Jody Baker: Mrs. Bayns And The Gas, Light And Coke Company

Saturday, February 16, 2013 - by Jody Baker

It was a London night in Surrey. The fog had settled in so dense that beads were forming on the windows and rolling down the panes. Our home is not luxurious by Victorian standards. But it affords us all of the comforts that we want or need. We are not wealthy by London standards. We are wealthy by the standard of him who said: “Wealthy is the man who wants slightly less than what he has.” (“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” - Epictetus) 

Mrs. Baynes told me that she has heard that soon we are to receive gas lighting for our cottage. London’s Gas Light and Coke Company (chartered in 1812) is laying gas lines in central Surrey from Escher down to Oxshott. Since we live about midway between the two, we will be able to make our connection soon. Mrs. Baynes has already been shopping for gas-lit fixtures that we shall install when we are connected up. 

Tonight she has before her a copy of Dr. Watson’s report on the Copper Beeches matter along with several other papers on foolscap. “Inspector,” she said softly, “since we shall have gas lighting soon, let me read to you how your friend Dr. Watson writes in such realistic and descriptive language where he mentions gas lighting. 

“He says this:  ‘It was a cold morning of the early spring, and we sat after breakfast on either side of a cheery fire in the old room at Baker Street. A thick fog rolled down between the lines of dun-coloured houses, and the opposing windows loomed like dark, shapeless blurs through the yellow wreaths. Our gas was lit and shone on the white cloth and glimmer of china and metal, for the table had not been cleared yet.’ 

“Isn’t that marvelous,” she said. “So vivid and graphic that you can almost feel the chill of the fog and the warmth of the fire.” 

“Verisimilitude, my dear.” I stifled a smile. 

She didn’t break stride. She asked, “What do you know about illuminating gas?” 

“Well, I know they don’t pipe it to us across the Big Pond  from Texas.” 

“Don’t get smart with me, big boy,” she shot back. 

Soothingly, I replied, “I do know that Josiah Amberly, the Retired Colourman,  used household gas to murder his wife and a young doctor in a case over near Lewisham.  That case was solved by Inspector MacKinnon of the Yard, with a bit of help from Mr. Holmes.” 

“But do you know anything about how the household gas is produced.?” she persisted. 

“Not really, but....” 

She interrupted, smiling the smile of one who is about to begin a lecture. And then she began: “Coke is used to convert iron to steel, but to make coke you’ve got to cook a bunch of coal and drive off certain by-products. They call that the `destructive distillation process.’ Now, two of those by-products are coal tar and coal gas.” Are you listening, Inspector?  It begins to get good here. “Since 1733 it was known that coal gas was flammable, but nobody found any good uses for it. For years the coal tar and gas were waste by-products. 

“Then in 1771,” she continued, “ along comes a bright young man by the name of William Murdoch. William worked for a company that was operated  by James Watt — you know, the guy that invented the modern steam engine. Murdoch was working at Watt’s Soho foundry works, and he thought that he could find a commercial use for this coal gas so it wouldn’t all go up with the smoke. Well, Murdoch experimented over and over. At last with the support of Gregory Watt --- a son of you-know-who --- Murdoch got the company to manufacture small commercial gas-producing units to be installed right on the buyers’ premises. These were used for gas light for the mills and factories. Now, that was a giant step forward, and by 1804 these units were being sold all over the place. 

“Then along came Frederick Winsor.  Now, he’s the guy that demonstrated, in 1807, that this coal gas could be produced in a central location and piped out to gas lamps. To prove his point, he and Thomas Sugg, a plumber, laid pipe and sent the gas supply to 13 gas lamps erected up and down Pall Mall. 

“Things are picking up here, Inspector, and you’d better listen. For years Winsor was deep in debate and lobbying with members of Parliament. Then, finally, a Royal Charter was granted. This was signed on April 30, 1812, by King George III, himself. It established the London and Westminster Gas Light and Coke Company (known, generally, by the name of the  Gas Light and Coke Company). Well, Inspector,  Winsor was `off-to-the-races.’ 

“He now had the first commercial gas company in the world. They built the gas works to produce the gas, and they set about laying wooden pipes to carry the gas. They illuminated Westminster Bridge on New Years Eve in 1813. A beautiful sight to behold. This is the same Gas Light and Coke Company that is bringing gas to us.” 

She had plans to continue her lecture on into the night. She pulled out another sheaf of papers, “Inspector, the other by-product of coke is coal-tar. Sherlock Holmes seems to know a bit about coal-tar, and I will tell you about that next?” 

She paused, looked up and cried out: “Inspector, are you listening?  Inspector!-- Oh, for heaven’s sake.” 

I woke up with a start and sat bolt upright in my chair and rubbed my eyes. I looked at Mrs. Baynes and said, “It’s late, my dear, and I think I’d better walk the dog around the yard before I retire.” 

I exited the room and quietly closed the door behind me. Mrs. Baynes continued to sit --  puzzled, silent and stunned.  As you know, we have no dog. 

Respectfully, 
Insp. Baynes


(Jody Baker is a Chattanooga attorney, who specializes in Sherlock Holmes lore. He can be reached at josiahbaker@bkhcw.com.) 


Sincere Thanks To The County Commission

It seems good government can raise its head every once in a while, so we must thank our County Commissioners for listening to the voice of the vast majority of the taxpayers, and not buying what Superintendent Rick Smith was selling last Wednesday as he pitched his tax increase.  The "it's for the children" ploy didn't work so far this time, so I guess our high-paid superintendent, ... (click for more)

Send Your Opinions To Chattanoogan.com

We welcome your opinions at Chattanoogan.com. Email to news@chattanoogan.com . We require your real first and last name and contact information. There is no word limit, but if your article is too long you may lose your reader. Please focus more on issues than personal attacks. (click for more)

EPB Seeks 3.5% Rate Increase; First Since 2011

EPB on Friday morning asked its board of directors to consider a 3.5 percent rate increase to monthly electric power charges for customers, effective July 1. The board is set to vote on the measure in June. For residential customers who use 1,000 kWh of electric power in a month, this adjustment will reflect an increase of about $3.50 on their monthly bills. The 3.5 percent ... (click for more)

Garcia Charged With Armed Robbery Of Red Bank Dollar Store

Red Bank Police have charged 25-year-old Derek Matthew Garcia with the armed robbery of the Dollar General Store at 4707 Dayton Blvd. Police Chief Tim Christol said the robbery occurred last Friday at approximately 12:30 p.m. when Garcia entered the store armed with a knife and demanded the clerk give him all the money from the cash register. He was arrested Thursday ... (click for more)

Signal Mountain Girls Win Second Straight A-AA Track Title

MURFREESBORO – The Signal Mountain Eagles won last year’s Class A-AA state track title by a scant six points, but it wasn’t nearly that close this year. With Camryn Bowman and McKenzie Ethridge both winning two events, the Eagles had a one-point lead following the field events, but ending up scoring 96 points and winning by 24 over runner-up East Nashville. While Signal Mountain ... (click for more)

Baylor To Face GPS Again For D-II State Softball Title

MURFREESBORO – It will be another Baylor-GPS battle for the championship in Division II softball as Baylor advanced with a 10-3 win over St. Benedict while GPS later beat the Lady Eagles by a 2-0 final for the right to face the Lady Red Raiders again. This year’s D-II tournament was similar to last year as Baylor beat GPS on the first day before the Bruisers came back and beat ... (click for more)