By Eric Kenward
Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 2 (1981)
Last year Eric prepared this short piece on the Brentford Gas Co as background notes for the forthcoming VCH volume on this area
The public supply of gas to Brentford began with a private engineering firm, J & G Barlow, obtaining the contract to light the Turnpike Road to Kensington. A gasworks was constructed on the Thames waterfront at Brentford and a supply of gas was made available early in 1821. The Barlows were by then in financial difficulties – in February 1821 they were in the custody of the Marshal of the Marshalsea. A statutory company was formed under the Chairmanship of Sir Felix Booth which first met in June 1821 and set about taking over the affairs of the gas undertaking.
For some twenty years the business failed to prosper. Great difficulties were encountered in extracting documents from the Barlows and rival gas companies sought to compete and take over parts of the Brentford Company’s area of supply. Management problems were encountered – for a time the whole undertaking was run by a contractor, and technical difficulties led to numerous complaints of poor gas supply.
Then a period of expansion began and supplies of gas were provided for Hounslow (1839), Barnes (1842), Shepherds Bush (1843), Notting Hill (1845), Ealing (1846), Mortlake (1849), Acton (1850) and Twickenham (1861). It was during this period, in 1856, that day-time supplies of gas were made available for cooking and heating – up to that time only night time supplies were provided for lighting.
Between 1840 and 1860 the demand for gas increased eight-fold and new gas supplies were urgently needed, so a large new works was built at Southall which went into operation in 1869. Thereafter gas demand continued to grow rapidly and in spite of developments at Brentford and Southall, some emergency supplies had to be taken from the neighbouring Gas Light and Coke Co. Most of the increase came from the build-up of population, commerce and industry in the Company’s part of Middlesex, but some part came from taking over adjacent undertakings at Sunbury, Staines, Harrow and Richmond.
In 1926 the Brentford Company amalgamated with the Gas Light and Coke Co. By then the Company had 124,000 customers, compared with about 200 in its first year of operation, and some 9,000 in 1870.