus allowing electricity to be transmitted over much greater distances using very high voltages and low current flows (the amount of power lost in transmission increases with current).  However, it wasn’t until our high-voltage electric power transmission network, the ’National Grid’,
began operating in September 1933 that (50 Hz) AC became the UK standard.


Although a public electricity supply did not become available in Tring until 1926, electricity for domestic lighting had been used by some of the town’s most affluent citizens from the early 1890s.  Lord Rothschild of Tring Park appears to have been the first:

TRING ― Mr. C. Burman Callow, who left Tring in July last, after four years’ residence, during which time he laid down the present extensive and complicated plant and installation for the generation of electric light and power at Lord Rothschild’s residence, Tring Park, rejoined his old firm of Messrs. Laing, Wharton, and Down, of New Bond Street, London.  He has since been engaged in carrying out their contract for laying down an installation for supplying upwards of 1,300 electric lights in the Brompton Hospital for Consumption . . . .

Bucks Herald, 28th December 1895.

The Bucks Herald reported that electricity was used in 1893 to light the Tring Park gate posts, although it was probably available earlier:

New lampposts for Tring Park Gates ― a pair of very beautiful and elaborate wrought-iron posts, to be fitted with powerful electric lights, are in course of erection at the new town gates of Tring Park. They are manufactured by Messrs. Dettilde and Co., of Archer-street, Shaftesbury-avenue, from designs made specially, and will add materially to the handsome wrought-iron gates lately erected by Messrs. Brown, of Birmingham.

Bucks Herald, 11th March 1893.

Where the electric plant in Tring Park was located is unknown, although the following article suggests it was powered by a steam engine that needed cooling water to condense its exhaust steam:

“Rapid growth of fish in warm water ― in the month of February last a number of gold and silver fish were turned into the large Condensing Pond at the rear of the Electric Light Works at Tring Park, the water of which is always warm, the temperature varying from 65 or 70 degrees to 100, [Fahrenheit] according to the working of the engines.  The tendency of this warm water has been to greatly accelerate the growth and development of the fish . . . .  The pond, which is round in shape, between 50 and 60 feet in circumference, and 3 feet deep, also contains some fine specimens of Prussian carp and tench, the former weighing over 8lbs each.”

Bucks Herald, 4th November 1893.

By the final decade of the 19th century the business at Tring’s Silk Mill, which had been running at a loss for a good many years, ceased to be viable and it was finally closed in 1897.  This rendered the Mill’s large engine room redundant, resulting in plans being made to use it to replace the existing electricity generating station in Tring Park.  The new, sizeable, power plant was installed by Walter Thomas, a former marine engineer, whose daughter left a memoir of her father’s work:

“In 1895 . . . . he learned that the Rothschilds of Tring Park in Hertfordshire were seeking an engineer to convert a large disused silk mill in Brook Street into a power station capable of electrifying the whole estate, a challenge to any engineer, but one he accepted gladly.

His first task was to remove two storeys from the mill, while cables had to be laid to the Mansion, Home Farm, the Stud Farm at West Leith the Pedigree Herd Farm at Hastoe and, later, the Museum.  The power station when completed was an engineer’s dream and your grandfather, with carte blanche to purchase the best, was a welcome visitor to the engineering firms of the City!  The floor consisted of black and white marble slabs, the walls of glazed tiles, the great switchboard was of polished slate, and the instruments from Negretti & Zambra.  A vast storage room of cells and records office completed the ground floor, while down below ground level were the boiler room and the gigantic
[water] wheel which had run the looms of the silk mill.”

The Silk Mill Power Station, Brook Street, Tring.
Above: the steam reciprocating engines with belt drive to the dynamos.
Below: the dynamos (DC) and switchboard.

Pictures courtesy Linda McGhee.

