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Having resigned from his appointment with the Duke of Bedford, Thomas Price had a need to usefully occupy his time and ‘began to look around to see where he could be of service to his neighbours, when the idea of gas flashed across him.’ Calling on several of the local neighbours he found that their reaction was enthusiastic, and in consequence at the National School Room, Aspley Guise, a meeting was held on Monday, August 3rd, 1868 to consider ‘the feasibility of introducing Gas into the villages of Aspley Guise and into Woburn Sands.’ The cost of the gas works plus a cottage for the gas man was estimated at £900 and in view of many recommendations the firm of W.C. Holmes, of Huddersfield and London, would be chosen as the contractors. The first meeting of the directors duly took place on August 27th, 1868 and following a few preliminary matters the party then proceeded to Woburn Sands station, where an adjoining plot of land was being offered by Mr. Denison as a site for the gas works. It was agreed to purchase the plot for £100 and the railway company would be asked to construct a siding into the yard from their line. As for distributing the gas, it was agreed that a five inch main would be carried from the gas works to the Weathercock Inn, ‘thence a 4 inch main to the village of Woburn Sands, thence to the centre of the green at Aspley Guise, and thence a 3 inch main to the entrance of The Rookery’, with also a three inch main from the village green to the entrance gate in East Street of Aspley House. From the firm of W.C. Holmes, Mr. Holmes came down from Huddersfield to meet the directors, and at a 4 p.m. meeting on September 7th it was decided that the plans submitted by the firm should be examined by Mr. Mellor, ‘a practical man’ of Leighton Buzzard. With his opinion proving favourable the construction of the gas works began during the first week of October, and in consequence at a meeting on October 12th the secretary announced a need to authorise the first call of £1 per share on the shareholders. Also at the meeting the plans submitted by a local builder, Mr. Hutton, were approved to build a cottage for the gas work’s manager, James Sear. His employment would start from December 21st, and in fact this would be the date that gas was first supplied to Aspley Guise. With the gas works now established, in celebration of the lighting up of the villages of Aspley Guise and Woburn Sands in January, 1869 at the Bell Inn, Aspley Guise, the ‘Aspley Guise and Woburn Sands Gas and Coke Co. (Ltd.)’ held a dinner one Monday evening at 6p.m., with the shareholders and the directors each inviting a friend. Business continued to flourish, and at the meeting of February 8th, 1869 the proposal of the secretary to issue further shares amounting to the value of £300 was accepted, thereby raising the capital of the Company to £2,300. However, the continuing success of the venture would be tempered by the death of Dr. Lovell, and to fill the subsequent vacancy for chairman Mr. Denison would be appointed. At the quarterly meeting on January 16th, 1871 the directors agreed that the financial position of the Company now justified not only a dividend of 6% but also a reduction in the price of gas from January 1st, and also as a reflection of the healthy financial situation, on February 9th a request received ‘from the man at the works (Sear)’ for a small increase in wages was considered. It would be agreed to retrospectively raise his weekly amount from 14s to 16s. As for more unusual matters, a request was considered from a Mr. Gaueus to supply gas for a balloon ascent and although this was agreed, supplies to the regular customers were not to be interfered with, and Mr. Gaueus was to pay all the extra expenses. At the beginning of 1877 the Sun Fire Office declined to issue any insurance cover for the gas works or the cottage, which was especially troubling since enlargements to the works were now being considered. Nevertheless, in June it was decided to ask Messrs. Newton and Chambers for their engineer to visit the works and prepare a report as to how the facility could best be enlarged, and in further preparations a letter would be written to Messrs. Holmes and Co. asking how much they would charge to construct a gas holder, thirty feet by ten feet. The firm duly agreed to construct the holder, and in view of all the necessary finance at the meeting of the directors on November 9th, 1877 it was decided that sixty new shares would be issued at £5 each. In fact all the new shares had been taken up and paid for by the middle of January, 1878 although in July a letter was received from James Sear stating that he wished to leave his employment on August 2nd. However, three months notice would need to be given, since the Company was not prepared to allow his early departure until a suitable replacement had been found. and towards this quest an advertisement was placed in the Gas Journal. In due course, after a conversation with William Swain, who had especially travelled from Birmingham for an interview, an agreement was reached to engage him from the 13th or 14th September - the latter being the date on which Mr. Sear wished to leave - or even earlier, if an arrangement with Mr. Sear could be made. Yet the new appointment would prove short lived, for at the quarterly meeting of the directors on April 10th, 1879 a letter was read from Mr. Swain tendering his resignation, and asking to leave within a week. Thus as an interim measure Mr. Sear would be asked to provide temporary cover and this was an offer that he not only accepted, but also asked to be made on a permanent basis. However, at a special meeting on July 28th, 1880 his tenure as the manager of the gas works was again in question, and enquiries would be made regarding a replacement. In fact by October 13th, 1880 another man had been engaged but since there were some doubts about his suitability, applications were also considered from two other persons. In fact by January 13th, 1881 Henry Taylor had been engaged as the manager of the works and although his conduct was generally good, since two occasions had proved unsatisfactory for any repeat of this he would be dismissed without notice. Then at a special meeting of the directors on May 24th, 1883 the secretary announced that he had been in correspondence with William Thomas of River Street, Ware, who having been recommended by George Simmonds ‘was likely to suit.’ If he did ‘suit’, then subject to notice of one month either side he would be engaged as the gas manager on June 25th. This would be at 25s per week with house, rent, coal and gas free, and meanwhile an agreement would be drawn up with Mr. Taylor, who had been given notice to leave. In January 1884 it was reported that in the chimney at the works cracks had appeared ‘which looked threatening’, and to examine the problem a meeting of the directors would take place on site on Saturday, January 12th at 1.15p.m. There were no definite conclusions but the advice had been that the cracks were heat cracks, and not settlements, and a builder had now pointed them with cement. In January 1885 a decision was made to sink a well for supplying the house at the works and in other matters a letter would be written to Mr. Denison expressing ‘an unanimous vote of thanks to him for his Liberality in giving the Company a piece of ground to enlarge their yard at the Gas Works.’ Then in February 1885 following a letter from Messrs. Holmes their tender of £175 to enlarge the works was accepted, and perhaps not surprisingly in October Mr. Thomas asked for a wage increase. A rise of 2s 6d a week was agreed. In January 1889 he then asked for another increase and again 2s 6d would be agreed, making a total of 30s a week. The quarterly meeting on January 8th, 1891 had been overshadowed by the death during the past year of Mr. W. H. Denison, who had been a member of the Board since the formation of the Company, and also of concern were the complaints now being made of a short supply of gas to several houses in the middle of the village. As a consequence, amongst other measures it was decided to lay a four inch main from the present end of the four inch main, opposite Miss Fites, to the back gate of Mr. Powys house but although by July tenders had been received for the supply of the four inch cast iron pipes, after due consideration it was decided to postpone the matter of the mains extension for the moment.
Timber provided an early source of fuel but by the 16th century through deforestation the supplies in Britain had become scarce. Coal then began to assume an increasing importance, and soon the demands of the Industrial Revolution would require ever greater amounts. Experiments to produce gas from coal had begun towards the end of the 18th century, and by the mid 19th century the proven success of the process had spawned a proliferation of independent gas works.
With the discovery of fire, and therefore the ability to provide a means of heating, cooking and lighting, Man more easily ensured his continued survival. As a life giving and purifying force fire was regarded with great reverence in primitive societies, and according to classical mythology had been stolen from the gods and given to humans by Prometheus. However, it might also have been discovered by rotating a stick rapidly between the palms of the hands in the hollow of a piece of wood, and these friction based ‘fire-drills’ were probably the earliest method of fire making. Examples have been found amongst the remains of early Neanderthals, and no doubt dwellers of the late Ice Age, (some 50,000 to 25,000 years ago), also had the knowledge to make fire. Another means known in ancient times was the concentration of sunlight by the use of a convex crystal lens, but eventually the knowledge to smelt iron ore meant that fire could be made more conveniently by striking iron on flint, to produce sparks. Yet even until the 20th century the natives of the Andaman islands remained in ignorance of any means to make fire.
In early times lighting was provided either by torches - made of resinous wood, or from twigs or rushes dipped in fat or beeswax - or the oil lamp. In fact even in the early Stone Age lamps in the form of a shallow stone cup, in which animal fat or vegetable oil was burned, had been used, employing a floating wick probably made of moss or lichen. Then for an improved form of lighting tapers and candles eventually evolved for domestic use, although except in a few cities of the Roman Empire little attempt was made to light the streets. As for heating, in the inhospitable northern parts of their Empire the Romans employed a hot-air system via flues from a central furnace, but after the Roman departure permanent hearths were almost unknown in England until the 15th century. By then most of the extensive forests in Britain had been cut down to provide fuel, and with charcoal widely used to smelt metals and sustain other industries, such as the manufacture of bricks, glass, salt and soap etc., the scarcity of timber meant that by 1640 firewood was costing eight times more than a 100 years before. Brewers were particularly affected, for charcoal had been used as a fuel for drying malt, the chief ingredient in beer. Therefore, as an alternative to timber they began using coal for the process but soon discovered that the gases absorbed by the malt spoiled the flavour. However, it was eventually discovered that by preheating the coal in an airtight oven the gases could be eliminated, and so began the process for making coke. Apart from brewers, iron makers had also been concerned at the increasing lack of timber but now with the availability of coke around 1710 an English iron maker, Abraham Darby, succeeded in smelting iron by this substitute fuel. Thus coal, which as a supplement to firewood had been first mentioned in English chronicles in 852, assumed a growing importance and indeed from a figure of about 200,000 tons at the beginning of the 17th century, by the end of the century the country would be producing around 80% of the world’s total. Yet the ever larger and deeper coal pits were increasingly at risk from flooding, until the invention by James Watt of an efficient steam engine. Patented in 1769 this could now provide a means to power machinery, and combined with the plentiful supplies of national coal, and the ability to produce coke, would prove the stimulus that induced the birth of the Industrial Revolution.
Primarily for lighting, towards the end of the 18th century experiments were begun to produce gas from coal, with the earliest practical applications made by William Murdock in 1792, and Lebon, in France, in 1801. Born on August 21st, 1754 at Old Cumnock, Ayrshire, in 1777 Murdock entered the engineering firm of Matthew Boulton and James Watt at their Soho works in Birmingham, and some two years later he was sent to superintend the installation of Watt’s steam engines in Cornwall. At his home in Redruth he then began experiments to produce gas by the distillation of coal or wood, and by 1792 had managed to light his cottages and offices with coal gas. Returning to Birmingham around 1799 he then perfected practical methods of making, storing, and purifying the gas, and he duly employed these techniques to illuminate the exterior of a factory with gas light in 1802.
By 1804 he had installed nine hundred gaslights in various cotton mills, and his work attracted the interest of an astute German businessman, Frederick Albert Winsor, who soon realised the potential of manufacturing the gas on a large scale. On being taught the process by Murdock he obtained a British patent in 1804, and three years later together with his partners illuminated Pall Mall, London, this being the first occasion that a public thoroughfare had been lit by gas. With his process now afforded public acclaim, in 1808 Murdock read a paper on the subject of gas making before the Royal Society - probably the earliest practical essay on the subject - and capitalising upon this creditability, in 1812 Winsor and his partners then formed the Chartered Gas Light and Coke Co. This became the first of several private companies to produce and supply gas and in fact the commercial returns from gas ensured that by 1820 seven gasworks were operating in London, and foreshadowing a national trend within five years the number of gaslights in London streets would increase from 4,000 to 51,000.
The introduction of the canals, and later the railways, enabled coal to be easily and cheaply distributed around the country, and including Aspley Guise in many towns and villages this spawned the growth of numerous independent gas works. Streets and houses could now be lit by gas - more convenient than candles and oil lamps - and apart from lighting, (where the gas was burnt as a naked flame), refinements in the gas making process would also make heating and cooking possible.
When the decision was taken in 1868 to build a gas works at Aspley Guise, by the recommendation of personnel from several established gas works it was unanimously decided to engage the firm of W.C. Holmes, of Huddersfield. Their plans were highly commended by a local expert, and work began in the first week of October. The firm were world renowned for their expertise, and the legacy of their technical competence continues even today.
Probably even before 1800, of the two local iron foundries in Huddersfield one, situated at Engine Bridge, Chapel Hill, was owned by Holmes and Price. In 1809 the owner was John Holmes and the following owner would be William Cartwright Holmes, who also ran an ironmongery shop at 10, New Street. When William’s two sons, (Joseph Francis and William Cartwright), duly succeeded their father they then operated in business as Holmes Brothers and although they were initially engaged in general steelwork, (including the building of bridges), they later became ‘Whitesmiths and Gas Fitters’, and in fact produced some of the earliest of small gas plants.
In 1847 the firm then moved to Hillhouse and by the end of 1850 the twenty three year old William Cartwright Holmes, (1827-1882), had established the firm of W.C. Holmes and Co. Possessed of an inventive frame of mind, from 1853 he took out many patents relating to ‘Improvements in the Manufacture of Gas and Apparatus employed therein’ and with these leading to the development of a new and simplified type of gas plant, this ensured that the company’s products were chosen by many of the gas companies now being set up throughout the country. As for overseas customers, these even included the King of Siam! In the realms of ‘Gas apparatus for producing Gas from Coal, Wood, Peat, Oil, Resin and other gas-producing material, on the best and most approved principles’ the Company not surprisingly expanded and prospered, and if satisfied that intended purchasers were sufficiently competent to develop a successful business, they would even provide financial assistance, with this investment being repaid from future revenues.
In 1880 the site of the Hillhouse works was acquired by the L.N.W.R. for a goods sidings extension and the Company then acquired the Turnbridge works, situated on the left bank of the River Colne. The name arose from the original turnbridge that spanned the Sir John Ramsden Canal, and having been built in the year of Waterloo it would be eventually replaced in 1865. As for the Company’s new works, this was constructed on the area previously occupied by the blast furnaces of Messrs. Richard Armitage, and when William Cartwright Holmes died in 1882 his three sons became involved in the management of the business. As the use of gas increased, and gas works became more complex, the Company then began to specialise in equipment for cooling, purifying, washing, storing and metering of gas, rather than complete works, and as an example in 1884 a patent was obtained for a new type of washer scrubber. Designed to remove ammonia, amongst other substances, from gas this used brushes made from a type of reed known as the West African piassava, whilst as for their more unusual undertakings, for the Jubilee of Queen Victoria, in 1887 the Company manufactured a dish measuring eight feet three inches in diameter, and twenty inches deep, built to contain a giant Denby Dale pie.
Yet with a capacity of up to 50,000 cubic feet of gas per day, complete gas works were still being supplied for export as late as 1907, but the experimental nature of the business, which had originally been encouraged by W.C. Holmes, was also continued, and with many patents lodged by the Company, in later years a research organisation would be set up. With the continuing partnership of the three brothers the business was then incorporated in 1910 as a private limited company, of which Mr. P. Holmes was the Chairman and Governing Director.
The manufacture of a new form of gas cooler began in 1913, and during World War One the Company became greatly involved in producing constituents for explosives. Then a patent obtained in 1920 allowed improvements to be made to the Rotary Washer, and in 1927 the first blower unit was built by W.C. Holmes under a licensing agreement with the Connersville Blower Company, (which in 1944 became the Roots Division of Dresser Industries), in Connersville, Indiana. This company had been founded by the Roots brothers, Philander and Francis, in 1854, whilst as for the founder of the Holmes Company, as a memorial in 1929 came the endowment of the William Cartwright Holmes Scholarship to Leeds University, by the directors for the Study of Gas and Chemical Engineering.
When Mr. P. Holmes died in 1941 his position as Governing Director was shared between Mr. F. Holmes and Mr. D. Henshaw, with the latter acting as Chairman. Mr. Charles Cooper and Mr. Sidney Watson then joined the Board, with Percy Rushworth appointed as secretary, and during World War Two at an adjacent site the Company undertook the production of over a million two inch rocket projectiles.
At a time when the Company had branch offices in London and Birmingham, in 1949 Percy Rushworth was appointed to the Board as well as Harold Whiteley and Geoffrey Chambers, of the Bryan Donkin Company, and when in the early 1950s the licensing agreement for blower manufacture expired, W.C. Holmes began designing and building their own range. In 1956 the firm was sold by its parent company, BHD Group of Engineers, and being then known as W.C. Holmes and Co. Ltd. of Turnbridge, became Peabody Holmes Ltd. in 1974, with works in Huddersfield, London and Oldbury. However, since the executives of W.C. Holmes remained in control of the new company, as far as Huddersfield was concerned there was little significant change. More recently in 1990 the firm was acquired by Dresser Industries, with sales to the rest of the world being handled by Dresser Roots International Sales Operation, based in Huddersfield.
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Having resigned from his appointment with the Duke of Bedford, Thomas Price had little wish to remain idle and therefore ‘began to look around to see where he could be of service to his neighbours, when the idea of gas flashed across him.’ Calling on some of the local neighbours he found their reaction to be enthusiastic, and in consequence on July 24th, 1868 on being signed by the Rector of Aspley Guise and by the churchwarden, George Whitman, ‘Notice is hereby given that it is proposed to hold a Meeting on Monday the 3rd of August, 1868, at the National School Room, Aspley Guise at 12 o’clock to Consider the feasibility of introducing Gas into the villages of Aspley Guise and into Woburn Sands. Gentlemen will attend to explain the plan proposed to be adopted, and to state the probable expense of the undertaking. All householders interested in the subject are hereby invited to attend.’ With the meeting duly convened, amongst those present were the Reverend Erskine, Dr. Lovell, George Whitman, Mr. Pickering, George Hobbs, William Green, Mr. Scrivener, Mr. Goodman, Mr. Wall and also Mr. Price, of Woburn, who was asked to obtain specific information on the subject, and determine the estimated number of burners that would be needed for both the villages.
In his reply, at a meeting on August 17th Mr. Price announced that he had received the guarantee of a number of burners, and with George Hobbs having promised several more the total would be around three hundred. As for the cost of the gas works, Mr. Milne gave an estimate of about £900, which would include not only all the buildings but also a four room cottage ‘for the Gas man to reside in.’ Six retorts would be accommodated in a retort house, and there was also to be a gasholder containing between 6,000 and 9,000 feet of gas. As for the mains, the expected expense would be 5s a yard for five inch, 4s a yard for four inch, 3s a yard for three inch, and 2s a yard for two inch. On August 24th Mr. Whitman then reported that the scheme had been received with great enthusiasm and with all the shares now taken Dr. Lovell, who was proposed as chairman, subsequently read the Articles of Association. Carried unanimously, these were signed by each shareholder in the presence of Mr. Whitman, and the shareholders then appointed Mr. Turney, Mr. Green, Mr. Whitman, Mr. Denison and Mr. Smith as directors of the Company, with Mr. Parker as a director and also the treasurer. Messrs. Bassett and Co. would be appointed as the bankers and since Mr. Hobbs and Mr. Whitman were both proposed for the position of secretary, by a show of hands Mr. Whitman gained the appointment, which would begin ‘from the present duties’ at a salary of £30 per annum. The chairman then read out the replies received from a number of gasworks, and in view of several favourable recommendations W.C. Holmes, of Huddersfield and London, who were presently engaged in the construction of eighteen gas works in various parts of the world, were unanimously selected to be the contractors, with the task to be overseen by Mr. Price, as Clerk of Works, at £2 a week.
