History of British Gas

British Gas is one of the oldest companies in the world, with a history stretching back over 200 years

A railway carriage with a Gas Light & Coke Company logo on its side

1812–26

1812

The Gas Light & Coke Company (GLCC) was set up after royal approval by George III. At the time, Britain was still at war with Napoleon.

1816

Preston became the first town in the UK to have gas street lights. Before the 20th century, most street lighting was fuelled by gas.

1817

GLCC designed the world’s first gas meter which was installed at the gas works of the Royal Mint.

1826

The world's first gas cooker was designed by James Sharp.

1827–68

1827

GLCC was supplying gas to 70,000 street lights in London.

1850

The world's first gas-powered bath was designed.

1855

Robert Bunsen invented the Bunsen Burner, changing the industry forever. He improved the combustion of gas by drawing in air, which created a more intense flame. This resulted in the first gas fire being developed in 1856.

1868

The world's first domestic water heater was designed.

Robert Bunsen
Workers dig in a coal heap outside a gas container

1870–1918

1870

The prepayment gas meter was designed.

1887

Carl Auer von Welsbach designed the incandescent gas mantle, which brightens the light generated by a naked flame. This invention led to a huge demand for domestic gas lighting.

1890

The first gas holder was built in Northwich.

1914

World War I began. During the war the GLCC supplied town (manufactured) gas to munitions factories, while the waste products of coal were used to produce disinfectant for injured soldiers, plus petroleum and coke for domestic homes to burn. Many women took up essential manual jobs.

1923–39

1923

Thermostats on gas ovens were introduced.

1927

The first waterless gas holder in the UK was built in Ipswich.

1935

The Women's Gas Council was set up to promote domestic gas use.

1938

GLCC built Kensal House in London, a housing scheme for low income families.

1939

The GLCC's Territorial Army joined the war effort; tragically, 387 employees never returned.

Uniformed members of the Gas Light & Coke Company’s Territorial Army
A group of smiling gas workers from the Second World War era

1940–56

1940

The London Regional Gas Centre was set up to repair any areas damaged by bombing raids. After a bombing of St Paul’s Cathedral, they had to fight through flames to turn off the gas mains next to an unexploded bomb.

1947

The British coal industry was nationalised.

1948

Prime Minister Clement Attlee rolled out the Gas Act, which began to nationalise the industry and created 12 regional gas boards. This meant the end of the GLCC.

1956

Queen Elizabeth II opened Britain’s first nuclear power plant in Cumberland.

1957–67

1957

The Clean Air Act was introduced, which boosted the use of gas fires for heating.

1960s

Rising coal prices drove a move towards oil-based gas and imported liquefied natural gas.

1965

North Sea gas was discovered off Grimsby.

1967

The Gas Council announced the move from town (manufactured) to natural gas. The project to refit 40 million appliances cost over £500m and took 10 years to complete.

Inside an empty gas plant of the period 1957–67
The Ronan Point residential tower block with the CORGI symbol imposed next to it

1968–81

1968

The Council for Registered Gas Installers (CORGI) was formed after a gas explosion at Ronan Point in London. The aim was to reduce injuries and fatalities from explosions and carbon monoxide poisoning.

1972

The Gas Council was abolished and replaced by the British Gas Corporation.

1974

Business use of gas exceeded domestic use for the first time.

1981

The UK’s last town gas works closed in Scotland.

1986–90

1986

The gas industry was privatised and British Gas Plc was formed, with the 'Tell Sid' campaign encouraging customers to buy a stake in the new company. Ofgas was created to regulate the gas industry.

1990

The National Grid was formed.

An advert from the ‘Tell Sid’ campaign that helped to privatise the British gas industry
British Gas vans in the 1990s

1994–98

1994

British Gas was restructured and Transco created to transport and store gas.

1997

British Gas was split into separate companies, Centrica Plc and BG Plc.

1998

The first gas connection with Europe was launched at Bacton in Norfolk. British Gas started selling electricity to customers.

2000–12

2000

Lattice Group (the parent of Transco) split from BG Plc.

2002

Lattice Group merged with the National Grid to form National Grid Transco plc.

2009

Smart meters were introduced.

2012

British Gas celebrated its 200th birthday.

A smart meter next to a kettle and toaster