The Ampthill Gas & Coke Company 1848 to 1936, by A.T. Marks

The Ampthill Gas & Coke Company 1848 to 1936, by A.T. Marks

Published privarely by the author in 2012, 40 pages. A5 size booklet (N7690)

From the introduction: The small works at Ampthill was one of many built during the Victorian period to provide gas for a safe and reliable form of lighting. The location of the town stifled any ambitions about possible expansion although nearby Flitwick did offer the prospect of new business but both the council and the residents 'declining to entertain the company's proposal to supply gas' in 1907. To write a history of such an unremarkable concern may seem strange but the survival of the company minute books in the archives at Bedford gives us a fascinating insight into the running of the gas works and also the development and events concerning Ampthill itself.

For many readers unfamiliar with the operation of producing 'town gas' basically coal was baked in airtight tubes called retorts made either of clay or iron to release the gas. In this natural state it was too dangerous to use until various elements such as tar, sulphur, and ammonia were removed by a process of passing the gas through condensers, washers/scrubbers, and purifiers. Then recorded by the station (works) meter and stored in the holder ready for use.

The main source of income came from gas sold for lighting both private, and public that is the local authority street lamps. The company along with many others encouraged the use of gas engines to power machinery or even generate electricity, and the use of 'stoves' a generic term which rather confusingly covered both cookers and fires. The major boost to the industry occurred in the 1890' s with the introduction of the prepayment system. This consisted of a couple of lights, a cooker or griller, and a coin meter all fitted free of charge which allowed gas to be supplied to poorer dwellings dispensing with the need of a cash deposit and more importantly from the company's point of view guaranteed payment. To recoup the outlay the gas was sold slightly dearer than that provided through an ordinary meter.

By the 1930' s many smaller works faced the prospect of strong competition from electricity, high costs, and worn out plant. Gradually these ones were taken over and supplied by larger more cost effective plants. Luton had purchased the Toddington concern in 1931 and via a high pressure main cheaper gas was sent there resulting in a massive increase in consumers in that village. When this company was bought a spur main was connected at Fancott not only to supply Ampthill but also the villages of Harlington, Westoning, and Flitwick.
Contents in the booklet include:

Deed of Settlement & Land Purchase
The Building ofthe Gas Works
Gas Company Activities up to 1914
Public Lighting
Gas Meters
The Great War 1914 to 1918
The Final Years, Take Over, and Closure
Chronological Listing of Company Employees
Condition of the booklet is generally very good. The covers have one or two minor scuffs but are clean and tidy, the staple spine is tight and intact, and all pages are clean, intact, unblemished and tightly bound.