Thursday, 13 February 2020

The Cutler Correspondence


THE CUTLER CORRESPONDENCE

In our last newsletter we published a letter from a Canadian researcher, Pamela Whit,  enquiring about the East Greenwich gasholder and the gasholder builders, Samuel Cutler.

First of all -- who were Samuel  Cutler & Sons Ltd. The following is an edited version of an article on Cutlers, which appeared in the Gas Journal of October 2nd 1935 - and thanks to Brian Sturt for finding this for us.

''Over  90 years ago, in 1844, two brothers, George and Samuel Cutler, established a factory in City Road. North London for the manufacture of gas-works plant, and the management of the Firm has, during all this long period, been conducted by their lineal descendants, the present Chairman and Managing Director, Mr. Samuel Cutler, and the General Manager and Director, Mr. Ernest Cutler, both grandsons of one of the original founders. The business soon outgrew the capacity of the original factory and was transferred to larger premises at Millwall in 1858, and again transferred 10 years later to the present extensive Thames-side premises, Providence Ironworks, Millwall

The Firm remained a partnership until 1911, when it was constituted a private limited liability company. The Chief Offices of the Firm are at Westminster and have recently been considerably extended. Although Messes. Cutler manufacture a large variety of products, they have always been particularly identified with gasholder construction and have a world-wide record and reputation in this important branch of the Gas Industry.  Manufacturing  methods have been revolutionised time and time again during their 90 years of activity, but they have always kept well abreast in all improvements both of design and machinery, and can claim to have at Millwall the most modem and efficient plant of every kind for accurate and economical manufacture.

In their early days steam was the only motive power; machines were driven from countershafts and the manual work of fabrication was heavy and exhausting. Holes were "punched" with resulting deterioration of the metal. and standards of accuracy were necessarily low compared with those now attained. Cast iron entered largely into constructional work of all kinds, and machined surfaces were the exception rather than the rule. By contrast, the present machinery at Millwall comprises for power purposes gas, electricity, oil, hydraulic, and pneumatic services and machinery for stamping, shaping, and drilling with a minimum of manual labour practically every part of the numerous and diverse structures manufactured. Also the use of cast iron is restricted to purposes for which it is especially suited, and machine surfacing is the rule and not the exception.

Gasholders are the largest moving metal structures in the world, and Messrs. Cutler have constructed many of the largest now in use. To convey some idea of the size of these huge constructions, it may be mentioned that the Albert Hall at South Kensington could be comfortably accommodated inside the 8 million cu.ft. gasholders erected by Messrs. Cutler at .the Kensal Green Station of the Gas Light and Coke Company 'and at the Neepsend Works of the Sheffield Gas Company. It is no mean engineering achievement that these giant constructions operate for a 24-hour day, year in and year out, in all weathers for half- a-century almost unattended. The location of Messrs. Cutler's Works on the Thames has assisted them in securing many Important contracts for gasholders in colonial and foreign lands, and, to instance only a few, these Ceylon Bombay Calcutta, Smyrna, Malta, Berlin, Vienna, Home, Hanover, Frankfort, Turin, Milan, Genoa, Pernumbuco,  San Paulo, Townsville, &c. 

Messes. Cutler is, at the present time, erecting new gasholders in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Jamaica.
In the home trade their record secures them a place in the tendering list for practically all gasholder work of every size and kind, and there are few gas-works that do not contain some of their constructions. Recent contracts include large gasholders at Beckton, Hornsey, Watford, North Middlesex, Barnet, Brighton, Worthing, and many reconstructions and repairs.

Although for economic reasons spiral-guided holders have, in recent years, been very generally adopted, there is still much to say in favour of the guide-framed type, and the ‘Cutler’ triangulated guide-frame is claimed to be the most scientifically designed and extensively adopted form of standardised guide-frame ever introduced. In regard to spiral guiding, Messrs. Cutler have to their credit many improvements relating to the reliability of the guide carriages and safe access to them for periodical examination and lubrication, including their patent ‘London’ lubricator which, by a piston and star wheel device operated by the motion of the rollers, forces grease from a container on to the axles and keeps them self- lubricated without manual attention. This useful device can also be applied to the rollers of guide-famed holders.

