DARTFORD GAS: GASLIGHT COMES TO DARTFORD
John Hall was active in promoting local public services so when the Dartford Gas Co was established in 1826 he became a member of the Board.
A plan for lighting Dartford with gas was under consideration in 1825. It was in 1792 that William Murdock, who invented gas lighting, installed a small plant for lighting his home in Redruth. The first public installation was in Pall Mall, London.
PLANS ARE LAID
In July, 1826, a general meeting of the inhabitants of Dartford ( chaired by the Vicar) received a report which included an estimate from a Mr. W. Warcup of £2,600 for the whole work. The expected income mentioned £208 per annum from the lighting of 52 public lamps and £420 per annum from 120 private lights. The meeting agreed that the proposals had a good chance of a reasonable remuneration for those who took part in the enterprise. Accordingly it was resolved to form a company. A subscription list was opened with a down payment of 10s. (50p) for every £20 share applied for. The company was formed very quickly and only 18 days later, on 12th August, at the Bull Inn, a meeting of subscribers took place. Directors were chosen and officers appointed. It was agreed to purchase a piece of land in Duck's Orchard on the terms offered.
Permission from the Highway Trustees to lay pipes, subject to certain restrictions, was granted in September, and the Commissioners for Lighting the Town agreed to take gas from the Company.
FIRST SUPPLIES COMMENCE
Work went forward quickly, and gun barrels screwed together were sometimes used as pipes. In June, 1827, public gas lighting in Dartford commenced with a contract to light 68 lamps. The first coke was sold in July 1827. At the end of its first year the Company was supplying gas to 55 private lights.
Dartford, in those days a small Kentish town, was only 14 years behind the first gas company to receive its charter, in London, and only two years after the other great London gas company. Dartford can therefore be placed among the pioneers of public gas supply in the United Kingdom.
In its second Annual Report the company spoke of plans for carrying gas up West Hill and that it was able to supply gas at a cheaper rate than the London charges. Business increased steadily, year by year. In 1852, a contract to supply gas for 70 public lamps was agreed with the local Commissioners. The Parish Church was lit by gas in 1833. And in 1837 a new gasholder was constructed for £559.
In 1843, a new 3-inch main was laid from the end of Lowfield Street to the Market House. The same year saw the laying of a main from the Gas Works to the premises of Messrs. John Hall. A new 3-inch main was laid from the top of Waterside (Hythe Street) along Spital Street as far as the "Royal Oak" public house in 1846-7.
INTRODUCTION OF GAS METERS
In December 1851, the Directors resolved that all consumers using more than one light be required to use meters and pay for the gas used accordingly.
In 1855 the Company purchased another gasholder for £500 from the Phoenix Gas Coy..Bankside, London. Additional purifiers and other works were found necessary in 1857 to cope with the increasing consumption, and a 1 ½ -inch pipe was laid in Lowfield Street in lieu of the 1-inch pipe. Two years later a new 4-inch pipe was laid from the top of Waterside to the Bridge.
In 1863 it was agreed that the existing Works was incapable of supplying the growing demand, which by then included New Town and the various industries of the district. The City of London Asylum (Stone) was also soon to be built. The Directors agreed to an outlay of about £800. The telescoping gas holder was enlarged in 1866 for the price of £698, but "sundries" brought this sum to £747, which was paid in stages between September 1866 and October 1867.
On 8 January, 1868, a bill for £2. 5s. 10d. (£2.29) for beer supplied between June and December to the men,was produced at a Board Meeting, and the Manager was asked to furnish a full explanation. He duly reported at the next meeting, but nothing more was said about it. The problem was probably not to do with the beer, which seems to have been supplied daily, but the length of time covered by the bill. (Beer at that time was 2d. (less than 1p) a pint.
In 1868 a great deal of enlargement and extension of mains occurred, due to the continued increase of demand. 5-inch pipes were laid the whole length of Lowfield Street and into Heath Lane.
In 1877 the Directors decided that a new and larger gas holder was necessary and this work was completed on 11 June, 1879. However, within 3 weeks, at 11.00 p.m. on Thursday, 1 July, 1879, there was an explosion as the new gas holder, 74 feet in diameter, blew up. Debris was shattered up to 100 yards away, and a torrent of water, stones, bricks, and mud rushed along Gas Lane (Victoria Road) and some lower rooms were flooded. A section of the Priory wall 20 yards long was blown down. Fortunately, only one person was injured. Next day thousands of people came to look at the scene of destruction.
The collapse of the gas holder was probably due to the cast iron tank giving way under the pressure of nearly 141,000 gallons of water (629 tons). Reconstruction took 18 months and the greater capacity was certainly needed by then, as the Company had amalgamated with the Darenth Vale Gas Company, whose district was to be supplied from Dartford.
EXPANSION IN THE 20TH CENTURY
A new, larger gas holder was constructed in 1909, as demand for gas heating and cooking soared.
Amalgamation with the South Surburban Gas Company took place on 1 January,
1919. In 1918 there were 5,731 users and in 1926 8,311. After World War
11, Dartford came within the area of the South Eastern Gas Board. Gas
making in Dartford ceased on 1 April, 1955 there were then, after nearly
130 years, 23,000 users.