Old Methods of Lighting. Gas Companies.
From 1416 the citizens of London were under an obligation to hang out candles between certain hours on dark nights for the illumination of the streets; and in 1661 a special Act of Parliament was passed to enforce the custom. The corporation in 1684 granted a licence to Edward Heming, the inventor of oil lamps, for the sole supply of the public lights for twenty-one years, but the duty was then once more assigned to the individual citizens. A second agreement with contractors not proving satisfactory, the corporation in 1736 obtained from parliament permission to erect lights where they thought proper, and to levy a rate, which in that year yielded 15,000 pounds. Ga-lighting was in 1807 introduced in Pall Mall by the erection of a small apparatus to supply the lamps on the one side of the street, the other being still lighted with oil. In 1810 the Gas Light and Coke Company received a charter permitting it to supply gas to any persons within "the cities of London and Westminster, and the borough of Southwark," and as the result of their enterprise Westminster Bridge in 1813 was lighted with gas, and in 1814 the whole of the streets of St Margarets parish. The City of London Gas Company was formed in 1817, and soon afterwards other seven companies. After several years wasteful competition the companies came to an agreement in 1857 to restrict themselves to separate localities. This led to the Metropolitan Gas Act of 1860, the only effectual provisions of which were those in reference to the quality of the gas. The City of London Gas Act of 1868, limiting the price of gas within the City to 3s. 9d. per 1000 feet, except in certain cases, was the only other measure of a restrictive character passed before 1876, and previous to this the companies, by amalgamation, and through the favorable terms on which they were allowed to increase their capital and to raise new shares, had enormously increased the value of their dividends. The Act of 1876, from the provisions of which the London Gas Company is exempt, adopted a sliding scale of dividends, one half of the profits, after a 10 per cent. dividend had been paid, going to the shareholders, the other being applied to reduction in the price of the gas, it being also provided that the price should not be more than 3s. 9d., and that when additions were made to the capital the shares should be put up to auction. The experimental introduction of the electric light by the commissioners of sewers of the City, and by the Metropolitan Board (for the Thames Embankment and some of the bridges), has led the gas companies to provide better lights in some of the more important streets.
The following table (VII) will show that the prosperity of the companies has not been affected by the legislation of 1876, and as yet has not materially suffered from the threatened competition of electric lighting: -
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