In the presence of Messrs. Lovell, Denison, Pickering, Whitman, Green and Milne, the first meeting of the directors then took place on August 27th, and following some preliminary matters the party proceeded to Woburn Sands station, to investigate a plot of land being offered by Mr. Denison as a site for the gas works. This adjoined the railway, and having viewed and measured the third of an acre they returned to the schoolroom to draw up a memorandum which, signed by Mr. Denison, signified his agreement to sell the land for £100. Dr. Lovell signed on behalf of the directors, and at a meeting in the dining hall of his home on Wednesday, September 2nd it was resolved to appoint Mr. J. Green as the solicitor to the Company, the Articles of Association having been deposited with the Registrar for Registration. The secretary then told the meeting that he had written to the manager of the L.N.W.R. to ask if the railway company would use the gas, and if so to state the probable number of burners they would require at Woburn Sands station. Also, whether they would not only permit the main to pass under the coal yard to the Turnpike Road, but also grant consent for a siding to be constructed from their line into the coal store of the gas company. Concluding the meeting’s business it was then agreed that a five inch main would be carried from the works to the Weathercock Inn, ‘thence a 4 inch main to the village of Woburn Sands, thence to the centre of the green at Aspley Guise, and thence a 3 inch main to the entrance of The Rookery’, with also a three inch main from the village green to the entrance gate in East Street of Aspley House.
Arriving from Huddersfield, Mr. Holmes, the prospective contractor, had been informed of the Company’s requirement, and on the plans and specifications being sent to the directors, at a meeting at 4p.m. on September 7th agreement was reached that these should be submitted for examination by Mr. Mellor, ‘a practical man’ of Leighton Buzzard. At the subsequent interview with Messrs. Pickering, Whitman and Price, Mr. Mellor said that ‘If your works are carried out according to the plans and specifications you will have a complete model gas works - in fact amongst the best in this part of the country’, and following this favourable report the chairman then met with Messrs. Holmes at their office, where the proposal was accepted.
As well as by two of the directors, cheques of the Company were now to be signed by the treasurer, Mr. C. Parker, or the chairman, Dr. Lovell, and as the bankers Messrs. Bassett and Co. were to be informed of the opening of the Company. Covering a distance of three hundred and twelve yards, a two inch main would now be laid from the four inch main in the Turnpike Road to the house of Mr. Denison, and the chairman was to arrange with Mr. Price an additional payment, (eventually agreed as a sum of five guineas), beyond the salary of £2 a week for his position as Clerk of the Works. As for building the cottage at the gas works for the gasman, an estimate would be obtained from Mr. Hutton.
At a 4p.m. meeting of September 14th, 1868 remarking on the plans and specifications of the works Mr. Price observed that the purifying house seemed to be an open shed. He would therefore approach Messrs. Holmes to confirm that this arrangement was satisfactory, or else arrange to build an enclosing wall. He also pointed out that there was nothing in the specifications about the footings and foundations of the nine inch work, and therefore suggested that a clarification should be obtained. Mr. C. Parker then proposed that the chairman should write to Mr. J. Green, the solicitor, asking him to obtain the necessary permission from the Trustees to open the roads for the mains, whilst as for other matters Mr. Turney confirmed that Mount Pleasant would require gas sufficient for a minimum of twenty two burners. Mr. Price would be asked to determine the number of yards of main - two inch or one inch and a half - that would be needed from the entrance gate of Aspley House to Mr. Turney’s house at Mount Pleasant, and also what further extension of one inch main would be required from Mr. Turney’s house to that of Mr. Handscombe. In due course Mr. Price would report that a length of eight hundred yards was necessary from the entrance gate of Aspley House to the house of Mr. Handscomb, with this comprised of a two inch main for the first six hundred yards and a one inch main for two hundred yards, at an outlay of £70. Construction of the gas works began during the first week of October and at the meeting of October 12th the previously agreed payment of five guineas was made to Mr. Price. The chairman then brought forward the contract of specifications from Mr. Hutton for building - in accordance with the plans of Mr. Price - the cottage for the gas man, and with the plans unanimously accepted the secretary then read letters from the manager of the Leighton Gas Works and the Woburn Gas Company respectively, recommending the firms of Staveley Coals, and Inchall Coals, for future supplies. The secretary would therefore write to both the companies regarding the terms by which they would supply the best gas producing coals. The chairman next announced that a suggestion made by one of the directors at the last meeting had become not only publicly known but also greatly exaggerated, and he stressed that from now on the business of the meetings was to be strictly confined to members. At public meetings a reporter would need to be present, but otherwise ‘entire silence is very desirable.’ Finalising matters the secretary declared a need to authorise the first call of £1 per share on the shareholders, to be paid by the 24th, and this was unanimously agreed.
The subject having been raised at the previous meeting, on October 26th plans and specifications for an enclosing wall and entrance gates for the works were submitted. The estimated cost was £11 10s and to be superintended by Mr. Price completion was scheduled for November 26th. As for the supply of service pipe and meters - ‘with the laying and fixing of the same’ - the secretary would now write to Messrs. Holmes and ask for their estimate. At the meeting of November 9th contracts for fencing were considered, with that of Mr. Goodall accepted. The secretary then reported that Mr. Shakespear, the railway company agent, had informed him that on completion by the gas company of a suitable culvert the proposed siding into the gas works would be laid forthwith, and completed by the railway company. On October 29th a payment of £300 had been made to Messrs. Holmes, and also a payment of £60 on their account to Mr. Hutton, (whose offer to complete the tramway arch for £7 10s had been accepted), and the clerk of the works now expressed himself satisfied with the condition of the works. Since the cottage was now externally nearly complete, Mr. Hutton required payment of £50 and this was accepted, as also the contract for Messrs. Holmes to supply and fit meters. The secretary then informed the meeting that Mr. Miller, the Gas Agent of the Railway Company, had announced that if the railway company used their gas at Woburn Sands station they would use their own meters, and this was agreed as long as the meters were of the correct type. In fact Mr. Miller had recently requested a lower price per 1,000 feet of gas, but in reply the secretary whilst not being able to promise this reduction said that in the case of the railway consumption exceeding any individual consumer, then a discount of 15% on the first year’s account would be allowed. Bringing the business of the meeting to a conclusion, it was then resolved that the Chairman would write to Mr. Green for the deed of conveyance of land from Mr. Denison, on the receipt of which the Company would pay the balance of the cost.
During the meeting of November 30th the chairman stated the terms on which the resident gas manager, James Sear, had been engaged, with his employment to begin from December 21st. As for other matters, the contract of Mr. Goodall for putting up the boundary fence was read and approved, and the secretary reported that regarding the cottage, £50 had been paid to Mr. Hutton. £400 had been paid to Messrs. Holmes, and since the deed of conveyance had now been received from Mr. Green also settled was the sum of £70 due to Mr. Denison for the gas works land. Progress ‘fast and favourably’ at the gas works was announced at the meeting of December 16th, at which the bill from Mr. Goodall was to be paid as well as the sum of £25 to Mr. Hutton. In other business agreement was reached to order from Mr. Bunyan an iron pump, to be fitted to the well in the retort house and as the year drew to a close, in accordance with the prediction by Mr. Holmes, that gas should be burning at Aspley Guise on 21st December, indeed by midday of that date several homes had been connected to the supply, with more than three miles of mains laid. In fact in celebration of the lighting up of the villages of Aspley Guise and Woburn Sands, in January, 1869 at the Bell Inn, Aspley Guise, the ‘Aspley Guise and Woburn Sands Gas and Coke Co. (Ltd.)’ held a dinner one Monday evening at 6p.m., with the shareholders and the directors each inviting a friend. Accommodated in the long room, (which was appropriately lit by gas), Mr. and Mrs. Korrow acted as the host and hostess for the occasion, and with the room ‘most tastefully decorated with evergreens in a variety of designs’ Dr. Lovell occupied the chair, supported amongst others by Mr. L. Moseley and Mr. W. Holmes. Occupying the vice chair was Dr. Newland Trew, supported by Thomas Letchworth, J. Milne of London, C. Fowler of Henley House, Oxford, ‘and several gentlemen of the neighbourhood’, and after dinner following the loyal toasts the chairman then rose to present Mr. Price, ‘the indefatigable clerk of works’, with a handsome salver bearing on the centre shield the wording ‘Presented to John Price, Esq., by the Directors of the Aspley Guise and Woburn Sands Gas Company, as a mark of their esteem. Jan. 11th, 1869.’ The chairman then congratulated him on having persuaded several of the inhabitants to form the company, and rising to reply Mr. Price ‘was almost overcome by his feelings, but rallying himself he made a most excellent speech.’
At the meeting of February 8th, 1869 the secretary was asked to write to Mr. Holmes stating that the Company now ‘desire to accept his offer to let the Company be accommodated with debentures for £300 the same to be at interest of 5 per cent and redeemable at the option of the Company at either three or five years.’ The secretary was also to notify the shareholders that the shares would be ready for delivery on the 15th, when payment became due. On March 8th the secretary then reported that a reply from Mr. Holmes had been received acceding to the request of the Company regarding the debentures. He therefore asked to be favoured with £500 but dated January 17th, 1869 a receipt was then produced for this amount! After due deliberations there next came agreement to the proposal by the secretary to issue further shares to the amount of £300, thereby raising the capital of the Company to £2,300, and with the sale to be offered immediately, this would be on the previous conditions. On the following day notice was accordingly served of an extraordinary General Meeting of the shareholders. This would be held at the secretary’s office at 4p.m. on the 24th, with the purpose being to obtain the shareholders sanction to issue sixty additional shares at £5 each. Mr. J. Price was appointed as auditor at the meeting of July 7th, and the secretary read out his statement of receipts and outlay for the past six months. This proved ‘clear and convincing’, and indeed it was hoped that the directors could pay a small dividend to the shareholders at the end of the current year, although no more money would be paid to the contractors until some ‘errors of workmanship’ had been remedied.
Regret was expressed at the meeting of January 5th, 1870 at the death of Dr. Lovell, and as the new chairman Mr. Denison would be appointed. A dividend could now be declared of 3% on the paid up capital of £2,305, and the remaining balance would be carried forward as a reserve fund. On February 9th the A.G.M. of the shareholders took place at 4p.m. and unanimously Mr. Denison, Thomas Letchworth, Mr. Pickering, William Green, and A. Turney were elected as directors, with George Whitman as secretary. On April 27th a cheque for £16 7s 3d was made out to Mr. W. Mell for coal delivery to the works, although on October 11th for the same purpose £43 11s 5d was paid to the Staveley Coal Co.
On January 16th, 1871 the directors agreed that the financial position now justified not only a dividend of 6% but also a reduction in the price of gas from January 1st. Also as a reflection of the healthy financial situation, on February 9th a request received ‘from the man at the works (Sear)’ for a small increase in wages was received. This was due to the increased labour, and agreement would be reached to raise his weekly amount from 14s to 16s, to be applied retrospectively from January 1st. At a meeting on May 16th it was agreed that the three retorts at the works should be taken out, reset and shielded, and if necessary a new one acquired. As for more unusual matters, Mr. Gaueus had applied through the secretary for a supply of gas for a balloon ascent, and it was agreed that at 5s per 10,000 feet a quantity as near as possible to 16,000 feet should be made available. However, this was not to interfere with supplies to the regular customers, and Mr. Gaueus would be required to pay all the extra expenses. On November 23rd, 1871 a notice was read from the Surveyor of Taxes calling on the Company to make a return of their profits. The directors accordingly took an average of three years, and after legal deductions made a return of £100. A letter was also read from Mr. C. Parker asking the Company to extend the gas main up the Woburn Lane, but after consideration the directors decided to defer this matter until January. However, it was considered expedient to remove the single retort and reset the best of the old ones in it’s place, and in fact due to the increased gas consumption it was then decided at the meeting of January 19th, 1872 to increase the number of retorts to meet this demand. Yet despite this considerable outlay, a dividend of 5% was nevertheless recommended on the profits from the previous year, with the balance carried forward.
The A.G.M. of February 9th saw the re-election of Mr. Pickering and Mr. Turney as directors, and in October an application was received from Captain Webster for a supply of gas to his new house. The estimated cost would be £18 2s, and with the agreement of the directors £6 was allowed towards the expense of laying the service. By January 1873 the accounts of the Company were ‘in a flourishing condition’, with a dividend of 5% proposed. Yet some customers had fallen into arrears, and the secretary was now instructed to write to the offenders stating that should the amounts remain unpaid by February 2nd, then he had instructions to recover the debts through the County Court. It being decided to have the bench of three retorts reset, a decision was unanimously reached on August 18th to acquire a fireclay retort, and the secretary would write to several firms regarding the price. An increase in the price of coal now caused a corresponding increase in the price of gas and coke, (respectively 10d per 1,000 feet and 1s per quarter), but the application from Mr. Sear for a rise in pay was not entertained, nor the consideration to lay a main up Wood Lane for the new house of Mr. Swabey. However, it was decided to make some alterations to the main at Woburn Sands, to thereby afford a better supply to the church and Hardwick Cottage. There was now a need for two fireclay retorts instead of one, as reported at the meeting of January 26th, 1874 although it had not been necessary to reset the bench of three retorts, since these had now been repaired. The alteration to the main at Woburn Sands had also been completed, and 4% would now be declared as the dividend from the profits of the past year. Yet at the meeting of February 7th, at which Mr. Pickering and Mr. Turney were re-elected as directors, this recommendation was then reduced to 3%, and as confirmed by the chairman at the A.G.M. on March 19th, would be paid to the shareholders on, or before, Monday, March 23rd.
On October 1st the secretary reported that all the ‘good’ debts of 1873 had now been recovered, as well as 10% dividend on the Willis account. Nevertheless, no portion of the debts of John Carr or the Reverend Butler had been retrieved, and regarding the latter the secretary would begin immediate legal proceedings. As for the balance of the debt from the Willis brothers and John Carr, this was to be written off as a loss. The secretary then reported that for the year ending June 30th, 1875 he had entered into a contract with the Staveley Coal Co. for coal at £1 per ton for main, and 19s for seconds. These were the prices for the summer months, and £1 10s for main and 20s for seconds would be the costs during winter - albeit subject to variations in the rate of carriage by the railway. As for other business, until the money had been received the street lamps at Aspley Guise were not to be lit, (although this would not apply to the private ones), and since there had been some difficulty in obtaining the three signatures needed to issue a cheque, it was now resolved that signatures by the treasurer and the secretary would instead suffice, with the bank to be informed forthwith.
At the meeting of January 14th, 1875 the secretary reported that the price of coke was to be reduced, and that legal proceedings had been taken in the County Court against the Reverend Butler. However, because he was bankrupt there seemed little chance of recovering the debt. On February 11th a dividend of 4% was recommended, and with, on behalf of himself and others, an offer received from David Rich to light the lamp on the village green, it was decided that 5s should be charged to the end of next March. With the chairman being ill, Mr. Dymond deputised at the A.G.M. of March 19th. This confirmed the dividend of 4%, and on April 8th it was agreed that if Mr. Swabey still required a supply of gas, then at the cost of the Company a one inch main would be laid from the siphon at the Crossroads to his entrance gate. Also that a service to the house recently taken by Mrs. Downs should be laid, although this would be at the cost of the consumer. With there being insufficient shareholders present, the election of the directors was then adjourned until 4p.m. the following day. On July 8th the secretary said that a main had now been laid to Mr. Swabey’s house, and a service provided to Mrs. Downs. A letter was then read from the Staveley Coal Co. offering a coal supply to June 30th, 1876 at 18s 3d main, and 17s 3d seconds, for the summer, and 19s 3d and 18s 3d for the winter. Delivery would be to Woburn Sands station, and the offer was accepted. The manager of the gas works had reported that although the three iron retorts were at present in working order he had concerns that they might not last the winter, and in case these fears proved correct three new fireclay retorts would therefore be obtained. The manager also reported that tar leaked from the tarwell to the water well - from which water was pumped into the retort house - and a decision was made to make the tarwell watertight by clay puddling. By October 14th the three retorts had been delivered although with one received damaged the manufacturers would send a replacement. As for the repair of the tarwell, with this being the harvest season it had not been possible to employ a man to carry out the work, but the situation would be hopefully soon remedied.
By January 13th, 1876 the broken retort had been replaced, and all three were now in store at the works. The tarwell had been repaired, and as soon as the weather allowed painting of the woodwork at the cottage would take place. The secretary then reported that having received an application for lighting the street lamps in Aspley Guise, he had agreed with Charles Spring that to March 25th they could be lit on payment of 15s per lamp for ten lamps, and £3 for lighting. The finances of the Company were still in a sound condition, and with £176 8s 10d being available for dividend, a rate of 5% was recommended. Confirmed on February 24th, this would be paid on the 26th. By April 13th the woodwork of the cottage had been painted. However, it was decided not to begin laying the new main until late June, and in the interim the manager would be instructed to have a stopcock fixed near the beginning of the proposed main. The secretary’s salary was now to be increased to £26 5s, from January 1st last, and no doubt buoyed by this news at the meeting of July 13th he read out several tenders for the supply of coals, for the year ending June 30th, 1877. That from Staveley Coal Co. would be accepted at 16s 9d for main, and 15s 9d for seconds, during the summer, and 17s 9d for main, and 16s 9d for seconds, during the winter. As regarding other costs, the secretary was now asked to write to Mr. Simmonds to enquire as to when he might be able to set the bench of three fireclay retorts. A letter was also to be written to Mr. Mellor, at Leighton Buzzard, asking if he would allow his men to begin laying the main up Woburn Lane on the 17th, since the secretary was now empowered to allow the men to open the ground. In fact as an incentive, above the usual daily rate paid by Mr. Mellor the directors were willing to pay the rail fare of the men each way, as well as 1s 6d a day for lodging. Yet they were less generous to those of their consumers who were now in arrears, and the secretary would contact Mr. Paternoster and George Handscombe regarding the amounts that they owed. However, it would be stated that the Company was willing to continue the supply if they paid 5s a week off their debts, as well as the amounts for each further quarter as they became due. Otherwise measures would be taken to recover the money.
