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Original article by Douglas Ashby, transcribed by Sarah Gilbert

Burton Latimer Gas Company

Burton Latimer Gas Works - probably in the early 1920s
The only known photo of Burton Latimer Gas Works in the early 1920s. The people in the garden are members of the Boxwell family.
The house on the skyline is 18/20 Bridle Road.

When standing on the railway bridge in Station Road and looking South, to the left of the railway lines and bordering the River Ise, it is difficult to realise that what is now a bleak area of scrub land was, once, the busy site of Burton Latimer Gas Works. It contained two large gasometers and a boiler house together with the Works Manager’s house and outbuildings. In the early 1960’s a bundle of papers and accounts were discovered, in the loft of a barn, which threw light on the origins of the Company.

The Midland Railway was constructed in 1857 and this is where the Parish Boundaries of Burton Latimer, Isham and Pytchley meet. Although it was known as ‘Isham and Burton Latimer Station’ the Station House was in the parish of Burton Latimer, the Gas Works in Isham and the signal box in Pytchley. This must have been a headache for the Rating authority to administer!

Map of the Gas Works 1902
Map of the Gas Works 1938
Burton Latimer Gas Works as shown on maps of 1902 and 1938. Note how the site grew as the town did.
Several of the places mentioned in the text are shown on the second map

A public meeting was held on the evening of Wednesday, April 12th 1893, in the Baptist Assembly Rooms in Burton Latimer, for the purpose of endeavouring to form a Gas Company for the village. The meeting was well attended and the Reverend Thomas Collings occupied the Chair. It was unanimously agreed that a Gas Company, with limited liability, be formed, at once, with a Share Capital of £3,000 and the capital to be raised by means of 1000 shares of £3 each.

The following people promised to become shareholders: Messrs.A. Downing, J.A.Wallis, C. Barlow, T. Collings, J. Cooper, D. James, H.Ayres, W.H. Allen, E.E. James, E. Larrard, F.T. Freestone, G. Perkins, T. Bird, W. Bates, W. Meads and T. James. Of these, J.A. Wallis, T. Collings, C. Barlow, A. Downing, J. Cooper, D. James and F.T. Freestone were elected as provisional directors with F.T. Freestone also acting as Secretary.

Mr. Wallis was a director of Wallis’s Mill, which became Weetabix in 1932, and lived at Isebank, the large stone built house that now serves as offices. Mr. Collings was the Baptist Minister from 1885 to 1896 and again from 1899 to 1900. Between those years he was Editor of the ‘ Kettering Leader and Guardian’ newspaper which later became the ‘Evening Telegraph’. A farmer, Mr. Barlow also owned the ironstone quarries and lived at The Yews, now a Rest Home, in Kettering Road . Mr Downing was also a farmer and farmed at Burton Lodge which is now known as ‘Buccleuch farm’.

Mr. Cooper was a baker and his premises were in the yard that once occupied the site of the car park at the junction of Church Street and Bakehouse Lane . Mr James was a grocer and draper, trading from what is now the ‘Roma’ Italian restaurant and Mr. Freestone was secretary for Wallis’s Mill. He lived in Alexandra Street and later became tenant at Rectory Farm, now Home Farm, in Kettering Road .

Director’s meetings were held in the Baptist Assembly Rooms, the Lower Schoolroom (now John Yeoman Hall) or in the front room of Mr. Freestone’s home in Alexandra Street . At a meeting held on May 25th 1893, Mr. Whitfield, of Kettering , attended in order to lay the case for electric lighting in place of gas. This, however, was considered “Not practicable at present and to proceed with a Gas Works”. In October 1895 the new Rector, the Reverend W.B. Jacques, accepted an invitation to join the board of directors.

Various sites, on fields near the railway, were considered for the Gas Works. The Reverend Henry Harpur, Mr. J. Wallis, the Reverend Blake and a Mrs. Jones all owned fields in that area, however, it was the latter, Mrs. Jones, who agreed to sell an acre of land for £140. It was accepted as being the most suitable site to enable the railway to construct a siding.

