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Saturday, 8 August 2009

Tenders and contracts for 19th gas works ammonia in east London

The gas companies advertised for tenders for liquor purchase and removal. For example - 'Secretary to put an advertisement in the Times for the tar and ammoniacal liquor’, minuted the Imperial Company in 1825. Contracts were often made for a set number of years - usually three. Thus, George Elliott who had taken over the Millwall works of the Imperial Company, offered '1/6' for the City Gas Company's liquor 'for the next three years from midsummer’.

A tendering system meant that the gas companies were able to control who took the liquor, - and thus inferentially what was done with it.

There were, of course, problems. Inevitably the contractors did not take all the liquor in exactly the way that the gas companies wanted. In 1832 Imperial Company complained that Beneke’s barge ‘which was loaded with ammoniacal liquor on Thursday last .. within four hours of its arrival .. still remains in the dock at this station and there is 22,000 gallons of liquor on hand'. This particular episode continued for months with some suspicion on Imperial's part that both Mr.Beneke and his, usually missing, bargeman found the Imperial's wharf at Haggerston a convenient, and free, place to leave a barge which had no other work to do.


...... AND WHAT THEY PAID

It is not easy to calculate the prices paid for ammoniacal liquor - given the variety of measures given in the records. There is no information which gives both price and quantitity purchased together - and so we are left with guesswork.

Taken very roughly: in 1824 both Imperial16 and Chartered were getting 10/‑a butt. Prices seem to peak around 1825, with a subsequent fall, which stabilised in the early 1830s. This slump might be explained by the expansion in the number of gas companies causing a glut on the market.

Some liquor buyers tried, and succeeded, in changing the price. Sometimes they got a reduction because of special conditions. They might, for instance, be allowed to 'make use of the waste heat’.

Liquor was made in a number of different strengths and qualities which commanded different prices. So, in 1823 Imperial agreed to sell the liquor from its Shoreditch Works at double the price of that from its other works in Dutton Street. This was most likely because of variations in quality.

Strength and quality were bargaining points on both sides. In 1827, Mr. Crane complained to the Independent Gas Company that the liquor 'was inferior to the usual strength'. At around the same time Independent agreed that ‘MacMurdo would take the liquor weekly.. ..without any complaint about quality until 22nd June'. Phoenix Gas Company were probably in a rather stronger position when they noted, in 1833, that Pearson. says it [the liquor] is very weak and not so good as that from other companies'. Their reply was robust 'Let him try it at the other works'.

The highest and lowest prices recorded were both paid by Samuel Crane who had a turpentine manufactory by Stratford Bridge. It is tempting to speculate that Crane was a member of the family who made 'blue ' and 'celebrated Mexican jet' at Kings Cross from the 1830s. In 1823, just before he began to buy liquor from the gas companies Crane's son took out a patent for 'improvements in the manufacture of inflammable gas'. In 1826 Samuel Crane told the Independent Gas Company 'that he could afford no more than 8/‑a butt' but he seems to have paid this price all the same.

Sometimes the gas companies had reason to get rid of stocks of liquor quickly and around the time that Independent were accepting Crane’s conditions, they were under threat of legal action from the Regents Canal Company for putting liquor directly into the Regents Canal and perhaps they were eager to get stocks off the premises

In the early 1830s prices dropped - Imperial got 4/‑ and Phoenix only 2/- a butt. In 1833, only seven years after paying 8/-, Crane told Independent that he could only afford 1/3 and they agreed to accept this price.31 Crane was clearly good at talking prices down and two years later he persuaded the City Company to accept a price as low as 10d, although for this they wanted him to agree to 'special guarantees’.

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