Another early user of electricity in Tring was the Parish Church.  The generating plant ― installed in the gatehouse leading to the Vicarage ―  comprised a 4½ h.p gas engine running on coal gas from the mains.  The engine drove a dynamo, which charged a bank of lead acid accumulators, which, once charged, could run the Church lighting system for up to 5 hours.  Electric lighting was made possible . . . .

“. . . . owing to the advent of the metallic filament lamp, which requires 70 per cent less energy for a given candle power compared with the original carbon filament lamp, electricity for Church lighting is now well within the bounds of possibility . . . .”

Bucks Herald, 8th May 1909.


It is now necessary to look at developments in Aylesbury, for it was from there that Tring obtained its first mains electricity. (Appendix 3)

The public supply of electricity in Aylesbury commenced in May 1915.  The first power station used two 100 KW oil engine generating sets producing current at 110 volts DC, across which floated a 600-ampere-hour accumulator.  The Bucks Herald described the opening of the new power station:

“The visitors entered the battery room, where Mr Turnbull [resident engineer] explained that the accumulators, which consisted of 250 cells of 600 ampere hour capacity ― equivalent to a supply of about 30 horse power for ten hours ― were used for the storage of electricity.  They did not want to keep the engines on for 24 hours for a few loads, and so they could take the electricity they wanted in many instances from those batteries.

Proceeding to the engine room where are situated the two 150 horse-power engines and dynamos, Mr Turnbull explained that these were run on fuel oil which abounds in the earth in large quantities in many parts of the world.  An explanation of the switchboard followed, it being pointed out that this controlled and measured the quantities of electricity produced by the dynamos, and distributed it to different parts of the town.  Mr Turnbull displayed the special feeders for Walton-street, the Market-square, Buckingham-street, and a special power feeder out to the Tring-road district.

The Chairman then gave instructions for an engine to be started and electricity to be put on to the switchboard.  This having been done, Councillor Adkins switched on the supply to the west side of the High-street and to Messrs. Richards
timber-yard, the latter having kindly allowed the Council to connect with his up-to-date machinery in order to give the visitors a good idea of the great advantages of the current.  Examples of the application of electricity were witnessed in the centrifugal pump drawing water from the canal for cooling the engines, the electric show board, and an instance of electric cooking . . . . in the engineers office, where further examples of the application of electricity were given in heating, ozone, drilling, ironing, and lighting.”

Bucks Herald, 29th May 1915.

A large number of consumers were connected to the new system, but as the War progressed the manufacture of munitions increased the higher demand for electric power.  By the end of 1916 the battery capacity had been enlarged by an additional 50 per cent, but by then the demand from the munitions factories had increased to the extent that it also became necessary to enlarge the generating plant.  New plant entering operation in January 1918, but this too was soon found insufficient.

In August 1920, a 1,000 KW steam-driven installation was commissioned.  The new generating station was situated near the town centre by the side of the canal, which supplied the necessary cooling water and enabled the convenient handling of fuel from barges.  By now DC had been abandoned in favour of AC, the new steam turbo-alternator generating a 3-phase supply at 6,600 volts.

Aylesbury Power Station: building and switchboard (dates unkown).

In 1924, the Borough of Aylesbury applied to the Electricity Commissioners (a Government department set up to regulate the electricity supply industry in its early days) for authority under the Electricity Supply Acts to extend their supply of electricity beyond Aylesbury to outlying areas, among which were Tring, Puttenham, Aldbury and Wigginton ― or, as the quaint wording of the application put it:

“To authorise the Corporation to open, break up, and interfere with all streets, roads and public places, ways, footpaths, bridges, culverts, sewers, drains, and gas and water mains and pipes and telegraph and telephone and other wires within the area of supply, and to lay down, erect, maintain, renew and remove either above or underground or otherwise electric lines, conductors, mains pipes, tubes, wires, posts, street or distributing boxes, meters, apparatus or other works or things required for the purpose of enabling the Company to generate, supply, store, convey, transmit or distribute electricity within added areas, and to confer all such other powers upon the Corporation as may be necessary for effecting the objects of the proposed undertaking.”