With Messrs. Denison, Pickering and Whitman present, on October 12th, 1876 the quarterly meeting of the directors was held, at which the coal contract for the Staveley Company was confirmed. Operating satisfactorily, the three retorts had now been set, and the main along Woburn Lane completed. Mr. Dymond was presently burning gas from one meter in his house, and another in the stable, whilst Mr. Crawley had a meter in The Lodge and the National School. As for the question of debts, the letters to Messrs. Paternoster and Handscombe had brought no reply, and the directors therefore decided that they should again be written to, stating that if the amounts were not paid by October 30th then summonses would be taken out in the County Court. In order to pay an assistant - from November 1st until March 1st, 1877 - Mr. Sear, the manager at the gas works, would now be paid 5s a week and the secretary was to write to Mr. Brigginshaw requesting that he keep the roadway leading to the works clear of bricks, as a width of fifteen feet had been set out in the Conveyance deed to the Company. As a demarcation of this, six short stumps would be placed on each side of the roadway. On November 23rd, with Messrs. Dymond, Pickering and Whitman being present, at a special meeting of directors in the absence of the chairman Mr. Dymond assumed the role. The secretary read a letter from Messrs. Kent and Son applying to have gas laid on to their new workshops in Russell Street but it was decided that this request could not be entertained at present. However, the secretary had obtained permission from the owners and occupiers of the Bell Inn to erect a lamp at the corner of their field. Meanwhile, Mr. Mahon had agreed to sell his lamp and service pipe for £1, and this would be purchased and fixed as soon as possible. It was then resolved that the street lamps would be lit on the same terms per lamp as the previous year, and a notice would be issued to consumers advising that the price of gas would be reduced after the end of next December to 5s 10d per 1,000 feet.
Various bills were paid at the quarterly meeting of the directors on January 11th, 1877, where matters included a report that Alfred Smith was making alterations at Woburn Sands, opposite to his house. In consequence the Company’s main would be probably taken inside his new fence, and with the secretary tasked to make an inspection of the work, if the main was enclosed he was to obtain an agreement reserving the right of the Company to enter the ground, to inspect and repair the main as necessary. Also of concern the Sun Fire Office had now declined to issue insurance cover for the cottage and works, and the secretary would enquire if they could insure the cottage only, and if so at what rate. Present at a meeting of the directors on February 8th, 1877 were Mr. Denison, Mr. Dymond, Mr. Pickering and Mr. Whitman, and it was duly confirmed that the Company’s main was outside Mr. Smith’s fence for the whole length. However, no answer concerning insurance had been received from the Sun Fire Office, and in other business the treasurer produced a balance sheet which showed that after the payment of all charges a balance of £135 10s 9d now remained. A dividend of 4% would therefore be recommended for the past year. At the annual meeting on February 23rd the accounts were adopted, and the chairman proposed that the 4% dividend should be paid to the shareholders on Tuesday, July 27th. The two retiring directors, Mr. Dymond and Mr. Whitman, were re-elected, and the new appointments would be William Goodman, Mr. Phillimore and Charles Turney. Mr. Carling then recommended that advertisements for tenders for the coal supply should be placed in future, and producing a copy of a balance sheet from the Ampthill Gas Company, Mr. Goodman suggested that from this they might be able to glean relevant information.
On April 12th, at the resignation of Mr. Denison Mr. Dymond was now appointed to the role of chairman. Meanwhile, the Sun Fire Office had entirely declined to issue insurance cover for the cottage and works, and it was agreed that an advertisement for the tender of coal supplies for the ensuing year should be placed twice in two newspapers. Each was to have a circulation in colliery districts, with the tenders to be received before June 13th. Regarding the retort house, apart from the need for a new retort the secretary was to arrange for the re-fixing of the roof slates, and he would also have a rail placed in the meter house for the proper storage of the street lamps during the summer. Bringing matters to a conclusion, it was then decided that a County Court summons would be issued against John Burgess for the coke supplied to him, and from the house of Mr. Handscombe the meter was to be removed. At a special meeting of the directors on June 14th, 1877 the secretary reported that having placed adverts in the Sheffield Telegraph and Warrington Guardian five tenders had been received, and with a contract to be prepared that of James Rhodes and Son, to supply silkstone screened gas coal at 13s 10d per ton, was accepted. Repairs to the roof of the retort house were as yet incomplete but a rail had been installed for the street lamps and, as soon as possible, the two retorts at the works were to be fixed. However, although on the issue of a summons Mr. Burgess had paid his debt, a summons was now to be issued against Mr. Paternoster! On June 28th, at a special meeting of the directors Mr. Kemp applied for a supply of gas, needed to power an engine that he hoped to install, and after a full discussion his request was granted at 10d per 1,000 feet - in fact a price less than that charged for the general consumers. At the quarterly meeting on July 12th the contract with Messrs. Rhodes for a coal supply was finalised but repairs to the retort house roof were still outstanding. Yet more constructively the service to Colonel Laws was being laid, and if Mrs. Mahon wished to have a supply to The Mount, then this could be arranged if she paid £5 towards the cost. Perhaps not least because Mr. Paternoster had now settled his debt of £1 6s, and had promised to pay the remaining £1 4s 2d on August 27th, business for the works was flourishing, and due to a rapid increase in the consumption of gas a new holder would be erected, with the money to be raised by both the issue of the remaining twenty shares at par, and by borrowing on a debenture of the Company. A gas engineer would be employed to advise the Company ‘as to the way they should proceed in the matter’, and in lesser yet no less important matters a plank was to be purchased for rolling the tar barrels onto the trucks.
It was resolved at a special meeting on July 30th that Messrs. Newton and Chambers should be asked to send their engineer to give advice regarding certain enlargements of the works, and following his visit he would then prepare a report, which would show how the works could be best enlarged, and the probable cost. Only two directors attended a special meeting at the works on August 13th. Not surprisingly no resolutions were passed, but at a special meeting on September 11th the secretary read a proposal from Messrs. Andrew, solicitors, offering to pay 4s in the pound off the debt owed by Mr. Butler. After consideration it was then decided that the secretary should decline this in writing but agree to take 8s with immediate payment - in lieu of the 10s proposed some time ago - to be paid by instalments. The secretary next read a report from the engineer of Newton and Chambers, and it was agreed to write to Messrs. Holmes and Co. asking at what price they would construct a holder thirty feet by ten feet, according to their specifications. Should the price be similar to that mentioned in their letter of February 6th then work would proceed at once, and the secretary was also to enquire about the cost of providing and fixing a new purifier. This was to be of a size similar to those now in use, with Mr. Hutton to make the tank.
Pursuant to a notice regarding an enlargement of the works, with Mrs. Ann Green and Miss Annie Whitman in attendance, at an extraordinary general meeting at the offices of the Company it was proposed on Wednesday, September 26th, 1877 that the capital of the Company should be increased by the creation of one hundred new shares. These would be of the same value as the present shares, and it was also proposed that the directors should be authorised from time to time to issue new shares in such amounts, and on such terms, as seemed most advantageous to the Company. The motion was carried unanimously. As reported at the quarterly meeting on October 11th, 1877 some money had been received from Messrs. Andrew on Mr. Butler’s debt, and the secretary then read several letters from Messrs. Holmes regarding the new holder. They were willing to carry out the work, and confirmed that this would be at the price given in their estimate of the previous February. A letter was also read asking if the directors wished to have the same size columns as at present - nine feet by six and a half inches - or alternatively the size which had been estimated for, six and a half feet by five and a half inches - and for an additional £3 10s it was decided to have the larger type. From the same firm a letter was read in which it was recommended that a purifier be used of the same type as those employed at Woburn Sands station. The price would be £18 10s but since this did not include a valve and connection, for the time being a decision would be deferred. The secretary then read Mr. Hutton’s specification and estimate for the tank, the work for which was proceeding satisfactorily, and letters were also read from Mr. Jordan, the registration agent, regarding registration of the increase of the Company’s capital. The secretary would duly proceed with the necessary arrangements, and procure a share book with one hundred and twenty share certificates. A bill for payment was then produced from the engineer of Newton and Co., and an application had been made by Charles Spring wishing to know the terms by which the Company would light the street lamps. It was consequently agreed that the gas would be supplied through a meter, to be fixed near each lamp, with the cost per 1,000 feet to be the same as the price charged for private consumers. Due to the increased work, Mr. Sear, the gas works manager, had now asked for an increase in pay from 16s a week to 20s a week, and with this agreed the arrangement would commence from September 29th. Rendered of decreasing value by the weather, a larger stock of coke than was deemed desirable was now laying out in the works yard, and the secretary was consequently empowered to offer not less than fifty quarters at 2s per quarter to David Rich. However, the amount had to be cleared before the first of November, for this price to be guaranteed..
At the meeting of the directors on November 9th, 1877 it was resolved that sixty new shares would be issued at £5 each. These were to be paid in full at the time of allocation, with the present shareholders invited to make their application on, or before, November 19th.
At a meeting on November 20th, 1877 amongst those applying for shares were Mr. Pickering, five, and Emily Pickering, three, and all the shares allocated and disposed of before December 1st would bear interest from that date. Otherwise they would bear interest from the day of issue, and in fact all the new shares had been taken up and paid for by the quarterly meeting of the directors on January 10th, 1878. However, despite the reduced price there were still around one hundred and fifty quarters of coke in the yard, and to reduce this amount a few notices would be printed and circulated stating that the price was now to be 2s a quarter. As for other matters, two ventilation holes would be made in the wall of the purifying shed, and with gas having first been admitted on December 21st, 1877 the new gas holder seemed satisfactory, although a little more work would be necessary to make the tank completely watertight.
The meeting of February 7th, 1878 revealed that since the printing of the notices the coke ‘mountain’ had indeed diminished, but nevertheless a lot still remained in the yard. On behalf of the Woburn Sands Lighting Committee, Mr. Denison had recently applied for a supply of gas for the public lamps at 1,000 feet, to be ascertained by meter, and with this agreed the quantity of gas would be charged at 5% more than the meter readings. The treasurer then produced his report, which showed that receipts had totalled £654 11s 7d and payments £445 6s, and with a balance available of £209 5s 7d for dividend, a figure of 7% was recommended. Mr. Kemp would be asked to audit the accounts, and also on financial matters a customer of the Company had now moved from Woburn Sands to Dunstable owing a sum of 13s 3d. County Court proceedings would be commenced. The directors retiring by rotation were Mr. Denison and Mr. Pickering, although at the meeting of March 1st they would both be re-elected. The secretary having been authorised to have, ‘on the best terms available’, the yard cleared of coke, at the quarterly meeting of April 11th, 1878 it was suggested that a shed should be provided as a coke store. With a corrugated roof, this would be constructed of wooden posts with open wooden sides and back, and amongst other matters outstanding the ventilation holes and shutters in the purifying shed had now been completed. As for the person who had left Woburn Sands owing money to the Company, on proceedings being started against him he had then paid the debt and costs. For the coming year, the secretary was instructed to obtain by mid May a tender from Rhodes and Son for the supply of coal, and if the terms proved favourable this would then be accepted. In fact five tenders for coal were read out by the secretary at the meeting of June 25th, 1878 and that of Rhodes, for screened gas coal at 13s 5d per ton, indeed proved the most competitive.
For the purpose of meeting all expenses incurred in keeping the works and plant in good repair it would soon be decided to form a separate fund. This would be known as a depreciation fund, and also now diminishing was the amount of coke, ‘and there was not much left.’ This was announced at the quarterly meeting of July 12th, 1878, at which the secretary read out a letter from James Sear stating that he wished to leave his employment on August 2nd. However, three months notice would need to be given, since the Company was not prepared to allow his early departure until a suitable replacement had been found. Therefore towards this intention the secretary would insert an advertisement in the Gas Journal for a successor, and also ‘take such other means for the purpose as he may think desirable.’ At a special meeting held on August 20th, 1878 the secretary duly read a number of the replies consequent to the advertisement for a ‘Gas Manager’, and stating that the wages were to be 22s a week with house, coals and gas supplied, he would write to the six short listed persons, who lived as far distant as Cardiff, Birmingham, Greenwich and Haddenham. The person appointed would be responsible for unloading coal ‘and everything to be done at the works and the work to be done by the manager in laying services and looking after fittings’, although during four months in the winter a labourer would be paid to take his place at the works whenever he was absent. The replies for the position of gas manager were again considered at the meeting of August 27th, 1878 and after a conversation with William Swain, who had especially travelled from Birmingham, an agreement was reached for him to be engaged from the 13th or 14th September - the latter being the date on which Mr. Sear wished to leave - or even earlier, if an arrangement with Mr. Sear could be made. In fact by his letter of August 22nd, 1878 Mr. Swain had written from 22, Lease Lane, Edgbaston, Birmingham, informing the Company that ‘I beg to state that I shall be happy to engage on the terms mentioned to perform the duties enumerated.’ Aged thirty one, having been born at a gas works he had a lifelong association with such facilities but by telegraph would need to receive confirmation by Monday of his appointment, since an interest had been expressed by another party to employ him as a main and service layer. His reference made claim that for over two years he had been in charge of a gas works, and the chairman had vouched him to be ‘thoroughly honest, steady, and trustworthy.’
At the meeting of January 9th, 1879 it was announced that the sale of coke was progressing satisfactorily, with the ground being gradually cleared. George Giles was now to be employed for three nights a week during the following month to keep up the fires, and to be ready in the summer an order for three new retorts would be placed. As for the financial situation, since the balance in favour of the Company presently stood at £174 17s, this allowed the recommendation of a 6% dividend, as declared at the A.G.M. of January 23rd, 1879. Yet because no shareholders were in attendance the meeting had to be held over until the following day, Friday, at the same time and place.
Mr. Dymond not being present, at the quarterly meeting on April 10th, 1879 Mr. Denison assumed the role of chairman, and business included the contents of a letter from Mr. Miller, asking to be allowed a share of the printing requirements for the Company from time to time. Having now arrived, the three new retorts had been set ready for work as required, although it was recommended by Mr. Simmonds that they should only be used when the others were worn out. In fact if the directors for the next week or two employed a man to attend the fire at night, then the two retorts should be able to continue making sufficient gas until the end of the summer, when he would come and set the two new ones. For the repair of the gates and brickwork two bills were now to be paid, and a letter was read from the newly appointed Mr. Swain tendering his resignation, and asking to leave within a week. Thus as an interim measure, asking him to provide temporary cover the secretary would write to Mr. Sear, and indeed at a special meeting of the directors on May 15th, 1879 the secretary reported that having asked to be employed on a permanent basis, Mr. Sear had been temporarily engaged, in accordance with the minutes of the last meeting. The secretary then read a letter from Rhodes and Son offering a supply of coal for the year ending June 30th, 1880, and this was accepted. As read a part of the letter, ‘we shall be glad to supply you with 250 tons or as much as you may require of Best Silkstones Screened Gas Coal delivered at Woburn sands Station L.N.W. Railway at 13/6 per ton of 21cwt Colliery weight, for delivery by 30th June 1880.’ As for other financial concerns, the treasurer was directed to pay Messrs. Hulatt the amount of their bill for lamps erected at the corner of Crawley Road and Mount Pleasant.
At the quarterly meeting on July 10th, 1879 it was reported that having accepted the stated terms Mr. Sear had been engaged. When the time arrived, the secretary was then instructed to communicate with Mr. Simmonds to have the two other retorts set, and to get all the bricks and other requirements ready for the fixing. The sieves in the purifiers were to be renewed, with wooden ones instead of iron, and a pipe drain was to be laid across the yard to discharge into the pit in the brickyard, on the north side of the works. As for the puddling of the tank, Mr. Hutton would be instructed to complete the work without further delay.
Two quarterly meetings were held on October 9th, 1879, with the secretary reporting that George Simmonds was now engaged in setting the bench of the two retorts. The drain was complete although Mr. Hutton had still not finished puddling the tank. With the governor now being out of order, Mr. Simmonds would be asked to correct the problem and instruct Mr. Sear in its use, and since the station meter had developed a slight leak a request would be made for Mr. Simmonds to also attend to this. Following an application by Mr. Denison on behalf of the Woburn Sands Lighting Committee, it was now agreed that the resolution of the meeting on February 7th, 1878, which had made an addition of 5% to the amount registered by the meter, should be rescinded, and in future the Committee would only be charged the actual amount registered by the meter. As for the lamps, redecoration was now to be a feature in Aspley Guise, with the lamp columns in the village to be painted a stone colour. From now on the price charged to the public for coke would be 2s a quarter but a discount of 5% would be made to those consumers taking ten quarters in three months, and 10% for those taking fifty quarters in three months. However, for Mr. Bliss the price would be as before, ie. 1s 9d per quarter up to fifty quarters and 1s 8d per quarter for fifty and above.
At a special meeting on November 6th, 1879 an announcement was made by a newly formed committee regarding the terms on which the Company would agree the lighting of Aspley Guise. Gas for the public lamps would be charged at the same price as that for private consumers, with the quantity to be measured by a meter fixed on the pipe leading to the lamp outside Mr. Line’s office. The Company would keep the lamps and columns repaired at their own expense - supplying and fixing further lamps in such places as necessary - and members of the committee were to pay the cost of gas, and undertake to light and extinguish the lamps on the proviso that lighting and extinguishing the meter lamp would always be first. This would all be embodied in an agreement between the Company and the committee, and with the terms having been accepted the lighting would commence from Saturday, November 6th, 1879, with three new lamps to be erected, including two at Mount Pleasant.
At the quarterly meeting of January 8th, 1880, at which the retiring directors were Mr. W. Goodman and Mr. G. Turney, it was noted that Mr. Hutton had still not finished puddling the tank, and several meters seemed in need of repair. The secretary then read a letter from the managers of the Wavendon and Walton schools asking for a subscription, but the directors decided that they were unable to comply. Of the Company’s customers, Mr. Cartwright had left the village owing £2 18s 3d and the secretary would ‘use his best endeavours to obtain the money.’ However, the debt perhaps had some justification for the secretary announced that numerous complaints had been received about the smell resulting from the impurity of the gas. Steps would therefore be taken to immediately increase the purifying power at the works. The treasurer then produced a statement which showed a balance in hand of £142 1s, and in view of this a 5% dividend was recommended, with the accounts to be audited by Mr. Kemp. At the A.G.M. of January 23rd, 1880 the dividend of 5% was duly declared, to be paid to the shareholders that day. However, since the number of shareholders was ‘not amounting to a quorum’, the meeting was adjourned until the following day at the same time and place, although no shareholders turned up then either! The quarterly meeting of April 9th, 1880 found that Mr. Hutton had still not completed the tank, and not only that but the station meter had now been rendered useless by the ingress of tar. As for any alterations that might be required ‘to fix the works for their increased duty’, Mr. Mellor would be consulted. Happily the debt incurred by Mr. Cartwright had now been paid, and an agreement had been ‘entered into’ with the Aspley Guise Lighting Committee. Yet less optimistically the Company was assessed at £25 to the poor rate of the parish of Aspley Guise, and it was agreed to enquire about the propriety of this amount, with a view to an appeal.
