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‘Gassy’ Harris and Taunton Gas

‘Gassy Harris and Taunton Gas Taunton Somerset

This photograph shows Taunton gas works in 1950 seven years before closure and ultimate demolition. (and the site still remains largely undeveloped!)

Clarence “Gassy” Harris invented the Flue-less Gas Space Heater which was manufactured at the gas works in the 1930’s. Presumably this became the origin of his huge buy to let empire in Taunton and district in the 1960’s. In the mid 1960’s my wife to be occupied a room at the top of Bath House on the Wellington Road. Like most cheap accommodation back then heating was supplied by your own paraffin heater. ( the TV advert advised thus. Get you paraffin at “The Esso Blea Dooler”). The product in Taunton was supplied by the Thomas family of 35 East Reach or by machine at an Esso garage. When married we moved to an upstairs flat in Linden Grove. “Gassy” gave us free rent for three months.The paraffin heater came too. It was freezing in there as the slate roof had no under felt and often leaked. By a dubious means we acquired an electric oven with a timer. We left the door open with the oven on timer to heat the kitchen in the morning. Early central heating. Our rent was £12 a month in 1968. “Gassy” was very casual about payment and usually forgot to apply any approved rent increase. I never saw his rent collector and odd job man “Billy” ( ? ). I took the rent to his sister at Bishops Hull manor every now and then. “Gassy” was one of the prospective buyers for Hestercombe.

David Gledhill wrote a fine booklet recording Taunton Gas from 1816 to 1949. ( SIAS Survey Number Five ). I met him once concerning a close up image I had purporting to be a Taunton gas holder in construction. “Rivets all wrong” he said. Yes, David was a clever man regarding gas and electricity in Taunton. In later years I bought a series of images in an antique shop that must have been his.

The Taunton Gas Light and Coke Company was formed from The Gas Act of 1845. Excluding street lighting Taunton had 208 consumers in 1845. This rose to 945 in 1866 including Wilton Goal, Shire Hall and the prospective new police station. The gas works at Castle Street saw considerable expansion as the demand for gas grew. The gas company opened a new show room at 34 Bridge Street and also operated a mobile show room. “To use a gas iron is the way. To make a joy of washing day. No waiting then, no smuts no smudge. No to and from the fire to trudge”. Of course electricity put an end to all of that.

The Taunton Gas Order of 1936 combined local gas works into a new entity The Taunton and District Gas Company. 1933 saw the opening of a small factory at the gas works. This employed some ten men in part making gas appliances designed by Clarence Harris. Most were marketed under the name “Effecon” meaning efficiency and economy.

One appliance was The Wash Copper which also had a handle operated mangle. (Your washing will be finished by mid-day).

Regional gas boards were established in 1945 by which time my landlord to be “Gassy” had reached retirement age. As a reward for long service he was made an ordinary director and consultant to the new General Manager. The gas industry was nationalised in 1949 with Taunton becoming the centre of a sub division of The South Western Gas Board. Natural gas saw the end of gas production plants and those huge gasometers.

Funny how ones life seems to inter weave with such events.
I last recall “Gassy” gently bumping into my car at Linden Grove. He was very old by then. Not much I could say really.

By Nick Chipchase

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