On the trail of that old 'Fiery Dragon'

Torbay Weekly

Having read with interest the article on the ‘Fiery Dragon’ (Torbay Weekly, November 18), perhaps I can add some more information which you might like to pass on to Barry Chandler.

I worked at the old gas showrooms in the mid-eighties and I was able to explore the various archives that were held in a large walk-in safe in the basement.  They included papers going right back to the beginning of the Torquay Gas Consumers’ Company in the 1830’s and when the building was closed, I was able to save items which I felt were of historic interest.  These are included in the box of ephemera mentioned in Barry’s article.  

However, they didn’t include the Fiery Dragon which was of such significance that it was borrowed by the Chairman of British Gas South Western and taken to the headquarters at Keynsham.

Over the next decades it was then moved from office to office after privatisation of the gas industry only eventually returning home after it had passed to Wales and West Utilities.

Originally the Dragon was on show in a shop window on the Strand and Mr Burt, who made it, was an early subscriber of shares in the gas company but he failed to make full payment.

It is possible that the Fiery Dragon then came into the Company’s ownership in lieu of the final payment for his shares.

In the next century, when the Art Deco gas offices were built in Union Street, it was given pride of place in the new showroom as shown in the photograph in Barry’s article.

That it now resides in Torquay Museum is of interest because the very first town gas works was built across the road in Torwood Gardens where the original site of one of the gas holders became a flower bed when the works was moved to Factory Row.

This was to be repeated in the last century when the ultimate site of the gasworks at Hollicombe was landscaped with one of the gas holder bases also being used as a flower bed.  I wonder how many people can still remember the pungent smell of the coal gas works as they travelled between Torquay and Paignton?      

In passing, among the ephemera that was passed to the museum are unissued share certificates for the Torquay, Tor and St Marychurch Gas Company which was formed in 1855 in competition with the original gas company.  Luckily it was still-born as it proposed to site its gasworks at Oddicombe Beach!  

Andrew Fiderkiewicz,