Bryan and Howden


John Bryan and Gidley Howden were almost the earliest developers identified by Morden College who took up a site at Morden Wharf. They had a works on Bankside and wanted to expand. At Bankside they made coal gas manufacturing apparatus – one of many companies in the iron trade who were then taking advantage of the rapidly expanding gas industry. A third partner in the business, who probably provided the finance, was a Charles Holcombe.

John Bryan had been responsible for the building and setting up of a number of gas works throughout southern England – with varying degrees of financial success and subsequent recriminations from local people. In this he was typical of several operators in this trade. Of about 23 gas companies in the old SEGAS area John Bryan is known to have been responsible for about ten of them. Further afield he was responsible for gas works at Farnham and at Winchester. In particular he was associated with early gas works in coastal towns like Hastings and Worthing. At Worthing gas works article following an 1833 proposal from John Bryan to light the town with gas he was asked to visit the town, then undertook and contracted to build a works. The works ran late and Bryan was told his contract was broken and a dispute ensured.

In 1837 Bryan and Howden took a ninety nine year lease on a plot, previously used to grow osier, to the north of Great Pitts. On the Morden College estate plans their site is shown marked Anything they built needed to be approved by George Smith. Problems soon began to arise.

In 1839 Morden College discovered that they were unable to obtain insurance on the site because of the ‘extremely hazardous business’ being carried out there. This was tar distilling and it was reported that the premises ‘consists of three brick buildings – one a cooperage, another for the boiler and rectifying plant, and another for the tar still’. By this time coal tar from the gas industry was available at knock down prices and the flourishing shipbuilding industries of the lower Thames provided a ready market for weather proofing products. Throughout the area many entrepreneurs were experimenting with cheap coal tar in the hope of making a saleable product from it.

Complaints began to made about the nature of Bryan and Howden’s work from several quarters and it appeared that ‘oily matter was running about’. The partnership was in financial trouble and Charles Holcombe wrote to Morden College to say that he no longer had any connection with the partnership.

In 1841 Morden College offered the site to other potential tenants. One offer came from Holcombe himself fand another from an Arthur Hills of Battersea.

During the 1830’s there were about 23 gas companies established in the SE Region, of which John Bryan was responsible for about ten of the total Following research by John Horne, John Bryan was also associated with Farnham and Winchester

Nothing is known of this pioneer of South Eastern Gas. his signature is to be found on the Deed of Settlement (dated 16/07/1834) of the original Sheppey Co., in which he is referred to as engineer. Possibly associated with John Gostling at Maidstone, and remained at Maidstone when the gas company was purchased from Gostling in 1823, until 1839. See Maidstone Centenary Booklet. Also associated Bryan, Howden & Co., Gas Contractors, Bankside, Southwark , of which he was a director .

Advt: John Bryan General Commissioning Agent, Sandhill Newcastle ?

(Hastings Gas Co. was set up by John Bryan) This Mr Bryan was associated with other south coast towns, notably, Worthing; and it is interesting to recall the fact that at Newport (Mon), prior to the late engineer Mr Thomas Canning a father and son of the name Bryan were successively in charge of that undertaking. (Joseph Herbert Canning 1876 1952 succeeded his Father Thomas in 1919).

Worthing gas works article
1833 proposal from John Bryan to light the town with gas. Asked to visit the town, undertook and contract and began to build works. but it was late. Told Bryan his contract was broken. Said ok in a fortnight but town said ok you pay no rent. Built the works and Bryan got locals to invest in it

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