A parade in the early 1900s passes the Gas Company offices (far right)
Far right - Gas Company offices opposite the Cross

The cost of the siding, in 1895, was £96.15.11 and the buildings were erected, in the same year, by Alfred Lewis, of Isham, for £1200. In later years on the High Street were opened as an office and showroom with Mr. W. Harwood as secretary. Those premises are now occupied by the ‘ China Garden ’ restaurant.

A rally in the early 1900s near the Gas Company offices centre of picture) Close-up of Gas Company office's sign
A close up of the Gas Company sign over their offices in the High Street

On November 4th 1895, a Mr. R.J. Rankin, of Burton Latimer, applied for the post of Works Manager for a wage of £1.5.0. per week. The Directors agreed to pay him £1.8.0 per week and deduct 4/- for the rent of the house. He does not appear to have stayed long; by 1899 the Manager was Mr. H. Banks who asked for an increase in wages.: He was given £1.6.0.

Certainly, by 1905, there was a change of Manager as, in 1986, I replied to a letter from Mr. Ben Orchard, living in Gloucestershire, who wrote that his father was Manager until about 1913. He also told me that his mother attended the Parish Church and enclosed a charming programme of a concert held in St. Crispin’s Hall on April 26th 1905 in which she is listed as acting in a play. St. Crispin’s Hall later became Preston Hall which was subsequently demolished to make way for Preston Court .

Letters were sent to local businesses and residents inviting them to have gas connected. Gas was used for the first time on January 5th 1896 in the Parish Church after 300 people subscribed £100 for the cost of connection. Four standards were placed in the chancel and twelve coronas fitted on the pillars in the nave. The Parish Council provided lamp standards and wall brackets in the streets.

In 1898 the Balance Sheet for the Burton Latimer Gas Company showed a profit on the years trading of £211.18.11. It must, therefore, have come as a surprise to the directors, if not disappointment or even annoyance, to receive a letter, in 1899, from Burton Latimer Co-operative Society. It informed the directors that the Co-op had made arrangements with the Finedon Gas Company to supply them with coke for the following six months! Nevertheless, in 1914, profits had risen to £820.10.1.

Hilda Boxwell, Doris Boxwell and Mr Boxwell Mrs Boxwell and Doris in the garden of the Gas Works cottage
Hilda, Doris and Mr Boxwell Snr
Mrs Boxwell and Doris in the Gas Works garden,
in the shadow of a holder

A roomy house, which had a pretty garden bordering the river, was provided for the Works Manager. In the time of the Boxwell family being in residence there was also a tennis court. I can still visualise when I was a boy Ron and Bert Boxwell would cycle around the village and erect their ladder to light the lamps in the streets which were then extinguished at midnight. Ron and Bert had two sisters: Hilda and Doris.

Hilda and Doris Boxwell c.1930
Hilda and Doris Boxwell

The stretch of road which leads to the railway bridge was supported on arches because of flooding. As children we fished for newts in the water that stood under the road there. It was also a sight to see the flames belching out from the boiler house when the men were stoking up.

Floods at the Burton Latimer Gas Works - date unknown
Floods at the Gas Works sometime in the middle of the last century.

The company was amalgamated with the Kettering Gas Company in June 1940, and subsequently in September 1942, the Burton Latimer Gas Company was voluntarily wound up. The Chairman at the time was Mr F T Freestone. The gasometers remained for a while after the rest of the buildings were demolished in the 1960’s. With the advent of North Sea gas the supply now piped into our town comes from much further afield.

Burton Latimer Railway Station closed to passengers in the early 1950s when the waiting rooms and the steps leading down from the bridge were demolished. Some time ago, there was a suggestion that our Railway Station might re-open for passengers, but that is another story!

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