Reporting in a letter of May 21st, 1880 William Batten, of Leighton Buzzard, wrote; ‘Gentlemen. Having made a careful examination of your Works and apparatus I have the pleasure of presenting you with my report. The retort beds and retorts have lately been rebuilt in good order and are fully capable of making the required quantity of gas during the heaviest days consumption. The condensers are small and capable of passing and condensing the same quantity and should meet the requirements for some years if they are occasionally given attention. From the condensers the gas passes direct to Purifiers without any immediate purification. The Purifiers are much too small for the quantity of gas produced in winter and consequently the gas has been supplied to customers in a very impure state. It is therefore recommended to place between the Condensers and Purifiers a Scrubber 12ft or 14ft high and 3ft 6in in diameter which if kept supplied with water or weak ammoniacal liquor will extract a large amount of the ammonia from the gas, making the ammoniacal liquor into a marketable product and also taking a portion of the work off the lime purifier. Also that one more purifier 9ft long and 6ft wide by 4ft deep should be erected which, if fixed with a four way valve, could be turned on or off and used in connection with the present Purifiers. The new connections and valves of the scrubber and purifier should be not less than 6in diameter, otherwise they would need to be replaced by 6in pipes in a few years providing the make of gas continued to increase. The Station Meter, now out of action, was sufficiently large and if in good repair would properly measure the gas produced; it is now however in a perfectly useless state thro’ having had foul and tarry gas passed through it.’ It was obviously essential that the station meter should accurately register the amount of gas made, ‘so it could be daily told if they were getting the proper amount of gas from the weight of coal consumed’, and for this purpose a small weighing machine should be provided in the retort house, with each charge of coal weighed and the weight recorded. The meter should therefore be opened, cleaned and put in working order, and the associated by pass valve made tight to prevent leakage. The governor had been thrown out of action and should be cleaned and put to work ‘so as to reduce the pressure in the main during the daytime as low as will keep your different consumers supplied - otherwise by keeping up a high pressure the leakages throughout the mains are greater.’ The two gas holders were in good condition and since when full they contained about 2,000 cubic feet in excess of the heaviest winters days, would be sufficiently large for some years. ‘I find that it has been the custom at your works to empty the tar into the gasholder tanks. This will in time interfere with the proper working of the holders, and cause them to give an extra back pressure.’ Therefore it was recommended that this practice should be stopped, and that a tank should be provided which could be used for the ammoniacal liquor, with the present one used for the tar. A separate tank was required for the proper working of the scrubber, for ‘With an efficient scrubber kept well supplied with water, you would not only be able to better purify the gas, but your revenue for ammoniacal liquor would be at the rate of 9d to 1s per ton of coal carbonised.’ As for the potential costs, that for the scrubber was estimated at £80, the four way valve and connections £60, the purifier, lift, four way valve and connections £80, the tar or ammoniacal tank £35, the coal weighing machine £12, the ammoniacal liquor pump £2, cleaning the meter and governor and repairing the slide valve about £15, and two glass pressure gauges £2. This made a total of £206 but there was no immediate need for about four months, and they might be able to obtain second-hand equipment at a substantial discount by advertising in the Journal of Gas Lighting. As for the excessive leakage, a recommendation to examine the mains at the points where the leaks were thought to occur was made, ‘As an extended consumption means an increased revenue without the expense increasing in the same proportion.’ Also it was recommended that apart from lighting they try and increase the use of gas as much as possible for cooking and heating, with this to be achieved by supplying a purer gas.
The secretary then produced several letters from colliery owners tendering for the supply of coal for the coming year. Tenders would also be invited from the Wigan district, and an advert was to be placed three times in the Journal of Gas Lighting for a second-hand scrubber and purifier, as suggested by Mr. Batten. In other matters, lined with brickwork and well puddled a new tar tank capable of holding 2,000 gallons was to be sunk, and a new ring of brickwork, using black Staffordshire bricks, fixed to the top of the tank of the old gasholder. At a special meeting of the directors on May 28th, 1880 the secretary was asked to make an appeal to the Assessment Committee against the assessment of the Company regarding the Poor Rate, and at the next meeting of the Assessment Committee, (to be held at the Board Room, Woburn workhouse), the Overseers of the Parish would be acquainted with this intention. At the quarterly meeting on July 8th, 1880, at which the treasurer produced a trial balance sheet for the half year ending June 30th, the secretary reported that following the appeal to the Assessment Committee the rating of the Company’s mains in Aspley Guise had now been reduced from £25 to £15. Several tenders having been received, it was then agreed that a trial truck load of Kilburn Gas Coal should be purchased from Mr. Bliss at 12s 2d per ton, but of other correspondence only two replies had been received regarding the advert for a second-hand scrubber and purifier. Neither were deemed suitable, and in consequence the erection of a scrubber would be postponed for the time being, as also the manufacture of a tar tank. However, an advert would be placed in The Journal of Gas Lighting for tenders to construct a new purifier, of the size recommended by Mr. W. Batten. In fact in response to the advert, at a special meeting on July 28th, 1880 tenders were examined for the supply of purifiers from Balfour and Co., at £84, and Holmes and Co., at £60, and subject to the substitution of an iron girder on top of the columns, in place of the wooden beam that they proposed, it was resolved to accept the latter. The secretary would ask that they carry out the work as soon as possible. The balance of the capital account would first be applied towards the cost, with Messrs. Bassett to then be approached for an advance ‘of so much as might be wanted as an equitable mortgage of the Company’s property.’ Meanwhile, Mr. Sear’s tenure as the gas works manager was unfortunately again in question, and the secretary would make enquiries regarding a replacement. At the quarterly meeting of October 13th, 1880 the secretary announced that Holmes and Co. were now supplying and fixing the new purifier, and Bassett’s had agreed to make an advance of the cash requested. Another man had been engaged as the gas manager, but with there being some doubts about his suitability the applications were also being considered from two other persons, Henry Hall and William Huckle, from Stony Stratford. Both had experience as fitters, and interest had also been expressed by a Mr. Taylor, who had been employed by the Leighton Gas Company. Therefore he would be asked to come over and see the secretary, and if he seemed suitable then the secretary would engage him on the same terms that applied at present. Conversely, if he declined the position then Mr. Huckle would be taken on trial. The coal supplied by Mr. Bliss had proved unsatisfactory, and the contract now lay with the Unstone Coal and Coke Co. at 13s 2d per ton colliery weight. Concluding the business of the meeting it was then decided that if the Aspley Guise Street Lighting Committee applied to have their street lights lit, then this would be agreed by the secretary on the same terms as last year.
With Mr. Dymond as the chairman, and Mr. Whitman as the secretary, Messrs. Pickering, Goodman and Turney attended the quarterly meeting on January 13th, 1881, where it was reported that the new purifier had now been fixed in working order. Henry Taylor had been engaged as the manager of the works and although his conduct was generally good, since two occasions had proved unsatisfactory for any repeat of this he would be dismissed without notice. With the treasurer then producing a balance sheet, a dividend of 4½% was recommended, and the directors retiring by rotation were Mr. Denison and Mr. Pickering. Having considered the present state of the works, and the difficulties with which the increased consumption of gas had been supplied during the last two months, at a special meeting of the directors on January 27th, 1881 it was decided that immediate measures should be taken to erect a fresh bench of five retorts with a hydraulic main, and make connection to the present main pipe. Bearing interest from January 1st, 1881 at £5 each twenty shares would be raised to provide the finance, and with payment due at the time of allotment this would be a further part of the capital which, on September 26th, 1877, had been authorised at the extraordinary general meeting of the shareholders. Yet although the dividend of 4½% should have been paid at the A.G.M. of January 27th, 1881, since there was no quorum of shareholders the meeting was adjourned until the following day, when again no shareholders turned up! At a special meeting of the directors on February 11th, 1881 it appeared that the money to be raised by the issue of the new shares would not be required for some time, and interest would therefore be paid from the date of their future issue. A tender for £125 from Mr. G. Simmonds, for erecting four new retorts with the necessary fittings and connections to the present works, was then read, and Mr. Batten would be asked to advise the directors regarding the value of the work proposed. The contract would then be accepted unless the price seemed excessive, in which case the secretary would obtain other tenders. However, at the quarterly meeting of April 14th, 1881 Mr. Batten reported that the price seemed reasonable and, albeit including a few small modifications, a contract would be consequently agreed with Mr. Simmonds. The machinery in the meter house was now to be inspected ‘and put to rights’ at the earliest opportunity, and in other business the secretary announced that the dividends sent to Mrs. Freeman and Lippetts had not been paid, since the cheque and postal order had been seemingly lost. A new cheque and postal order would therefore be sent ‘on receiving a guarantee from them to hold the Company harmless in case the former Cheque and Post Office Order should turn up.’ Concluding the meeting, it was then agreed that the roof of the retort house, measuring thirty one feet by three feet, would be repaired using galvanised corrugated iron.
The new retorts had been fixed and were working satisfactorily by the quarterly meeting on July 7th, 1881, and the machinery in the meter house had also been put to rights. With the bench of three retorts ‘having become so worn out as to be useless’, it was then resolved to fix a new set, with the tender obtained from George Simmonds to ‘provide and fix’ and supply a new furnace door, at a total price of £23, being accepted. Coal tenders would now be sought for the twelve month supply to August 31st, whilst on disciplinary matters Mr. Taylor had been absent from the works without permission for a whole day, leaving them in the charge of ‘an incompetent person.’ He would be reprimanded and told that the situation must not reoccur. At a special meeting of the directors on July 18th, 1881 the secretary read a letter from Unstone Coal Co. offering to supply best Silkstone Coal at 13s 6d a ton, delivered to Woburn Sands station. A tender had also been received from Wigan Coal Co. at 15s 7d per ton, or best screened gas nuts at 14s 10d per ton, delivered to the station, and including that from Mr. Bliss, for Kilburn Coal at 12s 6d, other tenders were additionally considered. However, it was decided to accept the offer from Unstones. At the quarterly meeting of October 13th, 1881 the secretary said that several tenders for roofing the raised part of the retort house had been received, with that of £3 15s from J. Bradshawe, of Lidlington, accepted. The three new retorts had been fixed and were awaiting use, and a man would be engaged to attend the fires ‘and do whatever else was required during the night’, for the period from the present time to the end of winter. An application had been received from the Woburn Sands Lighting Committee asking for a reduction in the price of gas to the public lamps, but following considerations it was decided that this could not be accepted. By the quarterly meeting of January 12th, 1882 the retort house roof had been repaired, and the secretary read a tender from Joseph Bradshawe, ‘Shoeing and Jobbing Smith bell-hanger and gas fitter’, offering to restore the spouting round the retort house, purifying shed and meter house for £1 14s, plus 5d per foot for any new spouting required. This was accepted, with the work to be completed as soon as possible. Despite the chairman being indisposed ‘a vote of thanks to the Chairman of the Company for the great interest he takes in their affairs’ was then proposed. At the A.G.M. of January 26th, 1882 a dividend of 4% was declared, to be paid to the shareholders on Monday, January 30th but since no quorum was present, the meeting was adjourned until the following day at the same time and place but, as usual, no shareholders attended.
That the station meter had ceased to work, probably from some of the wheels giving way under the dial, was reported by the secretary at the quarterly meeting on April 13th, 1882 and Mr. Simmonds would be asked to have a look ‘when he was next this way.’ At the quarterly meeting on July 13th, 1882 it was then resolved that with a view to keeping certain persons from resorting to the retort house in their dinner hour, (as well as at other times), a notice would be painted outside the entrance gates worded ‘No Admittance except on Business.’ Also, the secretary was instructed to procure a new siphon pump, the old one being worn out and useless, and tenders had been received from Oaks and Co. for gas coals at 13s 6d per ton, and the same from Unstone Coal. However, since only three directors were present, the matter would be considered at another time. In fact this would be at a special meeting of the directors on August 31st, 1882, when apart from those already mentioned a tender was considered from Mr. Bliss. However, that of Unstones was accepted. Joseph Griffin had now applied for the position of night man at 15s a week, and David Jenkins at 14s, but it was decided to defer the actual appointment until the next meeting. The secretary then reported that Mr. Taylor’s wife wished to ask the directors if the rooms in the cottage could be whitewashed, and small repairs carried out, and ‘The Secretary was instructed to see what was really necessary and have it done.’ Mr. Hutton had now been instructed to carry out the cottage repairs, and in other business at the quarterly meeting on October 13th, 1882 the secretary was asked to accumulate a good stock of coal, in view of the disruption likely to be caused to supplies by a potential strike. As for the two applicants for the night position, since both were deemed unsatisfactory the secretary would try and engage another person. Yet if no one was available then Mr. Griffin would be engaged, but consequent to this at the quarterly meeting on January 11th, 1883 the secretary announced that he had engaged Henry Tipple as the night fireman. Presently work was in progress at the cottage although a letter would be sent to Mr. Hutton stating that if he did not complete the puddling of the tank within a fortnight, then the Company would proceed to do so and charge the expense to him. Mr. Down had asked if the Company would lay a service to his house, ‘Woodfield’, and this was agreed on the usual terms. The consumer would pay the cost of the service on his ground, and the pipe would be laid in pitch in a wooden trough. After the chairman had vacated the chair a discussion then took place regarding the price charged for coke, and it was decided that on the best terms that he could obtain the secretary should dispose of the surplus stock to wholesale customers.
At the A.G.M. of January 25th, 1883 a dividend of 4½% was declared. This was to have been paid on the 26th but in the absence of a quorum of shareholders it was adjourned until the following day, at the same time and place but once again no shareholders bothered to attend. At the quarterly meeting on April 12th, 1883 it was reported that Mr. Hutton had partly completed the work to the tank. As for the laying of the service to Mr. Down’s house, this had been postponed although more optimistically at 12s per ton the secretary had managed to dispose of almost all the coke in the yard. Measures would now be taken to employ another man at the works, and two letters had been received from Mr. Batten offering to look over the works ‘and advise.’ This was accepted with thanks. At a special meeting of the directors on May 24th, 1883 the secretary announced that he had been in correspondence with William Thomas of River Street, Ware, who having been recommended by George Simmonds ‘was likely to suit.’ If he did ‘suit’, then subject to notice of one month by either side he would be engaged as the gas manager on June 25th. This would be at 25s per week with house, rent, coal and gas free, and meanwhile an agreement would be drawn up with Mr. Taylor, who had been given notice to leave. Concerning the coal siding, a letter from Mr. Austin of the L.N.W. Railway Co. was read by the secretary, who was asked to search the old minute books and letters as to the relative rights of the Company and railway in the matter. The secretary next read a report from Mr. Batten regarding the state of the works, and it was recommended to accept his suggestion that the station meter be put to rights, and a weighing machine provided. Also his offer to send a Meter Inspector was accepted with thanks, with the work to be superintended by himself. Finalising matters, a decision was then reached to disconnect the main leading over Mount Pleasant from Mr. Turney’s gateway to Mr. Handscombe’s house, and also the service to General Lowes. Regarding the siding, the secretary produced relevant letters and memos at the quarterly meeting of July 12th, 1883, and since it appeared that responsibility for any repairs lay with the Company, the railway foreman would be asked to carry out the work at the Company’s expense. The station meter and governor had now been sent to Milne and Son for repairs, and details of a letter of July 10th were then read stating that the meters were now in good condition. Foul gas had been the cause of any internal damage, and an examination to check for this would be carried out at the next repairs. For the coal supply for the coming year Unstone Colliery would be asked to tender, and perhaps in anticipation a new coal wheelbarrow was to be obtained.
At the quarterly meeting of October 12th, 1883 with Mr. Dymond as chairman, and Messrs. Pickering and Goodman present, the secretary, Mr. Whitman, reported that the now repaired station meter and governor were back in use. As for the coal, Unstone Colliery were willing to provide a supply for the year ending July 31st, 1884 at 13s 9d per ton, and this was accepted. It was then decided that half of the cost, (£2.00), of moving his furniture ‘hither’ should be paid to the manager of the works, William Thomas, who was now to engage a man at 15s a week for night duty during the winter. No doubt this was a great relief to him, as also the fact that constructed of brick with a corrugated roof a new privy was to be built at the works, where in other improvements the bench of four retorts had now been repaired, ready for use. The privy had been built by the time of the quarterly meeting on January 10th, 1884, at which the chairman, Mr. Dymond, and Messrs Denison, Pickering, Goodman and Whitman were present. Mr. Denison asked if the Company might be willing to accept a right of way of fifteen feet width across his brickyard which, instead of following the present line, would be close to the ditch, and although it seemed unlikely that the changed roadway would include the Company’s main pipe, it was nevertheless decided to open the ground and find out exactly where the pipe lay, before making a definite reply. The secretary then reported that in the chimney at the works cracks had appeared ‘which looked threatening’, and to examine the problem a meeting of the directors would take place on site on Saturday, January 12th at 1.15p.m. The treasurer next read the trial balance sheet for 1883 and although this showed a balance of £161 1s 1d , the bill amounting to about £30 for November had not yet been paid, ‘and ought to be provided for.’ As declared at the previous meeting, at the A.G.M. of January 25th, 1884, (attended by Mr. Dymond, chairman, Mr. Goodman and Mr. Whitman, secretary), the dividend of 4% was supposedly to have been paid, but in the absence of a quorum of directors the meeting was adjourned until the next day at the same time and place. However, as usual no shareholders turned up.
At the quarterly meeting of April 9th, 1884 in the presence of Mr. Dymond, chairman, Mr. Pickering, and Mr. Goodman, Mr. Whitman, the secretary, reported that the Company’s main was within the fifteen feet which Mr. Denison proposed to give up for the altered right of way. In lieu of the present course, this would lie by the boundary of the field, and would be deemed acceptable provided that a good road be ‘made along.’ As previously arranged, the meeting at the works to examine the chimney had taken place on the 12th, and although there were no definite conclusions, having advised that the cracks were heat cracks, and not settlements, a builder had now pointed them with cement. With the necessary funds to be raised by a loan, (to be repaid either by instalments or a ‘sinking fund’), a new condenser and scrubber were to be shortly obtained, and also the hydraulic change valve would be repaired or replaced. The secretary then announced that he had agreed to have a new set of three retorts provided and fixed at a cost of £20, and it was hoped to have the work complete by the end of April. In conclusion, since the directors ‘have felt themselves greatly indebted to their manager during the past winter and desire now to express to him their thanks for the care he bestowed and the exertions he successfully made to avoid a breakdown’, as a token of their appreciation a sum of between 20s and 30s would be expended on a present. At a special meeting of the directors on May 1st, 1884 with Mr. Dymond as chairman, and Messrs. Pickering, Denison, and Goodman in attendance, Mr. Whitman, the secretary, reported that Mr. Thomas had recommended moving the condensers to the side of the retort house, with a scrubber to be fixed where the condensers were now situated. Also, that with six inch connections a large purifier should be placed instead of the present two smaller ones, and it was further recommended that the liquor well and pump should be placed near the present tarwell. Messrs. Cutler would be consequently asked to inspect the works, and provide a price for the proposed alterations and additions.