Bucks Herald, 13th December 1924.

. . . . and that, in legal terms, was a watertight case for extending the mains expressed in a single sentence!  The notice goes on to say that in Tring, the mains were to run along Western Road from its junction with Duckmore Lane, through the High Street passing the junction with Brook Street and extending along Station Road as far as Hawkwell.  And so mains electricity arrived in Tring:

“Aylesbury Corporation’s scheme of extending electrical supply to the rural areas took definite form on Monday, and Tring has the distinction of being the first place to receive the current. The principal shops in High-street are being supplied with electricity and many householders are availing themselves of the advantages electricity offers.  Up to the present there are about 70 installations in Tring.

That Monday was an epoch-making day in the history of the town will be realised more as time goes on, and the use of electricity develops.  The main line runs by Bunstrux Hill, and from there a branch line about half-a-mile in length runs to Tring.  The main line continues to Northfield, and there are also branch lines to Aldbury, Wigginton, and the Grand Junction Canal Pumping Station at Little Tring.  The Tring supply is controlled from a kiosk by the George Hotel, and here the Vice-Chairman of the Council (Mr. J. Bly) . . . . performed the simple ceremony of ’switching on’, which marks the advent of a new era for Tring.”

Bucks Herald, 25th December 1926.

The first in the area to benefit from electric power on an industrial scale were the Chiltern Hills Spring Water Company at their pumping station at Dancers End, and the Grand Junction Canal Company at their pumping station at Little Tring.  Until the arrival of mains electricity, both companies relied on elderly steam beam engines to drive their pumps:

. . . .the Chiltern Hills Spring Water Companys pumping station at Dancers End was reached.  Here again the use of electricity for industrial purposes was shown.  Old steam pumps, still to be seen, have been scrapped in favour of the electric pumps, which occupy less space and are capable of a greater amount of pumping per hour. The old steam pump, which was erected in 1879, has been superseded by an electric motor, fixed in a well 70 feet below ground level, which runs as efficiently as at the top and is capable of pumping a greater amount of water.”

Bucks Herald, 26th October 1928.

The water company’s steam pumping engine is now preserved at the London Museum of Water & Steam at Kew.  As for the canal pumping station . . . .

In their wisdom the canal company last year dispensed with the old beam engine which had rendered yeoman service for 125 years and installed a modern plant consisting of the latest pumping apparatus.  The electricity is supplied from overhead transmission wires from Tring into the cubicle and then into the transformers
.  The 250 hp pumps are running 16 hours daily . . . . pumping to a height of 75 feet 9 inches at a capacity of 170,000 gallons per hour.  The object of the pumping is to supply the canal with water at this high point which is the summit of the Grand Junction Canal . . . .

The Aylesbury Borough Electricity Department laid on an electricity supply to the pumping station at 11,000 volts A.C., which a transformer reduced to a three-phase supply at 380 volts.  This was then used to power the pump motors.

The beam of the Little Tring steam pumping engine, replaced by electric power in 1927.

By the early 1930s, the Central Electricity Board had been set up and many of the hundreds of small power generators were being replaced by larger more efficient power stations (the Aylesbury Electricity Department ceased to generate electricity in 1934, taking its supply from the power station at Luton).  The reliability of the supply was further improved when, in 1938, the National Grid was completed linking all key power stations nationwide. [12]

As for street lighting in Tring, during 1927 the Town Council experimented with a mix of gas and electric street lighting.  The annual cost of lighting by this means came out at £419 2s 6d compared with an estimated cost of £366 for lighting the entire district by electricity.  Thus, at their meeting in July 1928 the Council unanimously resolved to light the entire district with electricity.

