The London gasworks : a technical, commercial and labour history to 1914

Matthews, Derek

Economic and social history; History; Labour; Economics
July 1983

Thesis or dissertation

© 1983 Derek Matthews. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

This thesis is a history of the gas industry down to 1914 with special reference to London. Part One deals with the industry's origins and its technical and business history and traces the development from the discovery of coal gas manufacture at the end of the seventeenth century to its first commercial exploitation in the early nineteenth century. It then sets out the subsequent technological progress made in the industry from the manufacturing process to the applications of coal gas. The commercial history of the gas companies in London is related from the early period of competition between an increasing number of speculative and often fraudulent concerns to the agreement of monopoly districts in the 1850s and amalgamation in the 1870s. The increasing government and legislative regulation is dealt with in detail and biographies of the leading industrialists are given. Part One concludes with an analysis which sets out to explain the nature and progress of the industry, its initial innovation, the pace of subsequent technological change and its commercial history, particularly relating to growth, competition, the actual role of government regulation and municipalisation, the relationship with the electricity industry and other linkages with the rest of the economy.

Part Two deals with the fortunes of the workers employed in the London gasworks and deals with working conditions, wages, hours, welfare benefits and the attempts of the companies to discipline their men. It relates the early strikes in London particularly those of 1834, 1859 and 1872 and looks at the rise of the permanent union in 1889, the winning of the eight hour day and the prolonged strike at the South Metropolitan company in 1889-90. The history of the profit sharing schemes which became a feature in gas companies is given as is a brief history of some aspects of the National Union of Gasworkers and General Labourers down to 1914. Part Two concludes with some analysis to explain the major variables in the labour relations of the gasworks, especially wages, strikes and the level of union membership.

Department of Economic and Social History, The University of Hull
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