With Mr. Whitman as secretary, Mr. Dymond occupied the chair at the quarterly meeting on July 11th, 1884, with Messrs. Goodman, Pickering and Turney in attendance. The treasurer reported that at the end of the half year the balance in the bank to the credit of the Company was £147 4s 11d, and the secretary had been in contact with Messrs. Cutler who, having examined the works, recommended the addition of a another condenser, a small scrubber and a new purifier, in place of the two small ones. However, after some correspondence they declined to undertake the work this season, and it was therefore decided to reconsider the alterations at the October meeting. Letters were then read from the engineer of the railway company in respect of the siding, and with various suppliers having offered coal ‘at sundry prices’, the contract was awarded to the Unstone Coal Co. At the quarterly meeting of October 9th, 1884, (Mr. Dymond, chairman, Messrs. Pickering, Goodman in attendance, and Mr. Whitman as secretary), it was agreed to ask Messrs. Cutler if they were now prepared to undertake the new works in April or May of next year, and if so to cost each item separately. For the purpose of unloading coal, as near to the eastern end as possible a new opening was to be made in the retort house, and here a sliding door would be fixed, similar to the one presently in use. The repair to the siding would now be postponed but following Mr. Loke’s application to have a main laid down Theydon Avenue, which would reach as far as the new Baptist Chapel, (a length of some one hundred and fifty yards), the Company was prepared to provide a one and a half inch wrought main. However, this would only be if Mr. Loke paid the cost of the pipe, as a consideration towards the expense. A filter would now be supplied for the use of the cottage at the works, and Mr. Denison’s offer to allow the erection of a shed at the end of the retort house, for storing coke or other purposes, was to be accepted with thanks. Having a corrugated roof, the shed would be built of iron or wooden walls, with a doorway opening from the retort house. With Mr. Dymond as chairman, and Mr. Whitman as secretary, at the quarterly meeting of January 8th, 1885 a letter dated October 31st, 1884 was read from Messrs. Cutler. This stated that they would write ‘by and bye’ but since there had been no further communication Messrs. Holmes and Co. would be approached regarding a price to supply and fit a scrubber, move the position of the condensers, and supply and fix a new change valve, making good all the connections. The new opening into the retort house was now complete and the siding had been repaired. In addition, on the terms proposed the main had been laid along a part of Theydon Avenue and down to the Chapel although nothing further had transpired about a proposed main for Chapel Street. A decision was then made to sink a well for supplying the house at the works, and a tender would be obtained for building a ‘quick wall’ with piers around the piece of ground given to the Company by Mr. Denison. Mr. Dymond then produced an account showing a balance of around £200, and in view of this a dividend of 4½% was recommended. At the A.G.M. of January 23rd, 1885 with Mr. Dymond being indisposed Mr. Goodman acted as chairman. Mr. Pickering was amongst those present, and as secretary Mr. Whitman was instructed to write to Mr. Denison expressing ‘an unanimous vote of thanks to him for his Liberality in giving the Company a piece of ground to enlarge their yard at the Gas Works.’ This would be recorded in the minute book. At a special meeting of the directors on February 5th, 1885 - Mr. Dymond, chairman, Mr. Pickering, Mr. Goodman present, and Mr. Whitman as secretary - following the reading of a letter from Messrs. Holmes their tender of £175 to enlarge the works, and provide the large size purifier, would be accepted. The work was to be instigated at once, so as to be ready ‘to fix and complete’ in as short a time as possible, and ideally would be finished by early next June. Two tenders had been received for erecting a new wall at the works, one from G. Dolton for £25, and another for £22 15s, and with the former accepted, if new hanging stones were required these would be supplied by the Company.
At the quarterly meeting on April 9th, 1885 - Mr. Dymond, chairman. Mr. Pickering present and Mr. Whitman as secretary - several letters had been received from Messrs. Holmes regarding sundry details of the proposed works, especially one offering to supply a pump for the scrubber at £10. Their offer of £5 for the old purifiers was accepted, and it was agreed that they should supply the valve and pump. In fact they had already sent plans showing the brickwork required, and this would be undertaken by George Dolton, who would also be asked to make a new tarwell and repair the top of the chimney. The secretary then reported that the new piece of land had been enclosed, whilst as for the well which had been recently sunk, this was now producing an excellent supply of water. Mr. Dolton had nearly completed the brickwork and tarwell by the quarterly meeting on July 9th, 1885, at which the attendance comprised Mr. Dymond, chairman. Messrs. Pickering and Goodman, and Mr. Whitman, secretary. The new condenser in the contract of Messrs. Holmes would probably be finished in another week, and a ladder long enough to reach the top of the scrubber was to be obtained. However, the trial truck load of screened coal obtained from Mr. Eveson, consequent to the decision made at the previous meeting, had unfortunately been mixed in with the other coal, and therefore no assessment of the gas production could be made. In remedy, another truck load would be obtained when the works were finished. A contract was now to be made with Mr. Simmonds to supply and set a new bench of four retorts, and to raise the finance the sum of £150 would be borrowed from the bankers, with security provided by the deposit of the title deeds. The amount would then be repaid by three equal annual instalments, beginning at Christmas, 1886.
At the quarterly meeting of October 8th, 1885 - attended by Mr. Goodman, chairman, Mr. Pickering and Mr. Whitman as secretary - for the year ending July 31st, 1886 the tender of G. Eveson would be accepted for the supply of gas coal at 15s 5d per ton, delivered to Woburn Sands station. A letter from Mr. Thomas was then read out asking for a wage increase, and following some consideration Mr. Pickering proposed, and Mr. Goodman accepted, that an increase of 2s 6d a week from the 10th of the month should be made. A letter from Mr. Ruggles, the manager of the Leighton Gas Works, had also been received in which he declined to take the ammoniacal liquor, and in a letter from the manager of the Newport Gas Works details on their experience of the coal being used was given, plus the amount of gas obtained per ton from the same. After some discussion, at the quarterly meeting on January 14th, 1886 in the presence of Mr. Dymond, chairman, Messrs. Denison, Pickering, Goodman, Turney and the secretary, Mr. Whitman, it was proposed to pay a dividend of 3%. Mr. Dymond produced an account showing a balance of around £106 but at the A.G.M. on January 29th with Mr. Goodman, chairman ‘pro term.’, Mr. Turney and Mr. Whitman in attendance, in the absence of a quorum of shareholders payment of the dividend would be postponed until the following day. Mr. Goodman being the chairman, at the quarterly meeting of April 8th, 1886 the secretary, Mr. Whitman, said that ‘at last’ a firm had agreed to take all the tar that they could spare at 1s 6d per barrel, and they would also pay the cost of carriage. They had also agreed to pay 3s 6d each for the barrels - in fact the price paid by the Company - and they would send their own barrels when the Company needed them for filling. At the quarterly meeting of July 8th, 1886, with Mr. Dymond as chairman, Mr. Whitman as secretary, and Mr. Pickering present, the treasurer reported a balance in hand of about £111, of which £50 was to be repaid to the bankers. The tender from Unstone Colliery at 13s 4d per ton was then read, as also those from Hackett and Co. at 14s 2d a ton, and G.. Eveson at 15s 5d.
Mr. Dymond chairman, Mr. Pickering, Mr. Goodman, and Mr. Whitman being present, at the quarterly meeting of the directors on October 14th, 1886 the treasurer announced that after the payment of £50, mentioned at the previous meeting, the cash in hand on September 30th was about £84, from which John Cooke would be paid 17s 6d a week during the present winter. As for the quarterly meeting of the directors on January 13th, 1887, this was composed of Mr. Dymond, chairman, Mr. Pickering, Mr. Goodman, Mr. Turney, and Mr. Whitman, and the treasurer produced the balance sheet for the year which showed that a balance of £113 16s 7d was available for dividend. He then called attention to the increased costs for labour, and it was therefore decided that for the time being no extra labour would be employed without the express orders of the secretary. Mentioning the small amount coming in for residuals, he also called attention to the increase of rates and taxes, and in consequence the secretary would be asked to see if these could be diminished. A dividend of 3½% having been recommended at the previous meeting, at the A.G.M. on January 28th, 1887, attended by Mr. Dymond, chairman, Mr. Pickering and Mr. Whitman, this percentage was duly declared but no quorum of shareholders was available. With Mr. Dymond as chairman, Messrs. Denison, Pickering, Goodman and Whitman were present at the quarterly meeting of April 14th, 1887, at which it was revealed that there were still some arrears due for coke, although the stock on hand was small. A suggestion was made that the tar might be more profitably used in ‘firing’ the retorts, and the secretary then read some letters which recommended this procedure. A visit to the Woburn Gas Works would therefore be paid to witness the process in action, with a meeting of directors to be held at the works on June 2nd at 5.30p.m. The secretary next called attention to the arrears of gas and meter rents of Messrs. Bull, Hutton and Challoner, and the secretary was instructed to remove the meter from Mr. Bull’s house, and press Mr. Challoner for payment ‘and to set off same.’ Two breadths of galvanised iron were now to be added either side of the retort house roof, and a letter was read from Mr. Thomas asking for a few days leave during the summer. A week would be granted. Concluding the business, agreement was reached to present to the lighting and watching inspectors of the Aspley Guise District the lamps and columns belonging to the Company in that district, although this would except the one on the green.
At the quarterly meeting on July 14th, 1887 - Mr. Dymond, chairman, Mr. Pickering, Mr. Goodman, and Mr. Whitman, secretary, being present - those directors who had inspected the gasworks at Woburn reported that the use of tar did indeed seem to be profitable, and lead to a reduction in the quantity of coke required to fire the retorts. Consequently a barrel would be fixed on top of the retort bench, and with ‘the needful apparatus’ purchased attempts would be made to carefully measure the quantities of coke and tar produced, ‘so as to learn what the value of the Tar as fuel will be.’ As for the general condition of the works, the premises were well maintained although slight repairs were necessary to the cottage, and a window would have to be put in the back wall of the living room, on the left of the entrance door. The secretary would consequently prepare a specification, and invite tenders from Mr. Bunyan and Mr. Sinfield. Financially the situation also seemed sound, for not only had the amount owing from Mr. Bull been recovered, but Mr. Challoner had promised to pay in a week or two. The amount due from Mr. Hutton had been settled, and in further good news repairs to the roof of the retort house were complete. The treasurer would now pay the bankers the remaining £50, whilst as for the various coal tenders for the year ending July 31st, 1888, the contract was awarded to G. Eveson. By the quarterly meeting of October 13th, 1887, at which Mr. Dymond, chairman, Mr. Pickering, Mr. Goodman and Mr. Whitman were present, all of the tar made since the last meeting had been sold, although nothing had yet been done towards the alteration of the furnaces, and ‘the subject is continued.’ However, repairs to the cottage were complete, with most of the monies outstanding from Mr. Challoner now recovered. As decided at the previous meeting, the remaining sum of £50 had been paid to the bankers, and also £4 8s 9d as the interest to close the account. On receipt of a letter from the Gas Inspectors, whereby they asked for a price per lamp per month, this would be investigated, and the Inspectors had also enquired if the Company might be willing to hand over the lamp on the green, as they wished to fit up a cluster burner. This was agreed, but only on condition that a meter would be fixed if a new system of burner was employed. The question of reducing the price of gas was then discussed, although a decision would be deferred until a later meeting.
At a special meeting on October 27th, 1887, with Mr. Turney chairman, ‘pro term’, Mr. Pickering and Mr. Goodman present, Mr. Whitman, the secretary, produced his report regarding the quantity of gas supplied to consumers during the four quarters of September and December 1886, and March and June 1887. This revealed that 1,847,500 feet would amount to £538 17s 1d, but at 5s per 1,000 feet the loss would be £76 19s 7d. It was therefore decided not to reduce the price of gas for the present. In the presence of Mr. Dymond, chairman, Mr. Pickering, Mr. Goodman and Mr. Turney, Mr. Whitman, the secretary, reported at the quarterly meeting on January 12th, 1888 that no accumulation of tar had occurred at the works. Also he had written to the Lighting Inspectors, who in reply had said that they were not presently prepared to fix the new cluster burner on the pillar on the green, and would postpone the matter until the autumn. The treasurer then produced the balance sheet for the past year, and with a balance for dividend of £124 16s 10d announced, a dividend of 3½% was recommended, requiring the sum of £98. As recognition for her services whilst her husband had been engaged away from the works, it was agreed to pay Mrs. Thomas the sum of £1 and with Mr. Dymond as chairman, and Messrs. Pickering, Turney, Goodman and Mr. Whitman present, at the A.G.M. on April 12th, 1888 she expressed her due appreciation. For school purposes, from the Wavendon overseers an application had now been received to join in the payment of a voluntary rate at Woburn Sands but with the rateable share of the Company being £1, this was declined. The secretary then reported that a bench of three new retorts would need to be fixed in place of those currently in position, and he would obtain a tender from George Simmonds to hopefully have the work carried out at once. The directors retiring by rotation were Messrs. Dymond and Whitman.
Meetings of the Board were now taking place at 8p.m., and at the quarterly meeting on July 12th, 1888 with Mr. Dymond chairman, and Messrs. Pickering, Goodman, Turney and Whitman in attendance, as secretary the latter reported that in accordance with a contract with Mr. Simmonds the three retorts had now been fixed at a cost, including ‘other work consequential therein’, of £23 8s. Two tenders were then produced for a supply of coal for the coming year, and priced per ton these were from Eveson at 15s, and Hackett, ‘best 14s 2d, nuts 13s 5d.’ That from Eveson was accepted. However, regarding the contract for lime the secretary would communicate with Mr. Clarke, following concerns about the unsatisfactory way in which the quantities had been lately supplied. At the quarterly meeting on October 11th, 1888, with Mr. Dymond as chairman, and Mr. Goodman and Mr. Pickering attending, Mr. Whitman, the secretary, was instructed to obtain the prices and terms on which chalk lime could be procured from Dunstable or the neighbourhood, and to obtain a small truck load. In fact consequent to the dissatisfaction regarding the supplies of lime, at the quarterly meeting on January 10th, 1889 Mr. Whitman read a letter from B.J. Forder and Son offering to provide chalk lime at 14s a ton, plus 2s 4d carriage, to Woburn Sands station, and it was thus decided to obtain a ton of chalk lime at once as a sample. If this proved satisfactory then supplies on the stated terms would be obtained. It was also decided that for the storage of lime the part of the yard now occupied by the coke should be covered over, with a door to be opened in the wall towards the railway. As for other matters, a letter had been received from Mr. Thomas asking for an increase in his wage, and with this agreed his weekly remuneration from January 1st, 1889 would rise by 2s 6d to 30s. The treasurer then produced an abstract of accounts of the previous year, and since these showed a balance of about £215 to the credit of the Company a dividend of 5% was recommended. The directors retiring by rotation were Mr. Turney and Mr. Goodman, and £50 would now be set aside as the beginning of a reserve fund, to be invested at Bassetts.
At the A.G.M. on January 25th, 1889 - Mr. Dymond, chairman, Mr. Pickering, Mr. Whitman, secretary - it was recommended that the dividend of 5% should be paid. Seconded by Mr. Turney, Mr. Pickering then proposed that Mr. Goodman should be re-elected as a director and proposed by Mr. Whitman, and seconded by Mr. Pickering, Mr. Kemp would also be elected to this position. That the supply of chalk lime seemed satisfactory was reported at the quarterly meeting on April 11th, 1889, and for the storage of lime instead of the place recommended at the last meeting a shed would be built on, or near, the site of the manager’s pigsty. The secretary then produced a sketch of the shed, and with this approved tenders would be invited from builders in the neighbourhood. The secretary also reported that a new bench of four retorts would be needed this year, those at present having been installed in 1885, and with a contract from Mr. Simmonds to be obtained, the work would be put in hand as soon as possible. Also a new pump and tank were needed in the retort house, and these would be duly purchased. At the quarterly meeting on July 11th, 1889 - Mr. Dymond chairman, Mr. Pickering, Mr. Goodman, Mr. Whitman, secretary - Mr. Whitman reported that for a cost of £14 12s 6d the lime shed had now been built, three tenders having been received. A tender for £26 had also been received for setting the four retorts, although this work was yet to be commenced. The treasurer then reported that the balance in hand at June 30th had been about £223, and another £50 would be added to the reserve fund. As for Mr. Thomas, he would now be told that he did not have liberty to employ extra labour without the consent of the secretary. For the supply of coal, the tender from Eveson proved successful, and the secretary was to publish a notice to each consumer informing them that the price of gas after September 30th would be reduced to 5s per 1,000 foot, with a reduction in the case of Mr. Kemp’s engines to 4s 2d. At the meeting of October 10th, 1889, with Mr. Dymond, chairman, and Mr. Goodman present, the secretary, Mr. Whitman reported that the four retorts had been fixed as directed. At the end of September the balance to the credit of the Company was £170 2s 8d, and the secretary then read a letter from a person enquiring if they could be supplied with coke. This was agreed, with the current price being 2s per quarter, or 16s per ton. The roof of the retort house and the purifying shed were now to be repaired ‘where needful’, and with the governor being out of action the bell would be taken out and examined. If only minor repairs were required, then this would be done by David Fleet, or otherwise in London, whilst repairs to the new scrubber pump, which had broken at the flange, would be the task of Mr. Rice.
