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  • Writer's pictureGVHeritage Group

Bristol Gas Light Company 1818 - 1949

At a meeting in the Commercial Rooms on 15 December 1815 it was resolved to form a gaslight company for Bristol.

An Act of Parliament incorporated the Bristol Gas Light Company in 1818, after two years of business as an unincorporated body run by a committee of twelve. This Act regularised the activities of the company, requiring a contract for 21 years to be signed with the Public Lighting Commissioners. Soon expanding beyond its premises in Temple Back, the Bristol Gas Light Company moved to Avon Street in 1821.

Complaints about the smell and poor quality of coal gas led to attempts to get the Gas Light Company to use oil gas (formed from whale and seal oil). When these attempts failed, a movement to form a separate oil gas company began. A meeting of February 1823 proposed the formation of such a company, and a bill was submitted to parliament to bring it about. There the Bristol Gas Light Company opposed it, only withdrawing its opposition when the proposed new company agreed to bear a proportion of the loss sustained by lighting the public lamps. The Bristol and Clifton Oil Gas Company Act received royal assent in August 1823, an act which forbade the company to use coal gas and ensured a dominant position in Bristol gas supply for the Gas Light Company. The Oil Gas Company was forced to notify its rival of its intention to open streets and needed to mark its pipes and mains with a distinctive groove. These two particulars formed the main cause of disputes, as revealed by the correspondence. The Oil Gas Company Works were at Canons Marsh.

The high cost of whale oil meant that not only was the Oil Gas Company unable to meet its payments for its share of the loss for public lighting, but also that by 1835 the company was petitioning to be allowed to use coal gas. The Gas Light Company withdrew its objections, and by an Act of Parliament of 1836 the Oil Gas Company started to use coal gas. The Gas Light Company then renewed its efforts to claim the money owed to it, eventually settling for £6000.

In 1847 the Oil Gas Company changed its name to the Bristol and Clifton Gaslight Company. At this time the two companies were operating agreements on price, meter policy and debtors; when the City Council asked for tenders in 1850, Bristol and Clifton Gaslight Company tendered for Westbury and the Bristol Gaslight Company for Bedminster, St. James, St. Paul and St. Philip & Jacob after agreeing to divide the tenders between them. These operating agreements soon led to discussions for amalgamation, achieved by Act of Parliament in July 1853. This incorporated the Bristol United Gaslight Company, and defined its supply area as the city and county of Bristol and the Electoral District within 7 miles of the city.

The company continued to grow despite criticism from "gas reformers" and consumers such as George Flintoff and despite growing competition from electric lighting. The period of growth came to an abrupt end with a year of administrative difficulties in 1888 and a strike in October 1889. Trade supply only returned to normal in 1890.

In 1891 new Act changed the name to the Bristol Gas Company, an act which launched new debenture stock and can be seen as a new start. The new impetus coincides with the arrival of a new chairman in 1890, J.W.F.Dix.

In 1927 the Gas Company purchased the Keynsham Gas Company Ltd. Further opportunities to expand were declined when the company had talks about purchasing or amalgamating with the Portishead Gas Company (1928 and 1935), Yatton Gas Consumers' Company Ltd (1929) and the Clevedon Gas Company (1935).

The Company continued until nationalization in 1949. Its final meeting took place on 30 April of that year.


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