Bristol was lucky enough to have one of the pioneers of commercial gas lighting, John Breillat, living in the city. John advertised in The Bristol Gazette of 1811 that he would illuminate his own house on September 5th 1811 and give a descriptive lecture on the subject. He formed the Bristol Gas Company in 1815 and by 1816 gas mains had been laid in the streets around what is now the Centre. On the left we have a small section from a portrait of John Breillat which is to be found in Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.
This idea began to spread to the smaller towns. By 1833 the streets of Stroud were illuminated by gas lamps thanks to William Stears, a gas engineer from Leeds. In 1839 William Stears instructed Richard Scarlett to write to Thornbury’s mayor, John Thurston.
I beg to inform you that some of the principal inhabitants of this town having contemplated the lighting of the town with Gas and having conferred with Mr Stears the engineer of the Stroud Gas company thereon, I have received W. Stears instructions to submit the subject to your consideration and at the same time to state that in the event of its being carried into effect he considered the site of the old cottages and garden occupied by Betty Everett and others belonging to the corporation would be most suitable for the necessary buildings.
I also beg to inform you that a preliminary meeting of the inhabitants will be held at one o’clock to take the subject into consideration at which meeting the honour of your attendance is respectfully requested; in the meantime you will perhaps be so good as to to learn the sentiments of the corporation as to granting a lease of the premises in the event of the suggested measure being effected.”
The Mayor’s Account Book and the copy of Richard Scarlett’s letter in Gloucester record office indicate that both the special meeting of the corporation and what seems to have been a lively meeting at The Swan appeared to support this idea. There was a poem composed about the meeting.
The main problem was the positioning of the gasometer. The cottages referred to were on what is now The Plain near the corner with St Mary Street so the gasometer would have been right in the central part of Thornbury. The council decided to obtain “every information possible as to whether the erection of such a building would be the occasion of any nuisance or annoyance in the way of smoke effluvia or otherwise to all or any of the inhabitants of the town.”
This problem could have been one reason why the implementation of the decision to have gas was a long time in coming.
We have not yet seen the Thornbury Gas Light and Coke Co documents (date range 1852-1896 and reference number 96640) or the Board of Trade: Companies Registration Office documents (Files of Joint Stock Companies registered under 1844 and 1856 Act, date range 1844-1860 and reference BT41/681/3719) which ar