Sunday, September 13, 2009

City of Birmingham Gas

In a sense, Birmingham is the home of gas, as William Murdock came from Cornwall in 1777 to join Boulton and Watt at the Soho Manufactory. There he discovered the use of coal gas for lighting and gave a public display at the Soho works for the celebration of the Peace of Amiens in 1802. A year later the whole of the works was lit by gas.

In 1816 tenders were invited for street lighting by gas, and only one offer was received, from a Mr. Gostling of London, who had already installed lighting in Westminster. The tender was accepted, and he was immediately asked to extend his contract to another 16 streets. As this was beyond his private means, he set up the Birmingham Gas Company by private Act of Parliament. In 1818 Birmingham had its first street lighting by gas, which was manufactured in Gas Street.

The 1849 Kelly’s Director lists the Birmingham Gas Light & Coke Company with works at Gas Street, Fazeley Street, and Windsor Street, and the Birmingham & Staffordshire Gas & Coke Company with its Birmingham works at 57 Adderley Street.

By the 1870s there were 33 municipal gas undertakings in the country. This was at a time when Birmingham reached the peak of its prosperity, and enjoyed the leadership of the Mayor, Joseph Chamberlain, who in 1874 persuaded the Council to vote by 54 votes to two in favour of buying the companies out. An Act of Parliament in July 1875 authorised the deal and the Birmingham Corporation Gas Committee was set up.

From the start, the Birmingham Gas department was a success, making more money which benefited the ratepayers, while gas charges were reduced twice in the first five years. Between 1929 and 1931 the Gas Department installed gas connections and slot meters to about 21,000 court and terrace houses without charge, enlarging its statutory area of operation from 125 to 195 square miles.

By 1938 one-third of the gas produced was used for manufacturing purposes. Gas was still used largely for street lighting, with spectacular high-pressure fittings in Victoria Square, Now Street, Corporation Street, and parts of Hagley Road.

With nationalization in 1949 the undertaking came under the control of the West Midlands Gas Board.

-submitted by Paul Green

Bristol Water Co.

Water was piped in to Bristol as early as 1695, and a canal - which was never built - was planned to link Bath with Bristol in 1811. Neither ever provided enough clean water to satisfy the city's needs or to help prevent the outbreak of disease.

In 1840, a government commission recorded: "There are few large towns in England in which the supply of water is as inadequate as at Bristol." The following year, the Society of Merchant Venturers, a collection of prominent Bristol businessmen, established the Merchant Venturers Water Works. With Isambard Kingdom Brunel as a backer, the group sought to supply water to Clifton and the wealthier parts of Bristol.

In 1845 a rival group formed. They were concerned that these plans were too restrictive and would not provide for the poorer, more densely-populated areas of Bristol. Prominent local citizens involved included William Budd, a pioneer in sanitation; Francis Fry, the industrialist and philanthropist; and George Thomas, the Quaker merchant who founded Bristol General Hospital. Their plan was to supply the whole city, not just Clifton, by bringing in fresh water from the Mendips.

The government weighed up the plans of the two groups, and narrowly came down on the side of the new group. On the 16th of July 1846 the Bristol Waterworks Company was formally established by an Act of Parliament. Only fifteen months later, the first 'sweet clear waters' travelled from Chewton Mendip, via Barrow and the engineering feat of the 16km Line of Works conduit, into the heart of Bristol.

Today Bristol Water now supplies well over a million people. Whilst the Mendips, particularly Chew, Blagdon, and Cheddar Lakes, are vitally important to the local water supply, over half of the supplied water is piped from the Severn via the Sharpness Canal.

There are 6,382 km of local water mains - a far cry from the 16km of the original Line of Works!

-submitted by Paul Green

Britannic Assurance Company Ltd.

Britannic Assurance Company Ltd. was founded in Birmingham in 1866 as British Workman’s Mutual Assurance Company Limited to provide life assurance and pension services.

Britannic went through a series of name changes until settling on Britannic Assurance Company Ltd. in 1921.

In 1981 it changed its name again to Britannic Assurance Plc. It made acquisitions, including Britannia Asset Management, Alba Life, Evergreen Retirement and First Active.

Finally, in December 2006, Britannic Group Plc was merged into Resolution Plc.

-submitted by Paul Green