Tring Council’s Lighting Committee has long disappeared together with our town’s gasworks.  T
oday, Council Tax pays for street lighting while Hertfordshire County Council Highways Department maintain the 115,000 streetlights in the county.  All streetlights, lit bollards and lit signs on major traffic routes are inspected at night, at least monthly, except on roads intended for local traffic ― which form  some 60% of the UKs roads ― where the Department relies on the public to report faults.




A typical gasworks vista of the 1950s.


The processes carried on at gas-works have never occupied a very favourable place in public opinion.  The popular notions respecting them have so long been associated with dirt, and smoke, and disagreeable odours, that it is not an easy matter to displace these deeply-rooted prejudices.  We make no attempt to disprove, nor do we offer any apology for, what has been very unpleasantly forced upon the attention of those who have resided in the vicinity of gas establishments.  It is perfectly true that, through the habitual neglect of what we hold to be an important part of a manager’s duties, the accusations relating to dirt and offensive odours have too often been justly merited . . . .

The Manufacture and Distribution of Coal-Gas, Samuel Clegg (1866).

Frederick Winsor, a German, gave the first public exhibitions of gas lighting in Britain, his aim being to promote the idea of building centralised (as opposed to on-site) gasworks and pumping gas through pipes to light the streets.  Thus was founded the London and Westminster Gas Light & Coke Company (from which British Gas plc is descended), which was incorporated by royal charter in April 1812 to become the first coal gas manufacturing plant designed as a public utility.  The Company proceeded to spread gas lighting through London’s poorly lit streets.  Their engineers, Samuel Clegg and John Malam, were responsible for several early inventions aimed at purifying coal gas and measuring its users’ consumption accurately.  The Gas Light & Coke Company was soon followed by other gas utilities, the first to open outside London being at Liverpool, Exeter and Preston, all in 1816.  It is said that by 1821 no town or city in Britain with a population exceeding fifty thousand was without gas lighting.

In the manufacture of town gas, a fuel, generally coal (wood, oil or coke could also be used), provided the raw material and to minimise the cost of delivering large quantities, gasworks were often sited adjacent to canals, rivers or railways.  Gas was extracted from the coal by baking it in enclosed ovens called ’retorts’ in which the coal was starved of oxygen to prevent it burning.  This process produced a crude gas that contained a number of chemical components including hydrogen, methane and ethylene, together with unwanted substances such as sulphur that needed to be removed by a purification process before the gas could be released into the mains for domestic and commercial use.

Schematic of a typical small gasworks.  The hydraulic main is a water
-filled airlock that prevented blowback of explosive gas into the retorts
when a door is opened for recharging.

Other by-products produced during coal gas manufacturing were useful and could be sold.  These were coke (used in large quantities by the iron and steel industries), ammonia (sulphate of ammonia is a fertiliser), phenol (carbolic acid, a disinfectant) and coal tar.  In its turn coal tar yielded many other organic products such as synthetic dye, creosote and drugs (e.g. aspirin) which are now produced from natural gas or petroleum.  When motor vehicles arrived and measures had to be taken to seal road surfaces to prevent dust and mud being thrown up by this new, faster-moving traffic, coal tar mixed with granite chippings became a popular road-surfacing material.

A typical gasworks was divided into several sections for the production, purification and storage of coal gas.

RETORT HOUSE: this contained the retorts in which coal was heated to generate the gas.  The crude gas was siphoned off and passed on to the condenser.  The waste product left in the retort was coke.  In many cases the coke was then burned to heat the retorts or sold as smokeless fuel.


Inside a retort house.

Emptying hot coke from a retort.

CONDENSER: this consisted of a bank of air-cooled gas pipes over a water-filled sump.  Its purpose was to remove tar from the gas by condensing it out as the gas was cooled.  Occasionally the condenser pipes were contained in a water tank similar to a boiler but operated in the same manner as the air-cooled variant.  The tar produced was then held in a tar well/tank which was also used to store liquor.

