St Ebbe’s: The gasworks

The above print (entitled “View of Oxford, from the meadows near the gas works”) was scanned by Richard Wayne from a copy of the picture in his possession. Painted by F. Mackenzie and engraved by J. Le Keux, it was published on 1 November 1835 by J. H. Parker of Oxford, C. Tilt of Fleet Street, London and J. Le Keux of Harmondsworth.

On 7 November 1818 the following notice was posted in Jackson's Oxford Journal:

Oxford Paving and Lighting Acts.
NOTICE is hereby given, That a Meeting of the Commissioners will be held at the Town Hall, on Monday the Twenty-third instant, at Twelve o'clock at noon, for the purpose of taking into consideration and determining on the propriety and expediency of entering into a Contract with the “Oxford Gas Light and Coke Company,” for lighting the University and the City and Suburbs of Oxford, and the Parish of Saint Clement, with Gas.
    And Notice is hereby further given, That at such Meeting new Commissioners will be elected in the room of those who are dead or refuse to act.
        By Order of the Commissioners, R. & B. MORRELL, Clerks.
    Oxford, Nov. 4, 1818

The Company was duly incorporated, and gas-works were built on the north bank of the River Thames on a two-acre site in the Friars district of St Ebbe’s, and gas street-lighting was introduced in 1819.

In 1869 the company was re-formed and expanded to include St Giles’s, Cowley, Iffley, Headington, North and South Hinksey, and Botley. In 1882, when it had 3,690 customers, the company built a railway connecting its works with the GWR line via a new bridge (below) across the river. (St Ebbe’s had expanded enormously since 1818, and there was only room for the gas company to put up new gasholders on the south bank of the river.)

Bridge at the gas works

In 1948 the South Midland Gas Corporation (as it was then known) applied to enlarge the works, but this was opposed by both City and University. The company was nationalized in 1948 and became known as the Southern Gas Board, and in 1952 they agreed to vacate the St Ebbe’s site in return for £250,000 compensation. The works were closed in 1960, and the last two gasholders were demolished in 1968. Gas was supplied from Reading and Southampton until the advent of natural gas in 1970.

Gas street lamps

In 1819 the gas lamps of Oxford were lit from sunset to sunrise, except during the three summer months. In 1833 there were 225 gas lamps in the then much smaller city. In 1931 out of the two thousand street lamps in Oxford, only a hundred were electric; and even as late as 1963 there were 1,820 gas lamps and 3,260 electric.

Photographs of Oxford gasworks in St Ebbe's

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