A tale of two companies is part of explosive gas history
Joan and Roger Hands
The problems of lighting-up times and vandalism were not unknown, even as long ago as the 18th century, when warrants were taken out for damage to the lamps that were then “set up in the said Town (Hemel Hempstead) in such places as upon Survey shall be judged the most commodious.” These lamps were put up in winter and taken down in summer and records show that the ‘Bellman’ was paid 20 shillings a year to look after the 12 lamps.
They were lit for eight months of the year, from sunset to 2 a.m., but not on the two nights each side of a full moon. A lighting rate as such was not levied until 1867; up to 1853 this public lighting was paid for out of the market’s profits.
In the History of Hemel Hempstead, mention is made of the opening of the Hemel Hempstead Gas Light and Coke Company on 27 March 1835. It was such a memorable event that a special commemoration dinner was cooked by gas and hundreds who were not invited to eat the salmon and mutton delicacies came to watch the event. The seven retorts and one gasometer were erected in Popes Lane (Bury Mill End) at a cost of £2,500.
After four years, the works were leased to John Cox for 21 years at £125 a year. In 1860, Mr Cranstone took over this lease.
A meeting held at the Railway Hotel, Boxmoor, on 13 July 1868 resulted in the formation of the new ‘Boxmoor, Two Waters and Crouchfield Gas and Coke Company Ltd.’ The original committee consisted of Messrs. Hayes, Byford, Monk, Hall, Evilthrift, Leudon, Catling, Smith and Austin. It started with £3,000 capital.
A fortnight later, the committee agreed to approach Thomas Coupland for the use of his land by the ‘new railway bridge’. He conceded half an acre of land for £300 and a further £15 was paid to his tenant, Frederick Smith, for his interest on the land. They then decided to move the Company’s offices from Boxmoor Wharf to Mr Adkins’ rooms near the Baptist Chapel on London Road. They promised the Inspector of Lighting to light 30 lamps in Boxmoor and Two Waters.
A meeting had been held with Mr Cranstone about the purchase of his interests on the Two Waters side of the canal, but the outcome was unsatisfactory. However, by 1867 there had been so many complaints about his Company that a new organisation was proposed to take over the existing works and the gasometer at Pope’s Lane, as well as the leasehold gasometer and site at Albion Place, Moor End. Not surprisingly, when the new company chose to style itself the ‘Hemel Hempstead and Boxmoor Gas Company’, the original ‘Boxmoor, Two Waters and Crouchfield’ consortium were rather disgruntled!
By February 1869, the Boxmoor Gas works were almost complete. An engineer was being sought to inspect the works for the princely sum of one guinea. The gas main from Fishery Bridge to the Crouchfield area (the old name for part of Boxmoor) was finished in January 1870. Various agreements were made over the next few years with the Hemel Hempstead based company and in 1873 it cut off the supply at Two Waters. The supply pipes were then fitted to the Boxmoor and Two Water’s Company’s mains.
On 4 February 1878, the Bill went to Parliament to dissolve the two former rival companies. Like the Phoenix, they were re-born under their new joint title – ‘The Hemel Hempstead District Gas Company’.
The Moor End gasholder was pulled down soon after; in 1879 the Directors considered moving the Hemel Hempstead works to Boxmoor, as long as the Midland Railway would still deliver coal there. The Hemel Hempstead and Harpenden Railway line ran from Heath Park Halt up to the gas works, crossing both the river and the canal as well as the London Road. By October 1880, the older gas works at Bury Mill End were demolished. The gas works closed in the spring of 1960 but the gasholder at Boxmoor remains to this day.
23rd March 2011