EXHAUSTER: an impeller or pump used to increase the gas pressure before scrubbing.  Exhausters were optional components and could be placed anywhere along the purifying process but were most often placed after the condensers and immediately before the gas entered the gas holders.

SCRUBBER: a sealed tank containing water through which the gas was bubbled.  This removed ammonia and ammonium compounds.  The water often contained dissolved lime to aid the removal of ammonia.  The water left behind was known as ammonical liquor.  Other versions used consisted of a tower, packed with coke, down which water was trickled.

PURIFIER: also known as an Iron Sponge, this removed hydrogen sulphide from the gas by passing it over wooden trays containing moist ferric oxide.  The gas then passed on to the gasholder and the iron sulphide was sold to extract the sulphur.

BENZOLE PLANT: often only used at large gasworks sites, a benzole plant consisted of a series of vertical tanks containing petroleum oil through which the gas was bubbled.  The purpose of a benzole plant was to extract benzole from the gas.  The benzole dissolved into the petroleum oil, which was run through a steam separating plant to be sold separately.

GASHOLDER: often incorrectly called a ’gasometer’, this was a tank used for storing gas and maintaining even pressure in distribution pipes.  The gas holder usually consisted of an upturned steel bell contained within a large frame that guided it as it rose and fell depending on the amount of gas it contained.

A gas holder, once a common site in the urban landscape.




Taken from the Centenary Edition of the Bucks Herald, 1932.

Two years after the birth of the “Bucks Herald,” or, to be precise, on May 23rd, 1834, the original Gas Company was founded to supply the town of with gas.

There are no records to show who were the first Directors, but at a meeting of the shareholders held on August 29th, 1861, it was decided to form a Joint Stock Company to be called “The Aylesbury Gas Company, Limited.”  The Chairman at that time was Mr. David Reid, and the Secretary, Mr. H. Hatten.  Mr. Hatten was one of the promoters in 1834.  The new Company came into being on October 2nd, 1861, with a capital of £10,800, for the purpose of lighting the parish of Aylesbury-with-Walton with gas.  At this time gas was used almost wholly for lighting by means of self-luminous flames.  Mr. David Reid was Chairman of Directors; Mr. J. K. Fowler was Treasurer; Messrs. H. Hatten and Joseph Parrott were Joint Secretaries and Solicitors; and Mr. T. Field was Works Superintendent.  The annual make of gas was 10½ million cubic feet.

The make of gas gradually increased year by year, and in 1877 Mr. George Lane joined the Company as Manager, when the make of was 19½ millions.  In 1883 gas cooking stoves were supplied to consumers on simple hire.  In 1834 Mr. Frederick B. Parrott was elected Secretary in succession to his father, Mr. Joseph Parrott, and in 1897 Mr. Francis G. Parrott succeeded Mr. Frederick, and in 1907 he was succeeded by Mr. Francis H. Parrott.

The advent of the incandescent mantle was thought to be a mixed blessing, as it was anticipated that the sales of would fall owing to the extra light given by the mantle.  This proved to be otherwise, as more people used gas for lighting and cooking.

In the year 1901 a new process of making was introduced, namely, a carburetted water plant, which enabled the Company to postpone the erection of another gasholder for storing the gas.

An undated picture of the Aylesbury Gas Showrooms.
George Lane became Manager of the Aylesbury Gas Company in 1877 and remained in that role until he retired in 1920, being superseded by his son.

In 1904 it was decided to dissolve the Company and re-incorporate it as a statutory undertaking, and in 1905 an Act of Parliament was passed giving the Company power to raise capital to the amount of £90,000 and to supply gas to the villages of Bierton, Stoke Mandeville and Aston Clinton. At this period, owing to the demand for gas the large gas-holder had to be built and the manufacturing plant enlarged, the annual make of gas being 50½ million cubic feet.

