Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: October 04, 2019
Webpage updated: October 05, 2019




The Plymouth and Stonehouse Gas Light and Coke Company was established by the Plymouth and Stonehouse Gas Act which received the Royal Assent on June 30th 1845.  This followed a preliminary meeting held on Wednesday July 31st 1844 at the premises of Messrs Whiteford and Bennett to discuss the formation of a Company to provide gas to the Town.  The chairman of the meeting was Mr Thomas Gill, at that time the Member of Parliament.  25,000 was to be raised in 10 shares.

Section XIII of the Act named the first Directors as: Peter Adams; James Adams; Andrew Adams, Benjamin Balkwill; William Burnell; Richard Bishop junior; Thomas Blackwell; William Brown; Jonathan Clouter; Samuel Derry; William Edwin Elliott; Thomas Were Fox; Christopher Harris; William Henry Hawker; Thomas Ham; Walter Lomer; William Henry Lidstone; Charles Marks; John May; William Garn Mason; Edward Nettleton; William Rendle; Robert Scott; William Spearman; Robert White Stevens; Samuel Treeby; Joseph Treffry; Peter Vosper; and Thomas Wiginton.  Each Director was required to own ten shares in the Company.  An annual general meeting was to be held in June each year.  The Company was to supply gas only to the Borough of Plymouth and the Parish of East Stonehouse, including the extra-parochial lands lying between the Lairy and Plymouth and between Plymouth and East Stonehouse.  The maximum price they were authorised to charge was six shillings per one thousand cubic feet. 

In 1848 the United General Gas Company, whose high charges had prompted this move, were compelled to sell their Millbay oil gas works to the new Plymouth Company for 25,410.

The Plymouth and Stonehouse Gas Light and Coke Company Limited erected a gas works at Coxside and were in the process of carrying out improvements to it when, on the morning of Wednesday October 19th 1853, one of the valves in their new retort house was accidentally left open and the escaping gas became ignited.  A check valve was swiftly turned, however, and the fire was extinguished by the time the fire engine from the West Of England Fire and Life Assurance Company Ltd arrived.  No damage was done and it was expected that within the year the Company would be manufacturing the whole of their gas at Coxside.

Just before the end of December 1884 a new telescopic gasholder was put into operation at the Plymouth Gas Works.  Measuring 124 feet in diameter and 56 feet in depth, it was then the largest gasometer west of Bristol.  The holder was supported by sixteen massive iron columns and 32 trellis wrought iron girders.  Over 600 tons of iron was used in the construction.  It was erected by Messrs Willey and Company, of Exeter, while the masonry work was done by Messrs Finch and Son, of Plymouth.

In 1890 Mr John Thomas was the Secretary of the Plymouth Company, with Mr John T Browning as Engineer and the premises were at Gas House Lane, off Sutton Road, Coxside. At that time the charge to private consumers was 2s 3d per 1,000 cubic feet.

During the summer of 1894 the Plymouth Gas Works was extended and a new retort house was installed.  Up to that time a large number of skilled workmen were employed as stokers, which required not only strength but knowledge of the plant and its use.  The new retort house made use of machinery to carry out that task and when it was brought into operation thirty men were putout of work.  In addition, a large number of men who it would have been customary to employ during the winter months to cope with the increased workload were informed that their services would no longer be required.  All were members of the Gasworkers' and General Labourers' Union.

To aggravate the situation even more, the West Gas Improvement Company, who had carried out the work, had employed former sailors as labourers to install the equipment and they were not members of any Union.  They were paid between 1 2s and 1 4s for a 54-hour week.  When their work was completed they were offered positions as minders of the machinery.  While they were being trained they were placed on a 12-hour day but then they were moved to 8-hour shifts and paid the same as the stokers, namely five shillings per day with time and a half on Sundays.

Although the rates were Union rates, when the former sailors asked if they were expected to join the Union in order to qualify for the rates of pay they were told they could if they wished but it made no difference.  As a result none of the men did join the Union.  At first this caused no problems, until the laying off of hands started with the opening of the new retort house.  Shovels, large pieces of iron and other materials 'found their way most mysteriously into the coal-breakers' and other parts of the new machinery were tampered with.

On Sunday October 14th 1894 the large three-lift, telescopic gas holder was empty and the opportunity was taken to grease the pulley system.  But when Mr H Townsend, the resident engineer, went to examine the work at shortly before 10am on the Monday morning he found that stones had been wedged between two of the lifts, which could have wrecked the structure when it was put into operation.  The management offered a reward of 100 for information about the incident and two men were discharged.

At around 9.45pm on the evening of Thursday October 18th 1894 the gas pressure in the houses at Cattedown suddenly failed and the lights went out.  The same was repeated all over the eastern end of the Town, including Friary Station and North Road Plymouth Station.  Down at the gas works it was discovered that the pressure in the new retort house had failed and Mr Townsend was sent to investigate.  He found that this was caused by 'mischievous interference with the governor which regulates the supply of gas to the district affected'.  The governor was put right and the gas supply was restored.

On February 29th 1928 the Plymouth and Stonehouse Gas Light and Coke Company Limited announced a price reduction in the cost of gas.  For domestic customers this would in future be 6.5 pence per Therm.  In Plympton, Plymstock and other "outlying districts" (mainly Compton and Pennycross) it would be 7.8 pence per Therm.  The price for business consumers, or 'Engine consumption' as they termed it, was 5.9 pence and 7.2 pence per Therm respectively.

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