At the quarterly meeting of January 9th, 1890 the attendance comprised Mr. Dymond, chairman, Messrs. Pickering, Goodman, Turney, Kemp and Mr. Whitman, secretary. The roof of the retort house and purifying shed had now been repaired, as well as the governor, and since the old scrubber pump was past repair a new one had been fixed. A letter was then read from the Reverend Maltby asking if the Company could lay a main along Duke Street, such that the lighting inspector could erect some lamps, and a reply would be sent saying that a one and a half inch wrought iron pipe would be laid from the present main to Wood Lane. Next a letter was read from the committee of the Mission Room complaining about the increase in the bill during 1889. Therefore the secretary would arrange to check the meter, with the amount to be monitored each quarter. As for other business, by raising the wall on which it rested the lime shed was to be lifted eighteen inches, and the treasurer read the account of receipts and expenditure during the past year. With the balance on December 31st being £136 10s, a dividend of 4% was recommended. Mr. Minter was to now be appointed auditor, and the directors retiring by rotation were Mr. Denison and Mr. Pickering. At the A.G.M. on January 24th, 1890, attended by Mr. Dymond, chairman, Mr. Goodman and Mr. Whitman, the dividend of 4% was to be paid but since no quorum was present this was adjourned until 4p.m. the next day - when no one turned up! At the quarterly meeting on April 10th, 1890 - Mr. Turney chairman pro term, Mr. Pickering, Mr. Goodman, Mr. Whitman secretary - it was announced that because the street lighting inspectors had not provided the lamps, the one and a half inch pipe had not been laid in Duke Street. Instead of eighteen inches the lime shed was now to be lifted two feet, and Mr. Hutton would be asked to give an estimate for the ridging on the retort house roof which, because it was so decayed, in fact with pieces falling into the yard, was to be renewed at once. At the quarterly meeting on July 10th, 1890 with Mr. Dymond, chairman, Messrs. Kemp, Goodman and Turney being present, the secretary, Mr. Whitman, read a tender from Mr. Hutton offering to raise the lime shed ‘and make all good’ for £6 10s. However, Mr. Sinfield had made a verbal offer to Mr. Thomas to undertake the same work for £4 15s, and he would therefore be asked to provide a written tender at once. A tender had been received from G. Eveson offering to supply 350 tons of Alderwake Main Coal for the coming year at 20s 5d per ton and this was accepted, despite a rival bid from Alfred Farr and Co. to supply Silkstone Coal at 19s per ton. At the quarterly meeting on October 9th, 1890 - Mr. Goodman chairman, pro term, Mr. Pickering, Mr. Whitman secretary - a letter was read from Mr. Miller, the secretary of the Woburn Sands Street Lighting Committee, asking the directors if they might be willing to lay a gas main down Chapel Street and Russell Street. The Committee would be prepared to erect two lamps in each street but it was unfortunately decided that the request could not presently be entertained. However, regarding the Aspley Street Lighting Inspectors the secretary was now to write to their chairman, calling attention to the arrangement that meter lamps should always be lit first.
At the quarterly meeting on January 8th, 1891 with Mr. Dymond chairman, Mr. Turney, Mr. Goodman and the secretary, Mr. Whitman, being present, the treasurer read an account of receipts and expenditure for the past year. The balance in hand on December 31st had been £145 12s 8d, and a dividend of 4% was thereby recommended, with the remaining balance to be carried over. The directors retiring by rotation were Mr. Dymond and Mr. Whitman but for all the directors matters had been overshadowed by the death during the past year of Mr. W. H. Denison, who had been a member of the Board since the formation of the Company; ‘The assiduity with which he addressed himself to the duties devolving upon him, and the benefits which he has, on more than one occasion, bestowed upon the Company by his liberality, make them feel that in him the Directors have lost a valuable colleague and the Company a liberal friend.’ At the A.G.M. on January 23rd, 1891 in the presence of Mr. Dymond chairman, and Messrs. Pickering, Goodman and Turney, the secretary, Mr. Whitman, reported that complaints had been made of a short supply of gas to several houses in the middle of the village. As a consequence it was then decided to relay the service supply to the houses of Mr. Green and Mr. Day, amongst others, with a one inch pipe instead of the present three quarters inch pipe, and to lay a four inch main from the present end of the four inch main, opposite Miss Fites, to the back gate of Mr. Powys house. As for other matters, Mr. Simmonds would be asked to tender for the supply and fixing of a new bench of three retorts by May 31st next, according to the old specification. At the quarterly meeting on July 9th, 1891 Mr. Whitman, the secretary, reported that he had received tenders for the supply of four inch cast iron pipes for the extension of the main, as decided at the last meeting, but after consideration it was decided to postpone the matter. The homes of Mr. Goodall and Mr. Day would be served through a three quarters inch pipe from the main opposite the stocks, and the present service would be left to supply Mr. Green and the Coffee Room only. The secretary had now received a tender for £20 from George Simmonds to supply and fix the three retorts, and a tender had also been received from G. Eveson for the supply of coal for the ensuing year. However, other tenders would also be sought, and if necessary a truck load obtained as a sample.
At a special meeting chaired by Mr. Dymond on July 31st, 1891 Mr. Whitman said that Mr. Simmonds was presently fixing the retorts. A tender had been received from Newton Chambers and Co., offering to supply screened silkstone at 17s 1d per ton, or not screened at 16s 10d, and tenders had also been received from Walter Moore for screen silkstone at 17s 7d per ton, and Unstone Colliery at 17s per ton. However, although the contract was awarded to G. Eveson to supply Alderwake Main at 19s 8d a ton, a sample truck load had been obtained from Newton Chambers and Co. which according to a report by the gas manager had produced 9,070 cubic feet of gas from the first ton. Yet the coal unfortunately required a much greater heat on the retort, and also did not make so much tar, or so much coke, as the Alderwake Main. At the quarterly meeting on October 8th, 1891 with Mr. Dymond in the chair, and Messrs. Pickering and Goodman present, the secretary, Mr. Whitman, announced that Mr. Simmonds had completed the fixing of the bench of three retorts, and these were now working. This week he would begin to repair the bench of four, and at 21s a week - ‘or less if he will take it’ - William Smith was to be engaged as the night fireman until the end of March. A meter was now to be fixed on the service to the lamp on the Green, and Mr. Hutton would be employed to make a small brick house for the meter inside the rails. At the quarterly meeting on January 14th, 1892 - Mr. Dymond, chairman, Messrs. Pickering, Turney, Goodman and Mr. Whitman, secretary - it was reported that Mr. Simmonds had finished the work at the furnace, and William Smith had been engaged at £1 1s per week. The meter had now been fixed on the Green but there had been much delay in the delivery of coal, and Mr. Eveson attributed this to the none return of some trucks. The secretary would therefore remonstrate with the railway company. The secretary then reported having received a notice from the Bedford and Grand Junction Canal Co. Their canal would cross the main, and he had ‘returned a dissent to the notice.’ Mr. Thomas had applied for leave of absence from Saturday 16th for a few days, and this was granted. Lately there had been complaints of a shortage in the supply of gas in Aspley Guise, and it seemed there was insufficient retort power to overtake the day’s consumption. Thereby it was resolved to renew the old bench of two retorts, and have them operational as soon as possible. The treasurer next produced the balance sheet for 1891, and with the cash balance being £177 14s 11d a dividend of 4% was recommended. The directors retiring by rotation were Mr. Goodman and Mr. Turney. At the A.G.M. on January 29th, 1892 with Mr. Goodman as chairman pro term and Mr. Pickering and Mr. Whitman in attendance, the dividend was supposed to have been paid, but since no quorum was present this was adjourned until Saturday 30th at 4p.m. - when no shareholders turned up!
The quarterly meeting on April 14th, 1892 was composed of Mr. Dymond, chairman, and the secretary, Mr. Whitman, who read a correspondence from Mr. G. Simmonds about the two retorts. Having fully discussed what had been said by Mr. Thomas, it was decided to ask Mr. Simmonds to give a price for the supply and fixing of two new retorts - of the same size as at present - and also a price for enlarging the oven, so as to take two retorts of a larger size, similar to those in the bench of four. However, at the quarterly meeting on July 14th, attended by Mr. Dymond, chairman, Messrs. Pickering, Goodman and Turney, the secretary produced a sketch made by Mr. Simmonds showing how, by pulling down the present benches of three and two, and building a new oven, he could place five oval retorts on one furnace. Yet due to the present circumstances it was decided that this was not appropriate, and the secretary would send Mr. Simmonds the dimensions of the oven containing the four retorts, and ask him whether he might be able to set five retorts within. If yes, then he would be asked to carry out the work at once but if no, he would be told to set a new lot of four in that oven, and at the same time set up two retorts in the middle oven. The secretary then produced a tender from Eveson to continue the coal supply at 19s 5d per ton but Mr. Walter Moore, of London, had also tendered, to supply Nunnery Coal at 17s 3d per ton, and a truck load of about seven tons would be obtained to ascertain the quality. Several of the iron sheets covering the roof of the retort house were now worn out and, to be well tarred on the underside before fixing, new ones would be obtained. At a special meeting on August 9th, 1892 with Mr. Dymond, chairman, and Messrs. Goodman and Turney being present, Mr. Whitman, the secretary, produced a memo of the results of the Nunnery coal, and it was decided to enter into a contract with Walter Moore for the supply of Nunnery Yorkshire Silkstone Screened Gas Coal during the ensuing year. Then, attended by Mr. Dymond, chairman, and Messrs. Goodman, Pickering and Whitman, at the quarterly meeting on October 13th, it was reported that the bench of two new retorts had just been fixed. However, ‘the four had not been got in’, and in fact it was then resolved that they would not be ‘got in’ until next March. An application had now been received from Mr. Thomas asking for an allowance of 2s 6d per truck for moving and unloading coal, and with this agreed the change would be noted on his contract. At the quarterly meeting on January 12th, 1893, composed of Mr. Dymond, chairman, Mr. Goodman, Mr. Turney and Mr. Whitman, amongst the several matters for consideration was that of a grate in one of the bedrooms of the cottage. This would be consequently reset, with the worn out grate in the living room replaced. The treasurer then produced a balance sheet showing a cash balance on December 31st of £151 4s 10d, and with a 4% dividend duly declared, the balance was carried forward. On other matters, Mr. Thomas had applied for a few days leave during the time that the night man was employed, and this was agreed. Mr. Goodman, ‘chairman pro term.’, Mr. Turney and Mr. Whitman attended the A.G.M. on January 27th, 1893, at which the payment of the dividend was to take place. However, in the absence of a quorum this was adjourned until the following day at 4p.m., but no shareholders attended. With the same attendance as the previous meeting, at the quarterly meeting on April 13th, 1893 the secretary reported having now received the bill for the January coal. This included an additional £1 4s 3d as 5% on the cost of carriage and in consequence he had written to the supplier, Walter Moore, stating that the directors would ‘expect a return of the £1 4s 3d when the Railway Company make an allowance by way of rebate which they have said they intend to do.’ Mr. Thomas had now taken his few days holiday, and the secretary was to write to George Simmonds asking him to come and set the bench of four retorts as soon as possible, ‘say in about a fortnight.’ It was then decided that the directors should visit the works twice each quarter ‘to see how the Works are carried on’, and the first visit would be made by Mr. Turney and Mr. Goodman on May 10th.
Present at the quarterly meeting on July 13th, 1893 were Mr. Turney, chairman pro term, Mr. Pickering, Mr. Goodman, and the secretary, Mr. Whitman, who reported that the four retorts had now been set ‘in a very satisfactory manner’ by Messrs. Gibbons Bros. of Dudley, since Mr. Simmonds had declined the offer of the work in writing. The secretary then produced an estimate from Walter Moore offering to supply 300 or 400 tons of Nunnery Silkstone Gas Coal, (the same as at present), at 15s 10d per ton, and this was agreed. As arranged at the previous meeting, Mr. Goodman and Mr. Turney had paid a visit to the works and confirmed that all was all in good order, although it was suggested that a ventilator should be placed at the top of the lime shed. The secretary would see to this at once, and Mr. Goodman and Mr. Turney then agreed to visit the works during the ensuing quarter to inspect the same. At the quarterly meeting on October 12th, 1893 in the presence of Mr. Dymond, chairman, Mr. Goodman and Mr. Turney the secretary, Mr. Whitman, said that he had now entered into a contract with Walter Moore. The ventilator at the lime shed had as yet not been fixed and so it was decided to cut away part of one of the upright iron sheets and fix louver boards in the opening. The coal supply had been maintained despite a strike, but although the price during August was 17s a ton, in October it was 19s 6d a ton. As for Mr. Millard, the secretary would again apply for payment of his arrears, and no further gas would be supplied until this finance was settled. Concluding the meeting, it was then agreed to re-point the chimney at the works in cement.
In 1878 William Swain had especially travelled by train from Birmingham to Woburn Sands, to be interviewed for the position of gas works manager. Successful in his application, he was then engaged to start in mid September, but despite having allegedly been vouched for by a former employer as ‘thoroughly honest, steady, and trustworthy’, the truth would be revealed as rather different.
‘William Swain’ was just one of several aliases used by William Milner Barratt, who was born at Swinefleet around 1848. Being amongst several skills a plumber and tinman, his father - also named William - had been employed in various gas positions in Leeds from 1860, and he became the manager of the Accrington Gas Company from 1869 until 1874. During this time he successfully brought an action against a member of the Board of Health for defamation, (a matter which not only gained attention in the local press but also an official journal), and from 1874 until 1895 he was employed as manager of the Grantham Gas Company, becoming the inaugural president of the Eastern Counties Association of Gas Engineers and Gas Managers in 1889. As for his son, in 1871 he was being employed as a gas manager at Cleethorpes and at the completion of a gas works at Rawcliffe, Yorkshire, (where a son was born in 1871), in their report of the opening the Selby Express of May 3rd, 1872 expressed ‘Thanks to Messrs. J.T.P. Porter & Co. engineers and contractors, of Gowtsbridge Works, Lincoln and Westminster Chambers, London and their representative in this district, Mr. W.M. Barratt for the construction of works of a suitable size.’ However, it would be in 1876 that William first appears to have strayed from the straight and narrow, for his name appears in September on official court records at Wakefield on two counts; 1/ ‘Obtaining by false pretences from Arthur Marshall Chambers and others, a quantity of coal, of the value of £23 4s 1d, their property, with intent to cheat and defraud them of the same, at Tankersley, on the 21st August, 1876’, and 2/ ‘Obtaining by false pretences from The Silkstone and Dodworth Coal and Iron Company Limited, a quantity of coal, of the value of £30 15s 3d, their property, with intent to cheat and defraud them of the same, at Dodworth, on the 30th August, 1876.’ For each offence he would receive a term of four months imprisonment.
Elsewhere in this book is told William’s ‘career’ at the Aspley Guise and Woburn Sands Gas Works, and it is sufficient to only mention here that at Aspley Guise one of his sons was born in 1878 although whilst the registration of the birth records Walter Swain, when the infant died 21 months later the official entry is made as Walter Barratt. From Aspley Guise William went to Swindon but apparently soon lapsed into his old ways since in February, 1880 his name appeared in the Grimsby Herald under the heading ‘Embezzler Arrested.’ ‘The late manager of the Swindon (Wiltshire) Gas Company was arrested in Grimsby the other day by two members of the borough police force, on a charge of having embezzled two sums of money of £22 each, belonging to his employers.’ His appearance at Swindon Court a few days later was then covered by the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette of March 4th, 1880, which reported on ‘Serious Charges against the Late Manager of the Gas Company - On Thursday William Barratt Swain, late manager of the Swindon Gas Company, was brought up in custody charged with having forged and uttered certain shares and with obtaining by false pretences certain sums of money, amounting to £80, from Mrs. Boneface on the above shares, representing them as being genuine ones. The evidence went to show that the prisoner obtained the original plate out of the company’s chest, and took it to London, and had other shares printed, forged the names of several managers on them, and then disposed of the shares as his own property.’ During the court case it was duly revealed that the ‘Prisoner produced most excellent testimonials, one of them being for fifteen years good service. There was a written agreement entered into and signed by the prisoner, who represented himself as the late Manager of the Bedford Gas Works.’ William additionally stated that because of financial troubles he had twice changed his name, hence Swain - one of the names of his wife - but it transpired that the testimonial of 15 years good service had in fact been written by his father! Also, as reported in a local paper it was revealed that the ‘Prisoner was addicted to intemperate habits, and upon being remonstrated with he tendered his resignation.’ Concluding the matter he was given a five years sentence, and at the age of thirty was serving this in Wormwood Scrubs. Three years after the end of his sentence William then sought a new life abroad, and from London arrived aboard the vessel ‘Orizaba’ on January 4th, 1888 at Victoria, Australia, with his wife, Louisa, and their four surviving children. Aged from three to eighteen they were all sons but Louisa was now pregnant again and Rose Ellen would be born in July in Port Fairy. This had been earlier known as Belfast and indeed it was in the Belfast Gazette of February 24th, 1888 that a report was carried of a Council meeting to consider the application for a gas stoker for the Corporation Gas Works. From all parts of the colony some forty applications were received but it was ‘Mr. Barrett, who is a new arrival in the colony, and possesses great experience in the manufacture of gas, & c.,’ who was appointed. In fact despite the position carrying a probationary period of two months he was nevertheless promoted to manager of the works a few days later, on March 7th. Yet on September 27th he then tendered his resignation, although of ‘His reasons for this sudden step we are not aware.’ However, this would prove only a temporary ignorance, for the Belfast Gazette soon revealed that in the Port Fairy Court of Petty Sessions on October 1st and October 4th his name, ‘William Milner Barratt’, appeared firstly with regard to an entry relating to a sum of £8 17s owing to Hutton Brothers ‘in default distress’, and secondly to Elizabeth Williams for £6 12s, for money lent and interest owed.
In fact there would be even more fraudulent occasions to consider for on November 2nd, 1888 the Belfast Gazette reported with indignation that ‘We have heard of many schemes promulgated for the express purpose of extracting money from the gentle and confiding public, but the particulars which we publish below exhibit one of the most impudent swindles which has come under our notice. A friend of ours from the city has let us into the secret and supplied documentary information, which shows that we have a comparative stranger in our midst who has been endeavouring to trap the unwary metropolitan public. The following advertisement appeared in the ‘Argus’ about a week ago (18 October):- ‘Clerk and Bookkeeper wanted; £3 10s per week. £50 cash security required. Apply , ‘Engineer’, Gordon and Gotch, Melbourne.’ In response to this very taking advertisement there were, we learn, over 100 applicants, all of whom were no doubt eager to secure the appointment, and many had to a certainty interviewed their friends so as to provide £50 deposit. On this deposit, the liberal advertiser proffered to pay five per cent interest, and in reply to applicants wrote: ‘If the terms commend themselves, let me know by return enclosing £5 cash deposit, Post office order, or banker’s draft.’ He had a decided objection to cheques, as he says, to his sorrow he had one for £100, which we suppose was useless. He was most anxious to secure the services of a competent and ‘smart’ man who would watch the interests of his employer, and adds by way of a reason for obtaining a perfect official: ‘Our last man has just levanted with a fortnight’s wages due to the men.’ The whole affair bears on the face of it an audacious attempt to fleece unsuspecting clerks, bookkeepers, &c. At the present time there are a large number of such persons out of employment, and seeing an advertisement in the ‘Argus’ offering such a promising opening, naturally there was a rush of applicants. If the schemer has succeeded in obtaining a ‘fiver’ each from the majority of the applicants, as a cash deposit, he would make a good haul out of the unfortunates. In order to protect the public we publish the following letter which was received by one of the unfortunate applicants:- ‘Engineer’s Office, Port Fairy (Belfast), October 22, 1888. Sir, - I am in receipt of your application as Clerk and Bookkeeper. I may say you are placed on the short list, out of nearly 100 applicants. I may say plainly we want a smart man, the duties are light, but we want a man that will match our interests. Our last man has just levanted with a fortnight’s wages due to the men, and as we are 70 miles away it has caused us much annoyance. The duties are these:- To receive all goods coming in. To credit them going off. To keep workmen’s time as posted up by Foreman. To receive all monies and pay them into bank or disburse them as instructed. To pay all wages and forward account if principal is not there. We want the best references, and must have them. I have given you in the rough what is required, omitting to state that on the £50 deposit we pay 5 per cent interest and the agreement is terminable and deposit returned on month’s notice either side. If those terms commend themselves let me know by return enclosing £5 cash, deposit, P.O.O., or banker’s draft; no cheques, I have one to my sorry for £100. I shall be in Melbourne on Thursday, and will then see you. I leave here tonight, shall be at home for an hour on Wednesday and come on to Melbourne.’ As the Gazette then pointed out, ‘It is needless to say there is no engineer in Port Fairy who has charge of any such establishment, and the whole affair is a pure fabrication.’