From this time there was a steady increase in the sale of till 1918, when it became necessary to build a more up-to-date method of making coal gas. Vertical retorts were installed, and in 1921 the Company had to seek further powers to purchase the Wendover Gas Company and supply gas on the therm basis instead of “candle power." The plant at Wendover was dismantled and supplied by a new main from Aylesbury.

The general strike in 1926 was the worst period the Company has experienced. The foreign coal which had to be used badly damaged the manufacturing plant, causing unnecessary repairs, and over £4,000 had to be paid extra for coat during this time. The old carburetted water gas plant had to be replaced by the latest type of plant, which, although occupying the same space, is capable of making three times more gas. The Company managed to “weather” the storm, however, and is still making progress, especially in cooking and heating. Over 700 cookers have been sold during the last five years.

It is interesting to note that owing to the long lengths of main necessary to supply the districts, only three million cubic feet of gas is used per annum on each mile of main, compared with some London Companies, where, with more houses, the consumption is as high as eight or nine million cubic feet.

The rates and taxes paid in 1861 were only £40, compared with £1,500 at the present time.

The annual make of gas is now 92 million cubic feet.

Although 98 years old, the Company is still in “Service” and in step with “Progress."

Mr. G. Ball, the Chairman, has been a Director for 23 years.

Mr. J. H. Coales, the Secretary, succeeded Mr. F. H. Parrott in 1917, when Mr. Parrott became a Director.

Mr. Frank Mitchell, the Genera! Manager, was appointed in 1926.




Taken from the Centenary Edition of the Bucks Herald, 1932.

The municipally-owned electricity undertaking of Aylesbury is one phase of local commercial activity upon which the town has reason to be justly proud. its advancement and expansion since its inception in 1915 has been such as to make Aylesbury a by-word in the electrical world, both in this country and abroad.  It has also given the Aylesbury Corporation the distinction of being pioneers of rural area electrification, a movement which, under the aegis of the Electricity Commissioners, has now been extended to all parts of the British Isles.  Moreover, the Aylesbury undertaking was the first to experiment with and adopt the use of tar oil with Diesel engines, this step being taken during the war in an endeavour to restrict the consumption of oil transhipped from America.  The steel transmission lines which take the current to the countryside surrounding Aylesbury, and what is known in the trade as the Aylesbury pole, both of which have come into much-favoured use far and wide, also are the innovations of the Aylesbury undertaking and of Mr. W. A. Turnbull, who has been the Borough Electrical Engineer throughout.

Some idea of the increasing demand upon the Aylesbury undertaking can be gauged from these facts.  The original capital was £21,000, and it is now over a quarter of a million pounds; the units sold increased from a quarter of a million in 1915 to two million in 1924 and to eight million to-day; when the war ended the consumers numbered 250, and now they total 7,445; and at the present time 1,158 cookers, 1,700 kettles, 762 fires, 2,080 irons and other apparatus are on hire from the Electricity Department, in addition to what is owned by the consumers themselves.

Yet in 1914 the establishment of the undertaking literally lay in the balance.  Just before the outbreak of the war the Council placed the necessary contracts.  The machinery was being made when war was declared, and the Council debated the wisdom of proceeding.  They decided to go on, however, and the contracts were completed at pre-war prices.  The works in Exchange Street were erected for the purpose of the new undertaking.

The generation of electricity actually began in May, 1915, but it was not till some months afterwards, when several Aylesbury factories were being devoted to the manufacture of war material, that the demand showed any definite increase.  Then the two original Diesel engines became fully loaded, so much so that the factories were asked to cease using current by day and to resume by night.  Towards the end of 1916 an application to extend the plant was made and a Class A certificate by the authorities was granted, in view of the importance and urgency of the war work being carried out in the Aylesbury factories.  This extension took the form of a suction gas engine, which offered the additional advantage that it did not consume the oil which was being shipped from overseas.  When it began running, early in 1918, it was immediately loaded up and the works were generating current to their utmost capacity throughout the 24 hours of each day.

