8. Bristol's utility companies.

Collectively, the new public service industries of the nineteenth century changed the whole way of city life. The gas industry is a case in point. Originally, the chief use of gaslight was to keep factories open for longer hours, but its potential for illuminating city streets was soon recognised. The process, pioneered in the 1790s, was already lighting parts of London by 1810; in 1817, the first lamps of the Bristol Gas Light Go. shone in the centre of Bristol. A second supply company - the Bristol & Clifton Oil Co. - was incorporated in 1823, initially, as the name suggests, with the intention of producing gas from oil instead of coal. The two companies merged in 1853 as the Bristol United Gaslight Co., and, as the area supplied gradually widened, gasholders were constructed to supply Kingsdown and Cotham (1857), Barton Hill (1874), Bedminster (1896) and Horfield (1899). The biggest gasworks, which began production in the 1880s, occupied a 40-acre site in Eastville near Stapleton Road. The industry continued to grow rapidly in the twentieth century. In the inter-war years, industrial sales fell away, but this was more than offset by the rising popularity of gas for cooking. By 1930, when there were 101,600 consumers in the city, it was estimated that more than 90 per cent of cooking in Bristol relied on gas. The Bristol Gas Co. was nationalised in 1949. Production continued at Stapleton Road until coal gas was superseded in the 1970s by natural gas from the North Sea.#20

A second Victorian development, possibly even more important than artificial light, was the provision of water for the city. In the Middle Ages, a population of between 5,000 and 10,000 had been adequately served by conduits bringing clean water into the city. Later generations were less fortunate. As Bristol grew, the population spilled out into nearby districts served by improvised sewerage systems, consisting largely of ghastly cess-pits and middens thick with disease. A flood or a broken drain could lead to the tainting of drinking water by sewage and thus to outbreaks of cholera and typhoid fever. In all, 584 people died of cholera in the epidemic of 1832, and 444 in that of 1849. The precise mechanics of the disease still awaited the attentions of Louis Pasteur; but an instinctive revulsion from this general squalor led to the establishment of the Bristol Waterworks Co. in 1846. Many leading local businessmen were amongst the 272 subscribers, including Konrad Finzel, Francis and Richard Fry, and members of the Thomas, Inskip and George families. Although the company experienced frequent difficulties in the early years, and it was some time before all the districts of Bristol were supplied with unpolluted water. this development saved the day, and Bristol's appalling standards of sanitation began gradually to rise. Other suppliers were taken over by the Waterworks Co., which steadily extended its catchment area into Gloucestershire and Somerset. By 1945, it was supplying 110,000 houses with 420,000 inhabitants, over an area of 78 square miles.#21