Three months later on January 29th The Belfast Gazette then named William Milner Barratt as the swindler; and duly reported the case of ‘One gentleman who had thoroughly believed in the advertisement from the ‘Engineer of the Port Fairy Gas Works.’’ In order to secure the appointment he had promptly sent his cheque for £25 but soon discovered that ‘he had been mercilessly sold by this arch swindler.’ To his disgust, after paying a visit to Mr. Barratt on Saturday, January 26th he found that he had been ‘simply robbed’ and returning immediately to Melbourne he issued a warrant for Barratt’s arrest; ‘The warrant will be executed this morning.’ Incredibly, in the same edition of the newspaper was also a report of Barratt’s behaviour the previous day, when at the court appearance of his namesake eldest son for burglary he, whilst under the influence of drink, caused ‘some consternation as well as amusement’ when in a loud voice he shouted “Mak em prove it Bill.” The police had to intervene, and after being sentenced to twenty four hours in gaol for contempt of Court while being lead away he could still be heard for some distance ‘reviling the Police and magistrates.’ Rearrested on his release from gaol the following day he was remanded to Footscray on February 9th, 1889 for ‘obtaining money by false pretences’ from John Thomas Sharples. Throwing himself ‘upon the mercy of the bench, on account of his wife and children he then received a sentence of three months hard labour’, and was released from Melbourne Gaol in early May. William Barratt is next mentioned in Sale, where he had successfully applied for the position of gas manager of the Borough of Sale gasworks. However, two weeks after taking up the position he was again in trouble, and claiming that his behaviour at Port Fairy had been relayed to his new employers he resigned on February 6th. As reported by The Gippsland Times, ‘The residents of Sale were considerably surprised on Wednesday afternoon to hear that Wm. M. Barratt, who had recently filled the position of gas manager for a short time, had been arrested for obtaining money by false pretences. Barratt sent in his resignation to the council yesterday week, and since then he collected gas rates without authority, hence the proceedings.’ Five months after his release, on December 17th, 1890 the Victoria Police Gazette then noted that a Harry Bowen was being sought for false pretences. The warrant for his arrest related to ‘-- false pretences on Walter Geo. Weight, bookkeeper, Hampden-road, Armadale, on the 24th ult. and 6th inst. Description:- Name no doubt assumed, supposed a Yorkshireman, 35 to 40 years of age, 5 feet 6 or 7 inches high, slight build, fresh complexion, sandy hair, beard, whiskers, and moustache, whiskers about 1½ inches long, thin features; wore eye-glasses attached by a silk string, chocolate-coloured tweed sac suit, striped pattern, brown hard hat, flat top, white shirt with imitation diamond collar stud, no tie, and elastic-side boots. Said to be known at Cremean’s Hotel, Swan-street, Richmond. Offender pretended to engage the complainant as bookkeeper at a salary of £3 10s a week for two months, and £4 a week afterwards. On the 24th ult. Offender obtained £3, and on the 6th inst. £7, from the complainant as part payment of £15, which he said he required as a guarantee of fidelity. Complainant answered an advertisement which appeared in the Melbourne Argus. It asked applicants to write to “Beta,” P.O., Mount Blowhard, Ballarat. Complainant wrote, and, in reply, received a letter with a printed heading “Bowen, Jones, and Co., general engineers, &c., Allendale.” He afterwards met offender in Richmond and Melbourne, and it was arranged that the complainant should go to Allendale on the 10th inst. Complainant did so, and found there was no such firm of engineers there, and that he had been swindled.’ Perhaps now of little surprise, the following week the Victoria Police Gazette then reported that “Offender (Harry Bowen) is identical with William M. Barratt. --- His wife and family live in North Creswick, but the offender is seldom with them.’
In the General Sessions of Melbourne, at his subsequent trial on February 6th, 1891 Barratt entered a plea of guilty on two counts, (three previous convictions being noted), and the verdict was passed that he should ‘be imprisoned and to be kept to hard labour in Her Majesty’s Gaol in Melbourne for the term of eighteen calendar months on each of the two counts the sentence on the second count to be cumulative on that of the first count.’ Eventually, on February 12th, 1891 he was then transferred from Melbourne Gaol to Pentridge from where, on May 23rd, 1893, he was released ‘to freedom by remission, earned 6 extra overtime marks.’ By the end of the year Barratt had successfully applied for the role of foreman of the Dandenong Shire Gas and Coke Company but in the middle of 1894 local newspapers then began to report on personnel disputes and failures of the gas supply. In fact in the July 5th edition of the Dandenong Advertiser under the heading of ‘That Gas’ it was reported that ‘On Sunday night (July 1st) in Dandenong during the church services the supply of gas was suddenly cut off. At the Wesleyan Church this was expected (a few prominent Wesleyans were connected to the gas company), and the service was held in the school room, but in the other churches considerable confusion and inconvenience was experienced. This is the second time that the gas supply ran short. On inquiry at the works we found that there was sufficient gas in the holder for the night but by some means it was cut off, or the pressure was impeded. It seems strange to the uninitiated why the holder should be kept so low. Why not fill it and keep it so?’
By a letter of August 6th, 1894 William Barratt then replied; ‘To the Editor of the ADVERTISER. Sir, Permit me to thank you for your out-spoken and honest remarks re the state of the works at the Dandenong Gas Company in your last issue. As I have for the last ten months been urging the company to put the works in order, and to be prepared for any emergency, I can thoroughly endorse the remarks you have made. Notwithstanding an item of £500 appearing on the balance-sheets as ‘improvements to works’, there is not a gas works in the colony where the retort-house is in such a wretched condition. The gas-holder in a short time will be completely corroded through for want of a little paint. I maintain that £500, if expended in maintenance since the company started, would have kept the whole concern in working order. But I always thought that wear and tear should be charged to profit and loss account, and not capitalised. In conclusion, permit me to state that had my advice been followed, the company could never have appeared in the ridiculous light (or darkness) they have appeared in during the last month. Thanking you in anticipation, I am, &c. W.M. Barratt. Dandenong, August 6th 1894.’ Not surprisingly William’s employment with the gas company ceased soon afterwards!
During his time at Dandenong William had become very active with the Wesleyan church and aspired to become a local preacher, an activity in which his father had been engaged for fifty years. Following a period of three months probation in April 1894 he then achieved his ambition but his personal behaviour, (aggravated not least by drinking), soon lead to him being removed from the local preacher’s duties. Despite such misdemeanours, over the next few months in Dandenong William continued to engage in his actions of false pretence, and under the heading of ‘Alleged False Pretences’ on December 3rd it was reported that ‘A charge of obtaining money under false pretences has been made against a man named William Barratt, an engineer, 45 years of age and he was arrested on Saturday afternoon by Detective Sergeant Whitney. The charge has been preferred by Mr. Sydney Jones, who alleges that in October last he replied to an advertisement inserted in the daily papers soliciting applications for the position of secretary to the Dandenong Brick Company.’ The advertisement was signed W. Barratt, secretary pro tem, and on receiving a reply to his application Mr. Jones made an appointment to meet the accused on October 27th. The appointment was duly kept, ‘and Mr. Jones alleges that after some conversation accused made a proposal that if Mr. Jones would pay him £20, accused would guarantee to procure for him the position, which was represented as a very lucrative one. Mr. Jones assented to this arrangement, but not having £20 in his possession, paid £3 on account and promised to hand over the balance later on. Subsequently he grew suspicious in regard to the transaction, and, after making some inquiries, swore an information and had a warrant issued for Barratt’s arrest. The accused will appear at the City Court this morning, when Detective Whitney will apply for a remand.’
Other local papers gave some additional and interesting information and in The South Bourke and Mornington Journal of December 5th there appeared ‘THE CHARGES AGAINST WILLIAM BARRATT - The news that Wm. Barratt had been arrested in Melbourne on a charge of obtaining money by means of false pretences must have surprised a large number of persons who knew him in Dandenong. He came to Dandenong under engagement with the local gas company, in whose service he remained for some time. Barratt apparently had a leaning towards the church, and after a probation of 3 months he was allowed to preach in some of the district churches. Baptism was his strong point, and he fought this question with the Rev. Pitman in the Dandenong town hall with ability above the common. The church with which Barratt connected himself subsequently had occasion to doubt his bona fides, and after inquiry struck him off the preacher’s roll. Barratt also fell out with the secretary of the gas company, Mr. A.W. Rodd, and ‘the light that failed in Dandenong’ a few months ago led to his being dismissed from his office as foreman. The charges against Barratt showed that he announced he was empowered to choose a secretary for a brick company to be established at Dandenong, and from each applicant he desired a ‘little com.’ for farming the billet. He tried the game locally at first and although he got one or two residents ‘on the string’ they managed to escape his machinations. He had a wider field for his ill-directed energy in the city, and is said to have obtained £3 from Sydney Jones and £10 from Elijah Bassett. The charges will be investigated at the City Court on Friday next. The location of the new brick works is said to be in Cr. Hemmings’ paddock, and Detective Whitney called on Cr. Hemmings on Tuesday afternoon in reference to the case, with the result that the latter has been subpoenaed as a witness.’ The following day the Dandenong Advertiser then gave its version: ‘Barratt, who was employed at the Dandenong Gas Works, is standing his trial for false pretences. Barratt was a local preacher for some time, but the stewards found out that he looked on the wine while it was red, and that his daily life was not in accord with his professions, therefore he was struck off the plan. According to the police records Barratt has served sentences before. He gulled the “Express” proprietors into printing articles which he then used to trap applicants for situations.’
The Bench had no hesitation in sending Barratt to gaol with hard labour for twelve months on each charge, the sentences to be cumulative, and being transferred on December 20th, 1894 from Melbourne Gaol to Pentridge, from there he was released ‘to freedom by remission, extra remission allowed by Inspector General’ on June 26th, 1896. Not that the months of imprisonment had much of a reforming effect for three years later he was in discussions with a group of Geelong businessmen about the financing of a successful - but completely non existent - gold mine! So impressed were the potential investors that they gave around £70 to Barratt, and by the time the hoax had been realised, he had gone. In fact it would be another five years before he answered this charge, and even by William’s standards the eventual apprehension differed completely from any of those which had occurred before. He was arrested at the Beechworth Gaol where, probably that very day, he had just finished a three months sentence, (as William Swain), for charges of false pretences in Benalla. The details were reported in The Victoria Police Gazette of August 4th which recorded that ‘W.B. SWAIN is charged, on warrant, with imposition on Alfred James Evans, storekeeper, Ballan, at Ballan, on the 2nd inst. Description:- 56 years of age, 5 feet 5 inches high, sandy hair, grey eyes, sandy moustache only, lost one upper front tooth, small scar bridge of nose, wore dark clothes. Is identical with William Barret (Long Sentence photo. No. 3850). Offender represented he was a local preacher for the Methodist Church. May assume the name of William Milner or William Milner Watson. Is identical with William Milner Barrett, wanted on warrant, for being a rogue and vagabond at Geelong.’ Then later in the month on the Register of Convictions, Orders and other Proceedings in the Court of Petty Sessions at Benalla for August 27th, 1904, for number 307 the charge read; ‘That the defendant on the 16 20 - and 25 day of August 1904 at Benalla as a Rogue & Vagabond within the meaning & intent of the Police Offences Act 1890 inasmuch as he did there and then impose upon informant (Harry Rouse) by means of a false representation verbally with intent to obtain money to wit £2/4/. Sentenced to three months imprisonment with hard labour.’ Barratt’s arrest soon followed and on November 30th, 1904 The Geelong Advertiser reported that ‘Superintendent Charles (Geelong) was notified by wire from Beechworth yesterday of the arrest there of William Milner Barrett on a charge of being a rogue and vagabond. The alleged offence relates to a sum of £69 obtained from Geo. Moody, of South Geelong, in connection with the flotation of a company as far back as 1899. The warrant was issued on May 5th, 1899, and Barrett has been formally remanded to appear at Geelong on the 3rd prox.’ At his trial the accused gave his age as fifty six years and his occupation as being a gas engineer, and sentencing him to two years hard labour the Chairman of the Bench pointedly remarked that ‘You came down here and swindled people of their hard-earned money.’ Barratt died of pneumonia in Geelong five months after his release in 1906, but this might be yet another confidence trick, since his grave in the Eastern Cemetery is unmarked.
HOW THE VILLAGE ACQUIRED ITS NAME.
Following the departure of the Romans, during the 5th century Britain was left defenceless against the invading attentions from across the North Sea of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes who, after initial probing raids, then began to establish settlements. The Anglo Saxons preferred locations situated on a rise or hill, usually near a stream, and one situation that gained their attention would develop into the village of Aspley Guise. ‘Aspley’, of the village name, is a derivation of the Anglo Saxon Aespe-leah, meaning an Aspen tree clearing, and often known as the trembling poplar Aspen trees must have been growing in some profusion at that time, indicating that the area was as well wooded then as it is today. (The addition of ‘Guise’ to the village name came in a following century, from a manorial family of later mention). Of the later Anglo Saxon period reference to land at Aspley is made in a regal charter of 969, whereby King Edgar the Peaceful grants ‘To my faithful servant Alwold, known to the learned of this island, and to his heirs forever the land of fifteen husbandmen in the place which by the vulgar is called Aepslea ----- the land is free from all service except military service, and the repair of the bridge and castle.’ The castle was probably that at Bedford. Convenient natural features would often demarcate the specified boundary, and in evidence an extract from the charter reads ‘---- thence to the apple tree where the three land boundaries meet: of the men of Woburn and of the men of Wafundun and of the men of Aepslea. From the deer gate over the heath to the combe, then round West Lea; from the lea to the chief field which is on the boundary of the men of Aesplea and along the old road to Dun’s Knoll; ----.’ During the time of Edward the Confessor, 1042 - 1066, Aspley was held of the Earl Waltheof by his female ward, Leveva, ‘in free socage’, which meant by service other than military. With the Norman Conquest, however, the ownership of the local land changed again, and for his service to William the Conqueror Hugh de Beauchamp was awarded the manor, installing Acard de Ivri as his tenant. As recorded in the Domesday Book, Aspley was now assessed at ten hides, or approximately 1,200 acres, and included a mill, valued at ten shillings. As for the community, this comprised sixteen villains and nine men of ‘lower status’ although ‘the villains employ only eight ploughs.’ This was possibly due to the area being well wooded, with there being ‘wood to feed fifty swine.’ Within a century Guy de Valery, a grandson of Ralph de Ivri, held the manor, and he was succeeded by his son, Reginald, from whom Aspley was held ‘at farm’ for a certain period by the notorious Falkes de Breaute, ‘a Norman of mean and illegitimate birth.’ Appointed sheriff of Glamorgan around 1221 by King John, Falkes proved an ‘able, unscrupulous, and Godless man’, and was thus well qualified to gain the further estimation of his monarch as a prominent leader in the King’s army against the Barons. Nevertheless, his actions lead to the confiscation of the Aspley manor in 1225, and the remaining term was then granted to Henry Capella. However, by 1227 Aspley had again returned to the direct possession of Reginald, who during that year released the whole of his ‘fee’ to Hubert de Burgh, Chief Justiciar to Henry III. When Hubert later fell into disgrace the manor was again confiscated, to be granted in 1233 to Robert Passelewe. Yet Hubert regained both his favour and the estate the following year, and remained in possession until his death in 1243. When his widow, Mary, Countess of Kent, and sister of King Alexander II of Scotland, died in 1259, the interest then passed to her stepson, John, who subinfeudated the manor, valued at £10, to Anselm de Gyse. It is indeed from this association that the ‘Guise’ of Aspley Guise would begin, although at the time the name of the village was spelled as ‘Aspelegise’. In 1267 Anselm was granted the right to hold both a market and a fair, with the market taking place on Fridays and the fair on the vigil and feast of St. Botolph, ‘and the two days following’, but both the market and the fair have long since been discontinued. Anselm died in 1295 and the inheritance then passed to his seventeen year old son John, who thereby acquired a messuage, a garden with a fishpond, seven acres of pasture, eighty acres of wood and the rents of free and customary tenants. In 1313 John then made a settlement of two thirds of the manor, (since his mother held the remaining third in dower), on his namesake son, who duly gained the interest in 1316. When he died in 1363 the succession next passed to a grandson, Anselm, who was then a minor in the wardship of William Tyrington and his wife, Joan, she possibly being the widow of John de Gyse. Probably commemorating Sir William, near the altar of the north aisle in Aspley Guise church may be seen a raised tomb which bears the arms of Tyrington and also supports the figure of a knight, the style of whose armour suggests a date of around 1400. Anselm came of age in 1375, and he retained Aspley until his death in 1412. The manor then descended to his twenty four year old son, Reginald, and by 1428 possession had been acquired by Giles Bridges, who had married Reginald’s widow, Catherine. Created a knight by Prince Arthur, Reginald’s grandson, John, died in possession of Aspley in 1501 and is probably commemorated in the church beneath the carpet of the north aisle by a brass, which depicts a man in plate armour, with shields of marriage alliance displayed at the corners of the slab. In 1540 his son John, then a minor of sixteen years of age, eventually negotiated with the Crown an exchange of Aspley Guise for lands more conveniently situated near his large property at Elmore, in Gloucestershire, and so came to an end the association of the Gyse family with the village. However, their past association is of course still recalled by the village name.
SIR RICHARD LEE AND THE FRENCH CONNECTION.