When, after the war, the Cubitt Motor Works began in the Bicester Road, there was a sudden, new demand for a vast amount of power.  To meet this a steam turbine plant was introduced, and switched in for the first time in August, 1920.  Unfortunately, that new commercial undertaking closed down, and the Aylesbury Corporation was left with surplus electricity plant.  To find a new use for this electricity plant the Corporation sought and obtained the necessary powers to enable them to take their electricity into the rural area.  The first extension was to Waddesdon Manor in 1924, but extended powers in 1925 enabled them to take their transmission lines over an area of 230 square miles.  With the exception of about six of the smaller villages, the whole of that area now has current from the Aylesbury Works at its disposal for all purposes.

An interesting feature of this rural area supply is that it has created a demand considerably greater than that of the Borough of Aylesbury itself, and is yielding more revenue.  It is not yet fully developed, because it is as yet only in the constructional stage, but there are indications that the rural area will early be of very material assistance to the Borough in relation to its electricity undertaking, and an important factor in its increasing success.

Every factory in Aylesbury is now connected with the Borough electrical supply.  In the rural area all the larger factories are connected up, and many smaller factories are failing into line.  The variety of trades catered for is so wide that the electricity undertaking can be said to be almost depression-proof, for when there is a depression in one there is certain to be a compensating activity in another.

The increased confidence felt in the ultimate improvement of agricultural prospects is all to the good of the undertaking, for the Electricity Committee takes advantage of every new opportunity of bringing its current to the aid of agricultural operations, in the belief that an electrically-equipped agriculture will reduce working costs, increase productivity and preserve the amenities of the countryside.



1.    Hemel Hempstead’s first gas works became the Hemel Hempstead Gas & Coke Company in 1845; in 1868 it was reincorporated as the Hemel Hempstead and Boxmoor Gas & Coke Company.  In addition to gas from this company, the Boxmoor area was also supplied by the Boxmoor, Two Waters & Crouchfield Gas & Coke Company.  In 1873 these concerns agreed to apportion the district between them, the Boxmoor Company supplying gas to the south of the Grand Junction Canal.  In 1878 they amalgamated by Act of Parliament to form the Hemel Hempstead District Gas Company, which, in 1931, was acquired by the Watford and St Albans Gas Company.
2.    The Great Berkhamsted Gas Light & Coke Company was a joint stock company established in 1849 and incorporated by act of parliament in 1888.  It was dissolved by act of parliament in 1905 and reincorporated as the Berkhamsted Gas Company Ltd.  Originally gas was manufactured at a site located at the junction of Water Lane and the Wilderness, but in 1906 the gas works was moved to a site near Billet Lane.  An 18-inch gauge tramway across Canal Fields at the rear of South Park Gardens connected the gas works to a railway siding near the station, horses being used to haul the coal. Following closure of the gas works in 1959 the town was supplied with gas through a pipeline from Boxmoor.
3.    The meeting at the Commercial Hall (at the rear of Brown & Merry’s premises) was chaired by Thomas Butcher Jnr., a member of the family that owned Butcher’s Bank (a.k.a. Thomas Butcher & Son and The Tring Old Bank) in the High Street, now the premises of the NatWest Bank.  For many years the Butcher family were also associated with the management of the Tring Gas Light & Coke Company.
4.    In 1855 the first Limited Liability Act was passed, and in 1856 the 1844 and 1855 Acts were amended and consolidated into the Joint Stock Companies Act 1856.  Except for banking and insurance companies, existing companies (including The Tring Gas Light & Coke Company) were required to re-register under this Act.  The 1856 Act required all registered companies to file an annual return and is often referred to as the first modern Companies Act.
.    At the time of writing the former gasworks site is being redevelopment by Lillygate Developments Ltd as a block of luxury flats.  To be named Brookside Apartments, the block will comprise thirty-four flats with underground parking.

