The history of Petrol and Hackney Wick

Britain's first petrol was made here
Britain’s first petrol was made here

The brick wall of bounding the McGrath yard in the foreground of this photo dates from 1891. It’s all that survives of an amazing piece of industrial history.

This site, bounded by Wallis Road, White Post Lane, and Hepscott Road was the Hope Chemical works setup by Eugene Carless in 1859. He was distilling bituminous shales, and from 1869 American crude oil, which was imported in wooden barrels. Carless, Capel & Leonard, as it became, were producing oil for lamps, benzoline for the local dry-cleaners – Achille Serre, gasoline for making gas lights brighter, and aniline for azo dyes.

In 1893 Frederick Simms of Daimler Motors ordered some “Launch Spirit” for his boat business and suggested they changed the name to petrol. For about 10 years this little plot of land inside the brick walls at Hackney Wick was the only place in Britain making petrol. They supplied the petrol for the first ever London to Brighton car run in 1896. Until 1920 when petrol pumps appeared in Britain, petrol was only available in 2 gallon cans.