This week, in his ongoing series Ion Castro takes a look at a booklet which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Hastings and St. Leonards Gas Company, which was compiled and written by engineer and general manager Chas F Botley.
He writes: Published in 1933 to celebrate the company’s centenary in 1932, the booklet was published on good quality paper with 48 180mm x 240mm pages and was printed by F. J. Parsons Ltd. The illustrations were mainly by local photographer A M Breach and the cover was designed by the local school of art.
The booklet charts the progress of the company from 1832 when the site was a fairly isolated spot in the midst of meadows and by the side of the old Priory stream and the coal for gas-making was brought during the summer months by ship from the north of England and unloaded at a site now approximately occupied by Queen’s Apartments, (Harold Place) it was then carted to the works in Queen’s Road.
By 1899 Hastings had expanded westward from the old town and surrounded the gas works so that the Corporation wanted the manufacture of gas removed from a site that was now too near to the new town centre prompting its move to Glyne Gap. But there was another agenda, one which validates Robert Tressell’s story in ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ where councillors sought to improve the competitive edge of the municipally owned Electric Company by increasing the costs of the Gas Co. and imposing a local coal tax.
The book says of Glyne Gap “The site is actually in the Parish of Bexhill and at that time there were Coal Dues enforced, in Hastings, of 2/4½d per ton, of which naturally the Company would escape payment, but 1/8d per ton had to be paid on coke which was brought into Hastings. Not only this, but in the course of negotiations with the Hastings Corporation, it was agreed in this connection that the standard price should be reduced l½d per 1,000 cubic feet. Subsequently the Corporation gave up the collection of the Coal Dues, and thus the Company were directly prejudiced and were unable to re-establish the original position.
These fact are stated at some length because they are regarded as of importance” The facts were that in 1882 electric supply had been established in Hastings, and by 1887 the Corporation used this local company to provide lighting for part of the Front Line. Gas coke was used the boilers, and payment was often late and at one time the Electricity Company suggested they be taken over by the Gas Company, but it came to nothing.
The Electric Co. had entered into an unprofitable public lighting contract with the Corporation and at the end of the contract the Company would only renew it on much higher and profitable terms, which the Corporation would not accept, and as a result the corporation built its own supply generating station for the supply of the public lamps at the old waterworks at the rear of the Gas Company’s yard. This station only lasted seven months before its operation had caused vibration damage to the gasholders and it had to stop.
The financial position of the original Electricity Undertaking, coupled with the fact that the Corporation had their own Electricity Works for public lighting, led to the purchase of the undertaking by the Corporation in 1897, at a figure which was at the time regarded as excessive and certainly much higher than a valuation made by a competent electrical engineer.
In any event gas consumption was increasing very rapidly and there were difficulties on the original site in dealing with purification and pollution, particularly sulphur removal. Whilst the railway was adjacent to the works connection to it was inadequate and necessary improvements would have been very expensive and the Glyne Gap site was selected because there was a main road and a railway alongside, it was away from habitation and the prevailing wind was such as to minimise any possible nuisance.
We are told “Under this 1899 Act, the land scheduled at Glyne Gap Works for manufacturing purposes is given as 14 acres I rood 19 perches, but the Company owned the whole of the land up to the existing or projected road , and along the De La Warr Road boundary have already provided some residence for employees. Ample space exists elsewhere on the site for any possible developments, and for the provision of gas holders.
An important provision was that all manufacture should cease at Queen’s Road within 10 years from the passing of the Act, and it may be mentioned that the trial of the new Works were made in October, 1904, and that they were brought into full use in 1907”. The Works were constructed in the years 1900 to 1904, by direct labour and gas manufacture at Queen’s Road actually ceased on 6th June, 1907. It was noted that during the first war the company was involved in the production of munitions and plant was installed for the extraction of toluol, a constituent of TNT.
The company was nationalised in 1948, Natural gas saw the end of manufactured ‘town’ gas and privatisation followed in 1986. The whole Queens Road site was levelled to become Morrisons Supermarket and car park and Glyne Gap to became Ravenside.
“Memorial and London Road Showroom”, 18 London Road was rented and presumably closed during the 1939-45 hostilities. The Warrior Gate pub on the corner of Norman Road was bombed and the name and licence were transferred to the next corner up replacing the showroom – it’s now the ‘St Leonard’ pub. The original site, no 12, is now the post office. The Memorial shop, also rented is now ‘Andrews Estate Agents’
“Distribution Department Transport” All but one vehicle have local ‘DY’ registration numbers
“Plan of Glyne Gap Works” Now Ravenside Shopping Centre
“Plan of Queens Road Depot” Now Morrisons Supermarket and car park. St Andrews Church is now the filling station. The numbered circles are the gas holders
“Queens Road Offices and Showroom (Exterior)” Demolished and now the entrance to Morrisons’ car park
“Service Showroom” Notice again local DY car registrations.
“Stove Shop” Gas stoves were available for hire and were cleaned and refurbished here.
“View of Glyne Gap Works” Now Ravenside Shopping Centre.
All illustrations throughout this series are from Ion Castro’s own collection and he has a few A5 reproductions of the book available priced at £7.99 available from him direct – tel 01424 437468 or email email@example.com. There’s more local history on Ion’s website, www.historichastings.co.uk.
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