Page Updated:- Tuesday, 20 November, 2018.

John Bavington Jones

Published in the Dover Express, 14 November, 1980.


PART 131.





Gas-making, which has been made redundant by the discovery of reserves of natural gas under the North Sea, was once Dover’s oldest public industry. Reference has already been made to it in connection with Trevanion .Street, where the first works were situated, but a more general notice seems necessary to fully trace the origin and vicissitudes of the undertaking. The Act of Parliament for lighting the town and port of Dover, and places adjacent, with gas was passed in the year 1822. The quaintly worded preamble of that statute stated that it would be a great advantage if the streets of Dover were better lighted; that “inflammable air, coke, oil, tar, pitch, asphaltum, ammoniacal liquor, and essential oil“ could be produced from coal; and that “the inflammable air“ might be conveyed by tubes and safely used for the lighting of public streets, buildings, workshops and private houses.



The preamble having been proved, powers were given to light Dover with “inflammable air,“ to be supplied by a company consisting of the following persons, whose names, as the first promoters of this industry, are of historical interest: The Rev Matthew Armstrong, Jane Biggs, Elizabeth Boyton, James Boyton, Richard Boom, Thomas Coleman, the Rev C. Dayman, Mary Ewer, Michael El win, Philpott Elsted, John Finnis, A. R. Gale, John Hamilton, William Horsnail, Matthew Height, John Jeken, Michael Kingsford, Thomas Knocker, John De Lacy, Henshaw Latham, Sir Thomas Mantell, Isaac Minet, the Rev Thomas Morris, Daniel Nazer, Henry H. Price, Thomas Paine, Thomas Russell, Edward Rutley, Thomas Squier, John Shipdem, Nicholas Ladd Steriker, Benjamin G. Simpson, Lewis Stride, Benedicta Stokes, Edward Thompson and Henry Norris Watson.

The company was authorised to raise £9,000 in £50 shares, and the powers of the company to purchase land and buildings to set up gas works were not to be exercised until the whole of the £9,000 was subscribed, and if that amount was not sufficient, the company was empowered to raise £2,000 more. The company commenced operations with a capital £10,000. The Act also stipulated that the company should supply gas of such a quality that it would be a better and a cheaper light than could be obtained from oil, according to the average cost of the previous three years.



The first gas works were erected at the seaward end of Trevanion Street, and were sufficiently advanced for the central part of Dover to be lighted with gas in the year 1823. During the first 27 years of the company’s operations the average dividend paid was £4.50 per cent, and at the end of that period the price of gas was 37½p per 1,000 feet. Earlier, the price had been 60p per 1,000, and even higher.

Owing to public discontent with the high price of gas, in the year 1842 an agitation arose for the formation of a rival company, and in the year 1843 a Consumers’ Gas Company was formed, and although that company had no works nor any powers to lay mains, they tendered for supplying the public lamps with gas, quoting a price which was much lower than had, up to that time, been paid; but the original company quoted still lower, which so discouraged the Consumers’ Company that they remained inactive from 1843 until 1860.

In 1860 the original company applied to Parliament for further powers, which were considered prejudicial to the public interest, whereupon the dormant Consumers’ Company, awaking from its long sleep, applied to the Corporation for authority to lay pipes and mains in the streets, from works which they then proposed to erect in Buckland Bottom. The Corporation refused their consent, and then the Consumers’ Company was finally wound up, returning 1/9 in the pound on the 753 shares, on which £1 per share had been paid.



In the meantime, the original Gas Company had been struggling to extricate themselves from a critical position, by appointing, in 1848, Mr Kirkham, an up-to-date gas engineer, as superintendent, and by opening in 1855 at Fector’s Place, premises better situated for organising the work of administration and distribution; and finally, in 1864, by erecting larger works at Union Road, Buckland. For a time the directors leased the works to Messrs Anderson and Jones, who gave them a start in the right direction; and by periodical enlargements to meet the growing demand, the company began to prosper.

Under the able chairmanship of Mr W. R. Mowll, the company, in 1873, again took the manufacture of gas into their own hands, with such good results that the full Parliamentary dividend of 7½ per cent, as well as arrears of dividends, were paid. The reserve fund was brought up to its full amount, and the price of gas was reduced to one-third of that paid twenty years previously. From that time the works at Buckland were kept fully capable of meeting the growing requirements of the town, although if he electric light had not, meanwhile, been introduced, there must have been much greater developments to meet the demand.

On two occasions there were serious efforts to negotiate the purchase of the gas undertaking for the town, but they did not succeed.

In 1906 when this book was written the Dover Gas Company was being ably managed, the chairman being Mr Willsher Mannering. It had an invested capital of £126,970, and paid a dividend on its ordinary shares of 7½ per cent. It employed about 180 persons, made 259,000,000 cubic feet of gas per annum, distributing it through 37 miles of mains, lit 988 public lamps, supplied gas for power to 30 gas engines, and for cooking and heating to 4,931 stoves, its total number of private consumers being 6,297.


Areiel View 1930

An aerial view, dating from 1930, of a section of Dover which featured at least three important industries for over a century. In the foreground is the modest gas works which was later greatly enlarged to serve the greater part of Kent. Just off the picture to the right was the corn-milling plant of W. and E. Mannering, in the centre of the picture is a malthouse and on the extreme right Buckland Paper Mill. The old tram shed, now Hollis Motors’ garage, at the foot of Whitfield Avenue, is clearly visible. The open space at the rear of Buckland Avenue was the site of Dover’s old greyhound track which has long since disappeared. A prominent feature of the photograph is the vast number of allotments and smallholdings around the Buckland district.


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