In addition to gasholder building, Messrs. Cutler have a long record in condensing and purifying plant of all kinds. Their first patent for water tube condensers dates back to 1878, and they were the introducers of deep- filled purifiers on the ‘Jager’ system.

In retort work they were co-introducers with the late Mr. Charles Hunt of the ‘Dessau’ intermittent vertical retort system into this country. Conveying plant, storage bunkers, and telphers are an important branch of their business, and large installations- of plant of this kind have been constructed by them at many British and foreign gas works.

Apart from gas-works plant, Messrs. Cutler have many other manufacturing interests of long standing including refrigeration, oil storage tanks, and every kind of constructional steelwork.  For over 40 years they have manufactured most of the ice making tanks in use at British fish ports, many of 50 to 100 tons ice capacity, and numerous ice making and brine cooling tanks for export to India and the Colonies. Steel tanks of every size and type for oil storage have long been a standing specialty. . 

During the War years 1914-1918, almost their entire manufacturing resources were requisitioned by the Admiralty in the production of submarine mines, depth charge gears, &c., and hydrogen producing plant. Several hundred plants, ranging in capacity from 2,500 to 60.000 cu.ft  of hydrogen per hour, were made at Millwall for airship and kite balloon inflation. It is interesting to note that Messrs. Samuel. Cutler & Sons, Ltd., are the only gasholder makers whose Works are in London. This location might, a few years ago, have been considered rather a handicap, but, having regard to the present trend of industrial movement, their tenacity to the South appears to be fully justified and to place them in a favourable economic position for much future business, especially as, in addition to possessing excellent wharfage on the Thames with 20 ft. depth of tide, they have rail communication into the Millwall Docks and thence on to all trunk railways, also a frontage on the West Ferry Road

Providing equally good facilities for motor transport. It is pleasant to lean that many of this old-established firms employees are the sons or even the grandsons of their former workmen.

Pamela also sent information she had picked up implying that the east Greenwich holder was built by Cutlers.  An extract from Eve Hostettler' s History of the Isle of Dogs

Samuel Cutler and Sons was another Island firm renowned for engineering. Their premises were at Providence Iron Works in West Ferry Road, Cutlers' speciality was gasholder construction. When the Society of Engineers visited Millwall in 1879 for their annual dinner, jointly hosted by Samuel Cutler and Frederick Duckham it was reported that Cutlers "had in hand about a dozen orders for gas holders from various towns. including an immense telescope gas holder for Ipswich which is about 122 feet in diameter and is in two lifts of 32 feet depth". The company's order book expanded to include work overseas.  Cutlers were gas work specialists, but were also builders of all kinds of tanks, oil storage, sewage farms, refrigeration plants, coal conveyors, hangars, mooring masts for the R101 and  Crystal Palace Bit/aerial mast. 

They built the largest gas holders in the United Kingdom - Greenwich No. 2 holder, originally 12,200 cubic feet but reconstructed to 8.9 million cubic feet with a steel tank 303 feet in diameter and a height of 1 84 feet when fully inflated, and No.1 holder with a capacity of 8.6 million cubic feet and a height of 200 feet".

Samuel Cutler was a clever engineer. He developed numerous improvements to gas holder design and was also a keen supporter of the idea of a Channel Tunnel. He wrote a book on the subject, describing the twin tunnels, single tunnels and double track, which he advocated. Cutler's employed hundreds of skilled workers - boilermakers,  riveters, platers, fitters and pattern-makers, as well as labourers and apprentices

And from the Port Cities website

The gasholders on Blackwall Lane in East Greenwich were constructed by Samuel Cutler, whose engineering firm was based on the Isle of Dogs. The holders were built between 1886 and 1888. The larger of the two holders was, for many years, the largest in the world with a capacity of 8 million cubic feet (225,000 cubic metres)

Malcolm Tucker also sent information about Cutlers and the East Greenwich holder to Pamela:

The geography at East Greenwich has changed considerably since the earlier photographs you have seen of the gasholder. That part of Blackmail Lane has been replaced by new roads with an enclave remaining as part of Boord Street. But you will easily find no I gasholder and I think you will be glad to have seen it. However the Port Cities web site is quite wrong in saving that the two holders were built by Cutlers and also wrong in some other details). My research in the gas company's minute books found that No. 1 . was built by Ashmore, Benson Pease and Co., of Stockton onTees and No 2 by Clayton Sons and Co of Leeds.

