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Sunday, 9 August 2009

Mr Bethel

Perhaps the most successful process was that pioneered in the 1830s by John Bethel a barrister from Bristol. He was the brother of Richard Bethel who became Lord Chancellor. An interesting sidelight is that Richard Bethel acted in a judgement 'between Paynter and Pincus' ‑part of a long and tangled case in the affairs of the Ratcliffe Gas Company.

John Bethel took out a patent in 1848 for 'preserving animal and vegetable substances from decay'. Using an apparatus first designed in Paris, the dried timber was put on iron bogey frames, which were run into a strong wrought iron cylinder, and the air exhausted. The preservative was then forced in. Bethel issued licences and specified a number of preservatives including 'gas-tar.

He set up a tar distillery in Battersea in 1845 ‑ probably the site of the fire mentioned above. He is said to have opened this works up as a creosote distillery because of an, unspecified, difficulty with tar supplies. Another tar works was opened by Bethel on Bow Common in 1844 and, in the early 1850s, a Chemical Works near Blackwall Point on a site leased from Morden College.

The Blackwall Point works seems to have made a general range of chemicals. Bethel is listed in directories of the 1840s as an 'oil of vitriol manufacturer', implying a much wider range of chemical manufactures than merely wood preservation. A range of workers housing was built adjacent to the East Greenwich site.

When Bethel died in the 1870s his wife, Louisa, continued, to own the East Greenwich works. Mrs. Bethel lived in Bath and the company was managed from an address in King William Street, City of London. The works seems to have specialised in tarred wooden blocks for paving and in the 1880s it was taken over by the Improved Wood Pavement Company although the Bethel family still remained involved.

Bethel seems to have experimented with a number of other coal gas related chemical processes. In the 1850s he offered the Chartered Gas Company a purification process but this proved 'unsatisfactory'. Methods of wood preservation by tar remained his main interest. He said, in 1851, that he had got the idea of preservation by tar from examination of an Egyptian mummy. In preservation with coal tar pitch as used 'in the Mediterranean', ammonia should be distilled away, because that would cause rot.

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