TAUNTON LIT BY PEAT GAS
In 1898 and again in 1944 readers of the Taunton Courier were intrigued by the idea of Taunton being lit by Peat Gas (rather than coal gas).
In 1898 the writer commented “I fancy I remember hearing some very old inhabitants once talking about it and saying what a splendid light it gave.
After some research another reader come up with the relevant article dated 1851.
This town was last night, from 7 to 9 o’clock, brilliantly illuminated with gas evolved from Peat, or Turf., a substance abounding in the eastern part of this country, and especially in the neighbourhood of Glastonbury, Street and Wedmore. The jet was of unusual brightness and left no doubt of its decided claim to preference over the ordinary gaseous supply. The present, however, was only an experimental trial, and it will be for the Gas Company, by whom it was made, to determine whether it is entitled to their permanent adoption.
19 March 1851 -
Interestingly peat gas was put forward as a substitute because -
“The gas afforded by peat is far superior to that produced from coal, and the light it sheds is far more brilliant, whilst it is not subject to sulphur, and consequently needs no purification. As a proof of it purity, a piece of white paper placed over the flame yielded by peat gas will remain unsullied and it is moreover free from any offensive smell.”
And because of its “purity” it caused no damage to furniture and furnishings.
Several writers in 1898 then commented that there were no further records of peat having been used as a means of supplying gas for lighting.
“Savage” notes the institution of the Gas Company in 1821:
“The town of Taunton is lighted with lamps (query of whale oil and somewhat odoriferous) during the winter half of the year. A company was instituted in the autumn of 1821 for the purpose of lighting the town with coal gas. The company proposes to commence its operations in the autumn of the present year (1822).”
“It is very likely that experiments were made at Taunton to see if illuminating gas could be produced from peat, but certainly the town was never lit by it. Other substitutes for coal were suggested (rosin, wood and peat) but never used commercially. Coal gas had a disagreeable smell and spoilt everything that came near it. The next best lighting material was whale oil, but that was still less acceptable to delicate noses. In 1807 there was only one street in the world lit by gas, Pall Mall, but in 1839 even Sydney in New South Wales had gas lamps.”
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