Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: October 11, 2019
Webpage updated: November 27, 2019




The Gaslight and Coke Company received the Royal Charter on April 30th 1812 and the first provincial town to have gas installed was Preston in Lancashire in 1817.  In that same year the residents of Plymouth held a public meeting to discuss the formation of a company to light the Town with gas.  It was concluded that it would be advisable to substitute gas for the existing oil lighting and a committee was formed.

An oil gas works was established in Exeter Street under an Act passed in the 4th year of the reign of King George IV, which received its Royal Assent on March 24th 1823.  This seems to have been operated by the Plymouth Oil Gas Company, of which Mr John Tingcombe and Mr John Johnson the Younger seem to have been the partners.   They are named in the draft contract drawn up in 1822 by the Commissioners for Paving, Lighting and Watching.

In 1826 the Commissioners entered into a contract for the lighting of public lamps at Plymouth with coal gas and oil for seven years from September 16th.  There were 175 coal gas lamps and 284 oil lamps in the Town and they were to be lit every night from September 16th through to April 16th 1827.   The contract was with a number of gentlemen from the London area, who constructed a coal gas works at Millbay.  These gentlemen formed themselves into the United General Gas Company and were granted a Royal Charter on March 2nd 1831.  The oil gas business was merged into it in 1832.

However, their high charges and the monopoly held by the Company induced the inhabitants of Plymouth and East Stonehouse to form their own company with a view to providing a cheaper supply.  On Wednesday July 31st 1844 a preliminary meeting was held at the premises of Messrs Whiteford and Bennett to discuss the formation of a Company to provide gas to the Town.  The chairman was Mr Thomas Gill, MP.  As a result the Plymouth and Stonehouse Gas Light and Coke Company was established in 1844, with 25,000 raised in 10 shares, and confirmed by Act of Parliament the following year.  The Company erected its gasworks at Coxside. 

In 1848 the United General Gas Company were compelled to sell their Millbay works to the new Plymouth Company for 25,410.

Gas was supplied to the Crownhill area from 1904 onwards and in 1910 a high pressure mains was extended to Plymstock.  The Plympton Gas Works was acquired in 1921 and closed down when a high pressure mains had been installed from the Coxside Gas Works.  During the 19030s Roborough, Brixton and Yealmpton were joined up to the gas mains.

In the midst of the post-war enthusiasm for nationalisation, the South Western Gas Board was formed and took over the both the Plymouth and Devonport gas works from Sunday May 1st 1949.

Keyham Gas Works closed Wednesday April 30th 1958.  A mains link between Totnes and Ivybridge brought in to use on Thursday October 16th 1958 meant that gas could now be transferred from Exeter and Torquay to Plymouth.

On October 26th 1967 the Lord Mayor, Alderman Frank Chapman, opened a new Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) plant on a 24-acre site at Breakwater Quarry, Oreston.  Large tankers discharged cargoes of light petroleum distillate at Cattedown Wharves, which was then piped under the Cattewater to be enriched at the new works.  Likewise, Plymstock Station yard was converted into a discharge point for train loads of butane, which was also pumped to the Breakwater works.

This enabled the closure of the coal-fired gas works at Coxside on July 31st 1968 and closure of the last remaining coal carbonisation plant in the area, at Torpoint, on September 30th 1969.

Plymouth's final gas lamps -- mainly in the Barbican, Stoke and Saint Budeaux areas -- were replaced with electric ones during 1973.