Brian Sturt whose knowledge of the South Metropolitan Gas Company is much greater than mine confirms that. Brian has contacted the Port Cities web site to point out their error as a result of your alerting us. No 2-gas holder in the background of the photographs was Britain's largest gasholder of 12 million cubic feet and built 1891-2

Cutlers are now little known except by those familiar with the gas industry and it is odd to find such an attribution to them in a lay publication. I think the clue to this may be in the history of the Isle of Dogs compiled, largely from oral sources, by local historian Eve Hosteller which quotes an ex-Cutler employee attributing the east Greenwich holders to Cutler. The respondent was born in the 1890s so will have had no firsthand knowledge of the erection of these holders. It is conceivable that  Cutlers did maintenance work on them in the 20th' century, hence the data he gives (although that itself is not accurate since no.2 had a tank of concrete not of steel). I shall try to trace the original autobiography by Haines.

Best wishes for your trip                          

Following this Pamela White wrote again -.

I thought that I would just update you on the correspondence that I have received both by email and by post regarding the Samuel Cutler and Sons gas holders. For example, Mr. Malcolm Tucker sent to me by post a number of articles from the Gas Journal that describes the firm and its history. This has proved to be very interesting. Again many thanks for asking for those persons who have an interest in the topic to contact me.

Upon reading other material posted on the Internet, I notice that a Samuel Cutler gasholder is located near Ben Jonson Road. While it was standing in 2000, does it still exist? I found out about this gasholder from the February 2000 GLIAS newsletter that is available on the Internet.

The reason for my enquiry is that I will be in London in August. I thought that I would travel out to Greenwich. While I am there l thought that I would attempt to find the gasholders on Blackwall Lane. 

I have never seen a gasholder, though I understand even the city where I lived as a child (Ottawa, Ontario) did have one until the industrial area where it was located was re-developed. Given this, l thought that the gasholder attributed to Samuel Cutler on Blackwall Lane and which still exists (the lattice framework at any rate) would be interesting to see.

Pamela and her husband did come to Greenwich, and we did go down and look at the East Greenwich holders from as many angles as we could manage. Pamela also looked at houses in the Westcombe Park area where Samuel  Cutler lived. I showed her Neil Rhind's 'Blackheath Village and Environs' which has the following information on  Cutlers

George Benjamin Cutler (not mentioned above but one of that family firm) lived 1896-1898 at the White Tower -- one of the Vanbrugh houses in what is now Vanbrugh Fields. Neil also suggests that much of the surrounding land was granted in a development head lease to Cutler. Cutler also lived 1879-1901 and 1914-1918 at 52 Westcombe Park Road. Between 1903-1913 he was at St St.John's Park and then until his death at 38 Hardy Road. Clearly some of these dates overlap but there is probably an explanation.

However-- another letter has now arrived

From Bernard Lehman (in Australia) This week I received a book "Sid's Story" written by my mother's cousin Sidney Rock (1913-2005). Much of it concerns the partnership between Sam Cutler and the Rook brothers, recruited from the Midlands, to work for Cutler building gasholders in UK and Europe. Sid worked for Cutler in Millwall till the 1940's. Sam Cutler was evidently a very kind and highly respected employer. The book has pictures of Sam, gas works and also maps and a social history of the Millwall community. My grandfather, Francis/Frank Rock (1876-1950), worked for Cutler before becoming manager of the gas works in Rye, East Sussex. Please contact me for more details on Millwall and the  Cutlers.

Clearly this story is going to run and run


This article first appeared in the May 2005 GIHS Newsletter

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