Epsom and Ewell Gas Company

1839 - 1912

Gas Lamp in Epsom High Street c1890s
A Gas Lamp in Epsom High Street c1890s
This retouched image is courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Deeds of Settlement with Minute Books of General and Directors' Meetings of the Epsom and Ewell Gas Company are archived in the Surrey History Centre, Woking, under references 4402/1 & 2119/7. This article is intended to be an introduction to its promoters with an outline of events in the years that business was conducted as an independent enterprise.

In The residential Copyholds of Epsom, 10C5, H. L. Lehmann records the acquisition of land destined for development off East Street on 14 November 1839. Acting as trustees, the purchasers were Messrs John Steele, John Bailey, William Butcher, William Chandler and George Bishop.

These local worthies may be identified as follows :-
John Steele was a schoolmaster from Guildford who had leased a house (Hylands/Whitmores) on the Dorking Road from 1824 to establish Steele's Academy (a boarding school) there.
John Steele
John Steele
James Andrews' "Reminiscences of Epsom"


John Bailey, said to have been known as the 'Epsom Banker', carried on a drapery business in Waterloo House.
William Butcher, a man of many parts, variously described as builder, surveyor, auctioneer & estate agent, brick & tile maker, undertaker and Alliance Fire Office agent, became a land agent for the Brighton Railway Co. and Wimbledon and Dorking Railway Co.
Mr Butcher's House
Mr Butchers House
James Andrews' "Reminiscences of Epsom"

William Chandler, brewer from Epsom. In 1857, described as a wine & brandy merchant of Dorset Place, Sussex, he petitioned as a creditor in bankruptcy proceeding against James Chandler, senior, (formerly in partnership with James Chandler, junior) brewer and maltster of Epsom
George Bishop, of 3 Bennets Hill, Doctors Commons, City of London, was a liveryman of The Worshipful Company of Painters otherwise Painters & Stainers who became herald painter to King George IV. He had acquired property on Clayhill.
A deed of settlement drawn up on 31 December 1839 set out the aims of the co-partnership to light Epsom and Ewell with gas having raised capital of £3,000 in 300 shares of £10 each. The promoters named above were joined by a number of additional subscribers from the district some of whom took up only a single share.

Ten shares were acquired by James Puttock who had been baptised at Ewell on 9 April 1790. By 27 January 1824 he had qualified as a solicitor and established a practice in Epsom, later in partnership with John Hart to 25 March 1837 then Richard Hill until 11 February 1842. He acted as deputy Steward of the manor of Ashtead from 1838 to 1840 and became Secretary of the Epsom Savings Bank. As an antiquarian, he wrote "Roman Stations and Roads of the Regni", published in The Gentleman's Magazine 6 August 1841, and he contributed to Brayley's "The Topographical History of Surrey". His relevance to this article arose in 1842 after he became insolvent because, in the Case in Bankruptcy of "Ex parte Brown in the matter of James Puttock", the conduct of the business was reviewed to determine that the member of a gas company was a trader. Puttock's shares, which had been lodged as security for a loan, were bought back by the company.

Trading had commenced in 1840 and consisted of buying large quantities of coal from which gas was extracted for supply, with lamps and meters let out on hire, to the inhabitants of Epsom and Ewell: tar and coke arose as by-products and were offered for sale. Coal gas was made by roasting coal tightly packed into brick ovens or retorts. Certain non-combustibles and impurities needed to be eliminated by passing the gas through water then layers of lime or iron oxide before storage in gasometers awaiting distribution. [Further particulars of the process of making gas from coal may be found at www.nationalgasmuseum.org.uk]. Initially a main would have been laid into Epsom High Street, in time to light up the town in celebration of Queen Victoria's wedding on 10 February 1840, and gradually extended to meet demand. In 1841, when the gas works were being described as imperfect and inadequate, plans were drawn up for improvements. Supplemental deeds of settlement produced on 30 May 1855, 18 November 1859 and 7 July 1869 related to the raising of additional capital (increased to £7,500, £15,000 & £22,500) and other provisions.

On 21 October 1846 the company resolved to reduce the price of gas from 13/6d to 12/- per 1,000 cubic feet consumed.

The logistics of bringing in coal by road with horse-drawn carts would have been eased after 1847 when the railway reached Epsom. Supplies were obtained from Durham under annual contracts for delivery at Battersea wharf.

Extract from the 1866 OS Map
Extract from the 1866 OS Map

On the death of John Bailey, 1861, his holding was devised to the relict, Rebecca Bailey, who survived until September 1864 leaving some of the shares to each of her children and a god-child, Mary Bailey Millard: interpretation of Mrs Bailey's will became the subject of a Chancery Case, Millard v Bailey. Messrs Butcher and Bishop also pre-deceased John Steele whose own demise was recorded on 29 April 1875 [Reg. Epsom 3/1875 aged 80]. After 36 years, the works had become "thoroughly out of repair": since much of the equipment was old-fashioned and obsolete, the plant was almost unworkable. Business operations, leased out to Robert Jones, for 7 years from 1 April 1876, were expected to produce fixed rate dividends on the share capital.

"Lawyer" George White of Ashley House, Registrar of Epsom County Court, became bare trustee of the company's various properties. Nevertheless, as Clerk to the local Board of Health, he entered complaints to the management from time to time about inadequacy of street lighting and sewer fouling. With regard to the discharge of malodorous water, he was told the smell came from contact with gas in the holder and was "innocuous"!

Much was to be changed following the Epsom and Ewell Gas Act of 1877, which set up a new company from 1 October 1877 before liquidation of the original co-partnership commenced.

In the year ended 31 December 1878 gas was being sold at 5/6d per 1,000 cubic feet.

During 1881, the principal gasholder had been increased in capacity from 42,000 to 93,000 cubic feet, and enlargement of the smaller one put in progress. A new coal store was erected in parallel with the retort house. An 8 inch main had been laid to Ewell with one of 4 inches in diameter to Ashtead. Thomas Lucas, who had become Lord of the Manor in 1880, facilitated the latter by an agreement to take a minimum of 100 pounds worth of gas each year and allow the supply to pass through Ashtead Park and on to the village.

Although several gas cookers had been demonstrated at the 1851 Great Exhibition, they were expensive and did not come into general use until appliances could be rented from a gas company. Epsom & Ewell did not arrange to exhibit a selection of gas stoves to be let on hire until 1885.

Robert Jones, joined in business by a son, Henry Edward Jones, negotiated an extension of his lease for three years up to 31 March 1886. Subsequently they were invited to become Directors of the company, with a "modern works".

Around this time the company declined to provide a supply to Lower Ashtead whilst resisting an attempt by the Leatherhead Gas Co to advance into its territory from the west along Barnett Wood Lane.

By 1888 larger pipes became necessary towards Banstead to supply the Kensington and Chelsea School.

Henry Mayston Dorling purchased The Plough and Harrow public-house from the company, in 1894 for £1600, leaving it in possession of gardens and 4 more acres of land to the rear.

Mr Robert Jones, the late Chairman, died in 1895.

The price of gas had been reduced to 3/8d per 1000 cubic feet for 1898. In the following year, London County Council contracted for the supply of at least five million cubic feet of gas to Horton Manor Asylum.

Capital employed rose to £98,000 by 1911, producing a profit for the year of £7,233.

On 18 April 1912, a Bill was introduced for amalgamating Wandsworth and Putney Gas Light & Coke Company, The Mitcham and Wimbledon District Gas Light Company and the Epsom and Ewell Gas Company. This brought the independence of Epsom and Ewell to an end.

Brian Bouchard © 2011


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