6.    We have been unable to trace “Mr. Chadwick”.  It may be coincidence, but an 1861 edition of the Gas Journal lists Ellis Chadwick as a manager at the Macclesfield Gasworks, the company for whom Dickinson served as Secretary at the time of his visit to Tring.
 A bushel was an imperial volume measure equivalent to 8 gallons or 36.4 litres.  A chaldron was an English volume measure, mostly used for coal, the word itself being an obsolete spelling of cauldron.  The chaldron was the legal limit for horse-drawn coal wagons travelling by road as it was considered that heavier loads would cause too much damage to the road surfaces.  There appears to have been no legal standard for the Chaldron, although in London it approximated to 36 bushels, weighing 25 hundredweights, or about 2837 pounds (1287 kilograms).  The Weights and Measures Act (1835) required all coal to be sold by weight, not by measure, an injunction repeated in the Weights and Measures Act (1878), which nonetheless again defined the chaldron at 36 bushels.  The chaldron was finally abolished by the Weights and Measures Act 1963.
8.    In the 1851 census, Garnett Jones and Robert Wright are both listed as living in ’West End’, which described the King Street area of the Town before the streets were named, but exactly where is impossible to say.  Garnett Jones, 48, was the Relieving Officer for the Berkhamsted Union and Robert Wright was a butcher.  What became King Street was then known as ’Pleasant Lane’.
9.   TRING LOCAL BOARD OF HEALTH: local boards ― or local boards of health to give their full title ― were the local authorities in urban areas of England and Wales from 1848 to 1894. They were formed in response to cholera epidemics and were given powers to control sewers, clean the streets, regulate environmental health risks including slaughterhouses and ensure the proper supply of water to their districts. Local boards were eventually merged with the corporations of municipal boroughs in 1873, or became urban districts in 1894.
10.   Today we have the extensive ’National Transmission System’, a network of pipelines that supply gas to power stations from natural gas terminals situated on the coast, and to gas distribution companies that supply domestic and other customers.  Gas is injected into the system at the seven UK gas terminals (six in England and one in Scotland) and various storage facilities.  After crossing the transmission system, gas enters the distribution networks at high pressure.  It is then transported through a number of reducing pressure tiers until it is finally delivered to consumers.  The gas is owned by the gas suppliers, but the National Grid is responsible for it whilst it is being transported.
11.   In 1930 there were just under 1,800 gas and coke works and coal carbonisation plants.  By 1935 this figure had fallen to 1,514, of which 1,395 were gas works; 40% of the establishments employed less than 10 people, and 55% employed 11-300 people.  When the Gas Council was formed following nationalisation in 1949, there were about 1,050 gas works and , by 1958, only 536.  The last gasworks closed in 1981, an isolated lone gasworks in Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae (also known as Great Cumbrae, lies on the Ayrshire coast and is roughly 4 miles long and 2 miles wide).  Sites ranged from smaller works, producing town gas only to large sites where coke production may have been the main process or where tar distillation or other associated processes were undertaken in addition to gas production.  Site sizes may range from as little as 0.3 hectares to over 100 hectares.
12.   In 1925, Lord Weir chaired a committee that proposed the creation of the Central Electricity Board (CEB) to link the UK’s most efficient power stations with consumers via a ’national gridiron’.  The United Kingdom Central Electricity Board was set up under The Electricity (Supply) Act 1926 to standardise the nation’s electricity supply.  At that time, the industry consisted of more than 600 electricity supply companies and local authority undertakings, and different areas operated at different voltages and frequencies (including DC in some places).  The Board’s first chairman was Andrew Duncan.

The CEB established the UK’s first synchronised AC grid running at 132,000 volts and 50 Hertz, which by 1933 was a collection of local grids (with emergency interlinks) covering most of England.  This started operating as the National Grid in 1938.  The CEB ceased to exist when the grid was nationalised by the Electricity Act 1947 and taken over by the British Electricity Authority.


[Next page]