Gas comes to Winslow, 1842-43

Winslow experienced two huge technological advances in the 1840s, the introduction of gas and the arrival of the railway.

18 Dec 1841, Bucks Herald
The recent meeting of the inhabitants for the purpose of considering the expediency of lighting the town with gas, has given rise to much difference of opinion as to the means and mode of that desirable end. It was long considered that the wealth and prosperity of the people were inadequate to sustain even the expense of common lamps, but such a method of proceeding is now deemed by a certain party as not commensurate with the respectability of the place, and that nothing less than the erection of a gasometer, with its various ramifications, will meet the aspiring views and feelings that have lately arisen amongst them.

15 Oct 1842, Bucks Gazette
If, but a few years since, some favoured individual had been allowed to draw aside the veil of futurity, and catch a glimpse of events to come, and had ventured to predict that in 1842, in the small and unpretending town of Winslow, a gas and coke company would be formed, and measures, consequent thereon, in active operation to supply its inhabitants with the magic and brilliant element, popular opinion would have deemed it but the musings of insanity, and the subject of them a fitting companion of those for whom philanthropy provide, when reason ceases to hold her empire.  Such, however, is the fact;- a company is established, - the requisite capital realised,- and, in all probability, within two months, Winslow will become another instance of the spirit of improvement that every where prevails –

“With time progressive mounts the human mind,
And fools alone from custom never change.”

14 Dec 1842, manor court
John Morecraft of Winslow Butcher a Customary Tenant and Mary his wife did in consideration of the Sum of £28 paid by Edward William Selby Lowndes of Winslow Esquire, David Thomas Willis Gentleman, Samuel Burnham Dudley Auctioneer, George Cowley Surgeon, James Hawley Grocer and Alfred Barton Innholder surrender All that Piece of Ground containing by admeasurement 16 poles [484 sq. yds] and being part of a Close of Pasture ground called Crocketts Close, bounded on the east by the Turnpike road leading to Buckingham, on the south by other part of the Close lately sold to the Trustees of the National School and on the west and north by the remaining part of the said Close.

28 Jan 1843, Bucks Herald
We hear that these works are on the eve of completion.

4 Feb 1843, Bucks Gazette
On Tuesday last, the Winslow Gas Company, with their friends, dined together at the George Inn, in celebration of the opening of the works ... it furnishes an instance, almost without a parallel, of a place with only fourteen hundred inhabitans, realizing those fruits of science which general opinion had awarded only where trade and commerce prevails with greater magnitude. The first proposers of the subject, as is the case with all advocates of innovation, were viewed by the majority as projecting a mere Utopian scheme; but fully convinced of its practicability, they prosecuted their object with a perseverance and firmness of purpose which ultimately triumphed over all opposition.

The maps below show the gasworks site in 1880 and the same area in 1978; most of this part of Winslow has been rebuilt
Map showing gasworks site


The gasworks were built on what was then vacant land between the newly built boys' school and the Workhouse. 63 High Street is now on the site. More houses were built on the adjacent land during the 1840s, so the gasworks came to be in a fairly central position. In the 1840s coal had to be brought by road from the canal at Buckingham. The arrival of the railway made transport easier but it took until 1880 for the gasworks to be moved to a new site next to the station. Gas was used only for lighting until the 1850s. The development of gas in England started in the 1820s, when nearly all towns with a population of over 10,000 acquired gasworks. Winslow was one of the smallest places to get gas in the early 1840s, possibly as a loss-leader for the contractor:

M.E. Falkus, "The British gas industry before 1850", Economic History Review 20 (1967), 494-508
The contractor erecting a gasworks at the minute Buckinghamshire town of Winslowe [sic] (which had less than 1,500 inhabitants) wrote in 1842: "I am anxious to get gas Apparatus on a small scale as cheap as possible, so that I can erect small works at a cheap rate, and induce people in the small Towns to form gas companies, etc. There is no doubt that in a little time all the small towns will be lit with Gas." [James Malam, 19 Nov 1842]

It has been suggested that Winslow got gas before Buckingham because it was still a dangerous innovation and it would matter less if Winslow was blown up! This doesn't seem to be the case as the technology was well established, and the only danger was financial. In fact the Winslow Gas Company was very successful and its shares were a good investment. Below is the 1871 gas bill for George Grace of Horn Street.

Bill from Winslow Gas Works

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Copyright 4 April, 2020