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St. Saviour's Board of Works

Application to the Metropolitan Board for a licence to store petroleum.

Notice of the application to the Metropolitan Board for a licence to store petroleum, made by Messrs. Humfrey and Youll, of Suffolk-grove, (Southwark) was read by the clerk, and it was understood that the licence had already been twice refused.

The board thought fit to hear a report upon the subject before coming to any decision, and the following able report by Mr. Bianchi, the medical officer, was read:—

3rd December, 1862.

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen.

At each meeting of your board for a considerable period I have directed your attention to a manufactory in Suffolk-grove, where the distillation of petroleum was carried on to a great extent, and where a large quantity of that so-called oil was stored. You are aware that deputations of the inhabitants of that portion of your district have attended here several times to complain of the very serious effects produced both upon their health and property, the gases given of into the surrounding atmosphere during the operations of this manufactory, and further, we had medical testimony of cases of serious illness undeniably attributable to these causes.

I was induced to make a more special report to you this evening on this matter, because I have been informed that other premises in this Grove have been made ready for manufacturing and storing petroleum. You are aware that petroleum is brought this country from certain parts of the United States and Canada, where it rises spontaneously in the earth, and is distilled for the purpose of obtaining paraffin candles, paraffin oil, and other products of less value. You know also, that it has only recently been imported here as an article of commerce, and that the Metropolitan Board of Works having been acquainted with its noxious and dangerous properties, have wisely made it incumbent upon any person wishing to store more than 40 gallons of petroleum within fifty yards of a dwelling-house or of a building in which goods are stored, to apply to the board for license to do so.

Now, in a thickly populated district like ours, it is of vital importance to the health of the inhabitants that no licence should be granted for storing petroleum at all. The hydrocarbons of which it is composed are so volatile that they penetrate into the innermost recesses of every adjacent dwelling, and the food of the occupiers is frequently tainted thereby. The effects which are produced upon persons residing in the immediate vicinity are uniform in character, they are irritation of the throat, nausea, a violent retching, cough and a peculiar prostration of strength. These were the symptoms complained of by all those whom have considered it my duty to make enquiry of, and they number more than 300 persons, whose names and addresses are in your possession. In the case of the manufactory alluded to in this report, the Metropolitan Board have refused two separate applications made to them for license to store, and I trust they will persist in that course in reference to any further application.

Should a nuisance be caused in this district by the distillation of any kind of petroleum, immediate measures will be taken under the authority of this board for its suppression, and I hope that any persons who have contemplated either storing or manufacturing from these oils will pause before incurring any expense in fitting up or erecting premises for that purpose, as they may rest assured any such proceeding will continue to be opposed.

I remain, gentlemen, Your faithful servant,

Robert Bianchi.

Messrs. Humfrey and Yool attended the meeting, as did other parties who were opposed to a licence being granted, and after hearing the statements on both sides, the board directed their clerk to address a letter to the Metropolitan Board strongly urging the refusal, and enclosing a copy of the report just read.

The South London Chronicle. 6th December 1862

NOTE - The first crude petroleum from the USA began to be shipped in quantity to Britain in 1859. Soon afterwards, supplies of crude oil also began to be imported from British Canada, mostly from the Enniskillen area of Ontario. This Canadian crude oil was rich in sulphur, making it difficult to refine and particularly foul-smelling. As most early refineries were in port areas close to centres of population, there was usually public outcry at the obnoxious smells and concern about health wherever Canadian crude oil was processed, including the oil works in Stirling and Saltney.


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