In 1541 Aspley became annexed to the newly formed ‘Honour of Ampthill’, which was granted in 1551 to Princess Elizabeth, (who later became Queen Elizabeth I), by the boy king Edward 6th. By royal award the interest was then granted in 1560 to Sir Richard Lee who, as a renowned military engineer, had whilst serving with the army at Calais in 1533 superintended the destruction of a roadway near Calais which, although belonging to the English, had been used by many others for a hostile intent. Complete with a bridge leading from the fortification into the English pale, the French then retaliated by building a strong castle on their boundary at Arde but much to their indignation Lee swiftly demolished the stronghold, which they promptly rebuilt! During the autumn of 1540 Lee was appointed Surveyor of the King’s Works, and in late 1544 he accompanied the main body of the northern army from Newcastle upon Tyne to Calais, from whence he proceeded to Boulogne. Here, during the siege of September he was charged with its defences and when in October the siege came to an end he was left with only 3,000 men and some pioneers. On hearing this the King then redirected the main body of his army to Boulogne and although 5,000 enemy troops now blocked the route from Calais, Lee nevertheless held Boulogne through sheer gallantry and the strength of the defences. In fact for this feat he was rewarded by the grant of several estates, of which he died possessed in 1575.
ST. BOTOLPH’S CHURCH.
Little remains of the early church at the village, since recent renovations have greatly altered the character of the building. However, the dedication to St. Botolph would suggest an early foundation, since he had been an English Benedictine monk of the 7th century who supposedly founded a monastery at Boston - Botolph’s town - in 654. In fact after his death in 680 the cult of St. Botolph became very popular, with some seventy English churches bearing his dedication, and although Botolph had no direct association with Bedfordshire, his influence may well have been brought by migrants escaping the Danish threat in eastern England. No evidence of a church prior to the Norman Conquest is now evident but Norman features are to be seen in the masonry of the north aisle and nave, dating from the early 13th century. The earliest mention of a priest occurs in 1166, and in fact the advowson of the church had been granted by Simon de Beauchamp to the Augustinian Newnham Priory near Bedford. However, on behalf of the prior of Dunstable Falkes de Breaute contested this right, whereupon Simon wrote to the bishop outlining the facts; ‘Simon de Beauchamp to his most holy father Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln, greeting! Be it known to your holiness that, when I founded the church of St. Paul of Newnham, I also gave the canons among others Aspley church. I did temporarily grant my vill of Aspley to my knight, Roger of Salford, until I could assign him for his service land elsewhere, but not the advowson; from which your holiness will know that no-one but the canons of Newnham has ever had from me or my ancestors any right to Aspley church. Farewell!’ With the position thus clarified, Newnham then presented Henricus de Carlion, ‘clericus’, to Aspley church in 1223. Four years later, including the manor and the advowson a grant of Aspley was made to Hubert de Burgh, although a settlement in 1240 especially excluded the church, for which in 1317 a confirmation of Simon’s original grant was made. During the next century the advowson was acquired from the monks by the Gyse family and after this acquisition a stone church seems to have been built, the evidence for which is to be seen in the tower and north arcade. From this period there also remains a 14th century font and a plain 15th century wooden screen of the north aisle, and in fact on the north aisle floor an obscure brass depicts a kneeling priest in prayer and may well commemorate John Danuers, the rector between 1395 and 1414. When Henry 8th declared himself Supreme Head of the English Church monasteries and chantries were dissolved, and land owned by one chantry at Aspley now went to endow a light in the church. From this period, on the north chancel wall inscribed with a skull a plaque commemorates William Stone. He was the rector from 1583 to 1617 but many rectors were unable to reconcile themselves with the new faith and in 1638 the Aspley rector, Zachary Seton, was called before the Archbishop’s Visitor of the Diocese to be ‘suddenly questioned for not reading the booke of Recreations to be used on the Lord’s day wherein your petitioner not being then resolved upon answer is suspended from his ministry.’ Zachary then wrote to Archbishop Laud to emphasise his impoverished state, since he ‘hath exercised his function in a peaceable way not intermeddling with anything that might to scisme or Faction And hath lately suffered an exceeding greate losse by a sudden Fire that befell him in his house which he hath not yet recovered.’ The Reformation effectively put an end to church building and general repairs, although at Aspley by 1665 a possible renovation had been carried out, since this date appears on the tower. More mundane repairs are recorded by the church accounts, and from 1704 entries include ‘Pd for mending the clappers of two bells £00 01s 08d’, and ‘to the Glazier for mending the church windows £00 01s 06d.’ More extensive repairs were carried out during the early 19th century, when the walls were greatly repaired and a new roof laid ‘of fir wood covered with Countess slate.’ On May 29th, 1824 an estimate for £52 by Robert Nixon of Woburn was then accepted for building a new gallery at the western end of the church, for the use of ‘the singers and poorest inhabitants’, and during the time of John Vaux Moore as the rector further repairs were made. Then on May 2nd, 1844 a decision was made for as much of the church as necessary to be taken down, rebuilt and enlarged, and in consequence during 1855 came the addition of the south aisle financed by the Reverend Moore, with further attention being effected to the tower. Buried in the adjoining churchyard, the Reverend Moore died in 1864 and an extract from his will may be seen inscribed on a plaque of the sanctuary. During the incumbency of the Reverend James Chadwick Maltby, 1880 to 1915, a new peal of six bells by Taylor of Loughborough was hung in 1883, and in 1884 the upper part of the tower was rebuilt at a cost of £150. At a restoration of the church in 1890 the organ chamber, vestries and south chapel were then built at a cost of £2,200, with the organ enlarged in 1897 for the sum of £350. In the early 20th century the lord of the manor, the Reverend H. Moody, gave an acre of land on the opposite side of the road as a burial ground, whilst those who fell during World War One are remembered by a plaque of the north chapel wall. Nearby, a window recalls Charles Ronald Vaughan Grimshawe, a lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry, who fell near Bouvancourt in 1918. After World War Two a crucifix by Charles Blakeman was then placed above the altar of the north chapel, in memory of those who died in both the World Wars. More recently, the interior of the church was redecorated in 1954 under the supervision of Professor Albert Richardson, with the walls then acquiring a wash of white preservative.
DIVISIONS OF FAITH
Apart from the established church, the village became the religious home for several dissenting factions, including that of the Quaker faith. Ann Cartwright, who by marriage had brought Old House to the How family, was the daughter of Mercy Cartwright, one of the earliest ‘Friends’ in Bedfordshire, and thereby suffered much persecution. Thomas How also suffered for his beliefs, through not paying tithes and church rates, but nevertheless his sons, Thomas and Richard, continued in the Quaker faith. Apprenticed to a London linen draper, Theodore Ecclestone, who was an active ‘Friend’ in the City, Richard eventually became his partner and he also took over the property of his brother, Thomas, in Aspley Guise. When the Quakers organised a petition to Parliament against slave trading, it was Richard who wrote to the 5th Duke of Bedford that he might ‘humbly recommend the cause to my Lord dukes attention’, the Society of Friends having ‘long lamented the grievous oppression under which these most wretched of all human beings, the Africans, groan.’ Eventually the activities of the Quakers came to an end in Aspley Guise during 1873, when the last meeting closed.
Amongst others of religious dissent, on October 26th, 1809 came the registration of that ‘house in the village of Aspley in the County of Bedford in the occupation of Thomas Candy having on one side the Tenement of James Fensam and on the other the dwelling house of Thomas Sear.’ This was ‘forthwith to be used as a place of public worship for Protestant Dissenters’ and in 1813 a Wesleyan chapel at Mount Pleasant was then built, as also situated across the road from the Anchor Inn, an ‘Evangelical Free Church’ in 1842, in which until her death in 1906 Miss Emma Courtenay ‘preached the Gospel of God’s Grace’ from 1868. With the straw thatch replaced by tiles, a complete restoration of the building then followed, with the straw thatch replaced by tiles and a re-dedication took place as the Courtenay Memorial Church.’
A SCHOOL OF EXCELLENCE
The village once accommodated a school of national renown and by the words of one ex pupil and head boy ‘Rugby was the only school in England, with the exception of Eton and Harrow, which could compete with Aspley.’ The school, founded around 1720, occupied those 18th century premises of Guise House which remained more lately behind brick walls as Powage Press, in Church Street and whilst a few of the masters lived in the House, many others, possibly married, occupied dwellings in the Avenue. In fact this is still bordered by a line of stately Scotch pine that date from the Battle of Culloden, in 1746. In 1782 William Wright became the master of the school, ‘a man of plain commonsense united to a frankness of heart and liberality of disposition’, and in 1793 additional pupils were then being sought, ‘for the smallpox has caused some vacancies.’ Yet eventually the school became set upon healthier foundations with ‘fever scarcely ever known’, and indeed ‘Sickly half nourished London boys nearly doubled their weight in six months’ - perhaps a contributory factor to William’s request for the construction of a gallery in Aspley church for the accommodation of his pupils. As reads from ‘The humble Petition of William Wright of the parish of Aspley Guise in the Archdeaconery of Bedford and Diocese of Lincoln, Schoolmaster’, ‘---- he is engaged in a considerable School for the Education of youths, but that he is destitute of a convenient Seat or Pew in the said Parish Church for himself and family wherein to perform the Duties of such worship’, and ‘---- your petitioner further shows that there is a convenient place at the W. End of the said Church, near the Belfry, to erect and build a gallery, with a convenient staircase to the same containing in length thirty two feet and nine feet in Width to stand on columns, and Entrance thereto to be on the South side of the Parish church Which gallery he is desirous of having ----’. It was perhaps hardly surprising that William needed this extra space, for the school then comprised himself and eight assistants, ninety seven boarders, five servants - ‘Men and Boys’ - four ‘Mistress and Friends’ and six women servants. In fact it would be on May 1st, 1799 that William obtained permission to build the gallery, above which in 1824 a second gallery was then erected for the use of ‘the singers and poorest inhabitants.’ Both galleries have long been removed but on the west wall of the nave may still be seen the outline of a doorway that lead from the tower to one of them. During his period as the master, for a while William occupied Old House together with his wife, whilst as for the pupils they occupied dormitories and were allowed amongst several privileges to enjoy a half holiday on their birthdays, and to also stable their own hunters. If required, extra tuition was available as evidenced by a prospectus of 1810 in which it is included that ‘the Pupils, whose parents desire it, may have the additional advantage of being privately instructed in any of the above branches (dancing, drawing, music) after school hours at One Guinea per Quarter’. Subjects on the school curriculum included English, Latin, Greek, French, writing, arithmetic, ‘Merchants Accompts.’, geography, trigonometry, navigation, practical surveying and the ‘use of the Globes and other useful parts of mathematics.’ On December 5th, 1807 aged fifty five William Wright died after ‘It pleased the Almighty to afflict him with a painful and lingering illness, which he bore with exemplary Patience, cheered by the faithful Hope of a happy life beyond the Grave.’ He lies buried in Aspley Guise church and is commemorated by a north aisle monument, having left seven children and a widow ‘whose affection hath erected this Memorial.’ For a while a younger son, the Reverend Samuel Wright, continued the school and in 1815 the Reverend Richard Payne of Pembroke College, Oxford, bought the premises for £4,300 plus associated farms at Aspley Guise and Husborne Crawley. When for £16,800 he later sold all of this, the school then closed in 1840. Twenty years later Dr. Henry Lovell, formerly of Winslow Hall and Mannheim, attempted a revival and as recorded in 1869 ‘--- about fifty resident pupils, sons of gentlemen, are prepared for the universities and public schools.’ However, fortunes finally came to an end for the Aspley Guise school in 1873, when eventually all the buildings and farms were auctioned. Of the more famous of the pupils one became a celebrated architect, Sir Robert Smirke, 1781 - 1867, who having entered the schools of the Royal Academy in 1796, became articled to Sir John Soane, with whom he duly remained for a few months. Winning the Academy gold medal for the design of a National Gallery in 1799, Robert then studied abroad for a while and in 1807 was appointed as architect to the Board of Trade. His work included much of the former Mint on Tower Hill and a re-building of Covent Garden theatre. Unfortunately this was destroyed by fire in 1856, and in 1829 York Minister had also become a victim of fire although it would be partially to Robert‘s design that the restoration would be made. Yet he is perhaps best remembered for the British Museum, which was commenced in 1823 and completed in 1847.
TRADES AND OCCUPATIONS
Not surprisingly, many early occupations concerned agriculture and by the time of Henry 8th two local manorial courts were held each year, one in April and one in October. In the presence of a jury these were presided over by the steward of the manor, and with two constables presenting the accused, two ‘affeerers’ were appointed to fix fines. The rules of the court included that ‘It is ordered that noe person suffer his hogs to goe unringed on paine to forfeit to the Lord of the Manor for every hogg so taken and offending’, and amongst the cases the affeerers had to consider was that in 1545 when the rector, Richard Stratton, suffered a fine, along with others, for allowing his sheep to graze on the ‘Best Pasture.’ This was in contravention of the manorial rules, and in April of the following year the constables then presented ‘that Pernell Coke has broken the common park of our lord the King and has taken out of it her beasts lawfully captured and imparked.’ In 1560 two village windmills are mentioned, their sails no doubt much ruffled by that tremendous wind which, levelling many houses, blew over Bedfordshire in 1672. One windmill stood on Wednesdon, (later Wensdon), Hill and the other near to a water mill, of which a reference is made in the late 17th century by the terms of the lessee, that he ‘shall not suffer any person or persons whatsoever, to Kill, take or Catch ffish any manner of ways out or in the Mill pond aforesaid belonging to the said Water Mill.’ A little later, in 1711 an interesting entry appears in the registers of the church recording the burial of the wife of a ‘toy-man’, who also supplemented his unusual income by grinding knives. In 1759 the first enclosure of Aspley mentions thirty seven proprietors, although only seventeen were Aspley men. Of those who owned common right, but held no land, Thomas Butcher, appropriately a butcher, and John Byworth each received £6 5s as compensation, and since the common lands were now under new ownership the Act made provision ‘That the several persons to and amongst whom the said common lands or waste lands shall be divided in pursuance of this Act shall yearly for ever hereafter in the month of March in every year deliver or cause to be delivered at a place in the village of Aspley Guise called the Cross Trees, one thousand Faggots of Firs such are usually sold at six shillings per hundred, for the Poor of the said Parish for the time being in such manner and proportion as the Inhabitants of the said Parish assembled in the Vestry shall from time to time think proper and direct’. ‘--- the person so neglecting shall pay sixpence for each faggot not delivered.’ In fact on March 25th, 1880 it would be decided that this ‘faggot money’ would be distributed to all labourers, and those earning less than 12s a week who lived in the village but did not own land. The money would be invested in the Post Office Savings Bank, to be distributed as coal by ticket. The parish sandpit remained for the use of the poor. As long as the sand was not sold they could take as much sand as they wished and the local clay pits also continued to be the ‘antient privilege of the Rector and parishioners of Aspley Guise to gather or take and carry away clay’ from the pits as before. By the Enclosure Act the heath and sheep pasture on the west side of the Newport Pagnell to London road would be common sheep pasture, where the poor were allowed to gather ferns and other fuel, but their rights were soon lost as people began to settle on the Heath. In fact until 1883 the whole of the Heath formed a part of the parishes of Aspley Guise and Wavendon but the Aspley section then became a new parish, and some two years later part of the Wavendon parish was added to form around six hundred acres. Lucrative employment was then created during the 18th and 19th century by shaft mining for Fullers earth, and the evidence for this was revealed by open cast work in 1958, which uncovered the remains of underground galleries. An early mention of local brick working occurs on July 12th, 1652 when the indictment is recorded of Jasper Webb, a village bricklayer, for assaulting Rebecca, the wife of Thomas Ellingham. Brick kilns were in operation around 1745 on the west side of the road between Woburn and Woburn Sands on Aspley Heath, and a kiln a quarter of a mile north of the railway on the west side of the Salford road behind ’Braystone’ was still in operation at the turn of the 19th century. However, once worked out the pits were then left to become water filled. In 1830 the average farm labourer depended on the Poor Law for 15% of his meagre income, and under the Poor Law relief funds were administered by the local overseers who were elected in each parish. Outdoor relief then came to an end in 1834, and the old and infirm would instead be sent to Workhouses, each of which served a Union of some dozen parishes. Regarding the annual election of two Guardians of the parish poor, pursuant to a notice having been nailed, on April 11th, 1835, to the door of Aspley Guise church, on February 3rd of the following year a resolution was made to sell by Public Auction the Poor Houses and associated land, as required by the Act. On October 7th, 1836 a decision was then made to sell the newly built Poor House and the three cottages attached, and on March 6th, 1840 came a report that £60 9s had been appropriated, ‘being the proceeds of Parish Property towards Liquidation of the Parish Debt incurred in Building the Union Workhouse.’ Those fortunate to be employed on the Duke of Bedford’s estate were undoubtedly privileged, as much through sound accommodation as by employment, and the Bedford insignia is still to be seen on many examples of the housing. In fact to remedy the problem of supplying water to his local estates, between 1900 and 1902 the Duke caused the sinking of several exploratory bore holes, and eventually the one that was sunk in Woburn Lane proved satisfactory. This lead to the formation in 1911 of the Aspley Guise, Aspley Heath and Woburn Sands Drainage and Water Supply Joint Committee to administer the supply, and the waterworks and pumping station in Aspley Lane were opened by the Duke on June 8th, with the water being pumped two and three quarter miles into a reservoir at Aspley Heath.
A HEALTHY SITUATION
From 1856 the wooded situation of Aspley Guise lead to a certain fame, when the village first achieved note as an inland health resort. A pamphlet informed visitors that the attractions included a temperature fluctuation greatly less than many other ‘refuges for invalids’, and the village was ‘Not so much a spa as a curative resort and known for its air and not its water.’ Those troubled by bronchial complaints were supposed to especially benefit, and the increasing popularity of Aspley Guise soon lead to an acute shortage of accommodation. This then gave rise to the developments at Woburn Sands and Aspley Heath, perfect locations from where to take advantage of the ‘dry and salubrious climate’, enhanced by the picturesque scenery.
The local soil was once renowned for an ability to turn wood into stone, and in the reign of William 3rd one writer recorded ‘From thence I went to Aspley, eight miles, where the earth turns wood into stone and had a piece of it; it seems it’s only one sort of wood, the Alder tree, which turns so, and lay or drive a pail or stake into the ground there, in seven years its petrified into stone.’ Even Victor Hugo mentions the phenomena in the ‘Laughing Man’, referring in Southwark gaol to a stone ladder dug up at ‘Aspley Gowiz.’ Then in the ‘Polyolbion’ of 1612 Michael Drayton found himself moved to verse;
‘The Brook which on her Bank doth boast that Earth alone,
During the following century it was written that ‘At Aspley Gower is a small Stream which petrifies Wood’, although in the 19th century came the contradiction that ‘We can assert from unquestionable authority, that there is no such spring in the parish.’ There might the matter have rested, except that in more recent times a piece of petrified wood was found beneath the floorboards of a cottage in School Lane!