On the history trail: When did important utilities arrive in town?

Union street looking east and an old gas lamp.
Union street looking east and an old gas lamp.

We tend to take for granted the important utilities that we all rely on for a clean water supply, sewerage, gas, electricity and telephone, but when did they arrive in Pocklington?

The first of the utilities to arrive was gas. Manufactured gas was important for lighting, heating, and cooking purposes throughout most of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. Gas was produced by heating coal in enclosed ovens with an oxygen-poor atmosphere and storing the gas in large tanks in the local towns. The service was provided by local entrepreneurs who founded local companies to provide the service to generate revenue as a charged service.

The first gas works from ‘The Pocklington Gas Light and Coke Company (Limited)’ were constructed in 1834 in St Helen’s Gate, at a cost of £1,600, raised in £10 shares and was succeeded by ‘The Pocklington New Gas Co. Limited’, formed in 1886, with a capital of £8,000, again raised by £10 shares, and which purchased the rights of the existing company.

New works were erected near the railway station, and fitted with the latest and most approved appliances. There was one large gas holder, with a capacity of 30,000 cubic feet, which supplied the town, and also Barmby Moor and Allerthorpe. The first gas street lighting arrived in 1834 and by 1892, the streets were lighted by 80 gas lamps. The gas retailed at 4s. 2d. per 1,000 cubic feet. Ken Durkin remembers assisting in the demolition of the old gas house in St Helen’s Gate in the 1960’s and the large gas tanks near the old railway station were removed for the construction of the new Sainsbury’s supermarket.

In 1889 a water company was formed to bring clean water to the town and soon after the sewerage of the town was improved. At the time slop water and the contents of about 30 water closets entered badly connected drains which ran into the beck. The mill dam by the Grammar School was described as an “Open cesspool.”

In Spring 1897 a new sewerage system was completed and by December the same year all the parts left of the beck exposed to the streets were all culverted including Grape Lane. A reservoir and water works were constructed at Clock Mill with the ability to supply 35,000 gallons of water per day with a holding capacity of 150,000 gallons, but usually holding 70,000. It was the millers of the town who objected to the initiative due to their concerns over the effects that drawing considerable volumes of water would affect their ability to drive their water wheels and making their property less valuable.

The grocer George Todd installed a generator in his shop in 1903 and lit his shop with it in February 1904. A full electricity mains supply arrived to the town in 1913, which seems to have been given impetus by letters written to the local newspaper complaining about the better efficiency and costs of electricity over gas for town lighting. A typical example was a letter written in 1912 from Robert Charlton who said “at two demonstrations on West Green in the presence of the leading tradesmen and professional men of Pocklington the fact was indisputably proved that a 50 candle power electric lamp was more than twice the power of the reputed 100 candle power of the gas lamp.”

The telephone first arrived in Pocklington in 1903 at the initiative of James Morrill in connecting his shop in South Parade with the coal depot. In 1910 the telephone exchange opened with 22 subscribers. In 1994 Roger Bellingham wrote that he worked for Powell & Young, a firm of solicitors in Pocklington, and their phone number was 2114. On old letter heads their telephone number was 14. He stated that the original 19 subscribers listed for Pocklington and the 10 at Market Weighton, could only use their phones on weekdays between 8am and 8pm and on Sundays between 8.30am to 10am, which was the hours of attendance of the Operator at the Exchange.

References used for the article were from David Neave and Roger Bellingham and also with assistance of Ken Durkin. More information is available on the Pocklington History Group website at www.pocklingtonhistory.com