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March 2022 Item of the Month

Gas prices were already high this year even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and have since skyrocketed. This week a volunteer working with our collection of estate vouchers in the Grey Family Papers came across this gas bill from 1850. The familiar meter dials catch the eye, and would normally have been used for the London Gas-Light Company to provide its customers with a visual record of their meter reading. In this case the company was supplying gas to Henry 3rd Earl Grey for lighting no. 3 Carlton Terrace in London. Gas powered street lighting was first demonstrated in London in Pall Mall, one street over from Carlton Terrace, in 1807 by Frederick Winzer, who first patented the technology in 1804.

The invoice appears to be the first reading on this gas meter, made on 16 April 1850 for 35,000 cubic feet of gas at 6 shillings / 1,000 cubic feet and totals £10 12s. The Bank of England’s inflation calculator converts this cost to £1,432 today. This volume of coal gas is the equivalent of roughly 5,627 KWh of gas heating, which at today’s prices would be nearly £400 (to which should be added a standing charge value, perhaps £25 if this is a quarterly bill). The coal gas will have been produced at the company’s Vauxhall Gardens Gas Works by burning coal in a retort oven and then storing it in a gasholder. The company’s records are held in the National Gas Archive in Warrington.

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