In Tadcaster, before the 1830s, lighting was by candle and oil light. Oil lamps had been in existence since the 3rd century BC with oil being obtained from animal fat and oil seeds, and candles can be traced back to the Middle Ages.
In 1807, the first gas street lamps appeared in London. Tadcaster was to follow in 1835.
In May 1835, the Leeds Times announced “Improvements at Tadcaster. — Great improvements are in progress in Tadcaster. A gas light company has been established, and the inhabitants have, without opposition, agreed to be rated to the expense of lighting the streets. A sufficient subscription has also been entered into for draining and paving the town. The Earl of Egremont, [the Lord of the Manor] with his accustomed liberality, has munificently subscribed £100 to the latter undertaking, and made a grant to the gas company of a piece of land forming an eligible site for the intended works.”
These certainly were great improvements to Tadcaster. It would seem that before this date there were no street drains and footpaths seem not to have had hard surfaces. Now this was to be rectified and street lighting provided as well. What luxury!
A month later, the Yorkshire Gazette said “Tadcaster.—This town was a scene of great festivity, on Tuesday last, on the occasion of laying the first stone of the Gas Works, which are now erecting under the superintendance of that able engineer, Mr. James Malam, of Bridlington. The shareholders and principal inhabitants proceeded in procession to the site, headed by a band of music, and several masonic and appropriate banners. Here a spacious rustic marquee, tastefully decorated with evergreens and flowers, was erected for the reception of the numerous ladies, who attended to witness the ceremony.
The first stone was laid by the Rev. B. Maddock, Vicar of Tadcaster, and the British Ensign was hoisted on the works, amidst a merry peal of bells, the discharge of cannon, and cheers of the multitude. After an appropriate address from the worthy Vicar, and three cheers for the Earl of Egremont, the ladies partook of an elegant cold collation in the marquee, provided by Mr. D. Backhouse, of the White Horse Inn.
Nor were the humbler classes forgotten, a liberal supply of ale was distributed on the ground, and the labourers and tradesmen employed on the works were treated with an excellent and substantial dinner at Mrs. Kidd’s, the Angel Inn.
A public dinner followed, at Mr. D. Backhouse’s, when thirty five shareholders and other gentlemen favourable to the undertaking, sat down to a splendid repast. Thomas Shann, Esq., in the chair, and an evening of great hilarity, concluded a day of general gratification and satisfaction.”
It certainly seemed that the prospect of illuminated streets was welcomed.
This 1849 map shows the position of the Gas Works in “Surgeons Close”. “Surgeons” is probably a corruption of “St Johns” as the 1611 map of Tadcaster shows this as “Chantry Land, St John’s Close”.
The Gas Works can be seen in this 1967 aerial picture. By this date it was no longer producing gas but two gasometers for storage are visible.
Gas was originally produced from coal, with coke being a bi-product. Coal gas contained a mixture of flammable gasses including hydrogen, methane and ethylene. It also contained carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas.
Initially coal would be brought to site by boat and by road. The opening of the railway in 1847 would have made the coal supply easier.
The light from a gas lamp at this time was quite poor, but much better than nothing. It was not until the invention of the gas mantle in 1887, that the light output was much improved.
Other gas lamps around town. Left – A gas lamp outside the school in Station Road awaits removal having been replaced by an electric lamp. Centre – The remains of a gas lamp in Westgate has the same post design. Most lamp posts in the town were of this design. Right – A gas lamp in Market Place looks to be an earlier design of post.
It is not clear who funded the initial installation but by the early 1840s Tadcaster Gas & Light Company was the company responsible for the gas works and gas pipes used for distribution.
Gas was produced on a relatively small scale. To make it usable, a system of underground pipes had to be installed and maintained. The result was that gas in Tadcaster was relatively expensive.
A court case in 1872, when someone fell down a hole dug outside the church entrance to repair a gas pipe, revealed the costs. At this time, gas in Tadcaster cost 7s 6d per 1000 cubic feet, whereas in Huddersfield it was 3s 6d. In a large town, there are many potential customers in a small area, reducing the cost of distribution and allowing larger quantities to be produced. For Tadcaster to sell more would involve an even more extensive pipe system with increased maintenance costs.
Gas has always carried risks but it took some time for these to be fully appreciated. A local tragic accident illustrates the point. In 1875 the Knaresborough Post reported TERRIBLE GAS EXPLOSION AT GRIMSTON PARK, NEAR TADCASTER. On Monday afternoon, terrible explosion of gas took place at Grimston Park, the seat of Mr. J Fielden. Mr. Swarbreck, the steward, had during the day been, trying the new gas apparatus on the premises, and noticing a smell of gas in the billiard room, he tried to discover the cause by means of a piece of lighted paper. The result was an explosion, which blew off the roof, and smashed the large mahogany doors into matchwood. Mr. Swarbreck was found buried amongst the wreck and terribly injured. Both his legs were broken, one in two places, and his face, hands, and other parts his body were very much disfigured. Mr. Swarbreck lingered until Tuesday morning at three o’clock, when he expired.
It was clear that the Tadcaster Gas & Light Company was not particularly profitable. At some date before 1877, ownership passed to Messrs Huggan and Wade of Pudsey. Huggan and Wade also had an interest in Wetherby’s gas supplies.
This company was amalgamated with Wetherby’s gas undertaking to form Tadcaster and Wetherby District Gas Light Company in 1883. This company sought to provide gas to intermediate villages. There was some dissent including Thorp Arch. At a meeting to discuss the extension it was reported that: “The gentleman who acted as Churchwarden of Thorparch in the exercise of his discretion wrote as follows. “In answer to your letter of the 23rd of December I have laid the matter before the Squire and Lord of the Manor. He decidedly objects to any gas pipes going through the village of Thorparch. This being so we have not thought there was any use in calling a meeting of the ratepayers “
The Board of Trade approved the extension including ruling that “The parish of Walton to be included in the limits of supply, and for the purpose of supplying that parish the promoters are to be authorised to lay their mains along much of the highroad of the parish of Thorparch as lies immediately south of the railway between Wetherby and Tadcaster, and between the boundaries of the parishes of Wetherby and Walton.”
The Gas Works figured in proposals in 1890 and 1899 to improve navigation on the river. As well as deepening the river channel by means of locks, the wharfage at New Crane Wharf would have been improved and a small railway built along Centre Lane and New Street which would transport goods from boats to the breweries and to the Gas Works.
Harrogate Gas Company purchased the company in 1927. In 1949 this was nationalised and became part of the North Eastern Gas Board.
It is not clear when gas production ceased at the gas works. It continued to store gas in two gasometers up to 1967 as a means of smoothing out demand peaks. Around 1967, natural gas supplies reached the town and the gas works ceased to have a significant role.