Now We’re Cooking With Gas!


Marie “Jenny” Fleurot and William Sugg the day before their wedding in 1871. Image from http://www.williamsugghistory.co.uk.

The first gas cookers went on sale during the 1830s and while there were some early adopters, for example, the kitchens at the Reform Club were fitted with gas cookers as early as 1838, most people carried on using solid fuel ranges. I am proposing Marie Jenny Sugg (1850-1919) as a food heroine for her promotion of gas cookery.

In 1890, when Mrs Sugg ‘s book, The Art of Cooking by Gas, was published gas cookers had become more common but the author felt that readers needed a bit of reassurance about the advantages of cooking with gas. In the introduction she wrote, … the economy of cooking by properly regulated gas is beyond question: and this economy is realized not only in the fuel saved but on the food itself, the nutritive properties of which are fully developed without waste. The cleanliness and convenience of gas as a fuel and the saving in time and labour, need only be once understood to be thoroughly appreciated, and those who adopt gas in the kitchen will find themselves free from all that trouble, dirt, and uncertainty in working which attend a coal kitchener.” (p.7)

Mrs Sugg’s promotion of gas cookers was far from disinterested. She had married into a family that ran a firm specializing in gas lighting, heating and cooking. Rather excitingly, Mrs Sugg met her husband, William Sugg (1832-1907), while he was visiting France on business during the Siege of Paris. The marriage produced 12 children and, after the birth of the last one, a cookery book.

Their great-grandson has set up a very informative website about the history of William Sugg & Co and for a more general history of the gas industry there is the Gas Museum in Leicester.

Electrical Trailblazer


Col. Crompton

Colonel Rookes Evelyn Bell Crompton (1845–1940) helped to popularize the use of electricity in the home.  He set up a firm that made electrical products including the world’s first electric toaster.

After an early career in the army and bit of time working for an engineering firm Col. Crompton set up his own company in Chelmsford, Essex.  By the 1880s Crompton & Company was producing a variety of electrical items, including dynamos, switch gears and arc lamps, many of which Col. Crompton had helped to design.  This was very new technology.  Early electrical schemes tended to be limited to lighting large public buildings and Crompton worked on a number of these, for example at Kings Cross Station.

Col. Crompton had the imagination to recognize that electricity could transform the domestic environment, but only if electricity could be supplied in a reliable and safe way.  In 1887 Crompton built a power station at Kensington Court, an up-market housing development in London.   As with many new technological developments there were a few early adopters but most people took a while to catch on and it was decades before electricity became standard in ordinary homes.   The delay wasn’t simply down to the lack of infrastructure or the cost of electrical goods.   There were also anxieties to overcome.  During the early 20th century Col. Crompton helped to remove many of these obstacles, for instance he worked closely with the Electrical Association of Women, a group that explained the benefits of electricity in the home.

As for his toaster, it was called the Eclipse and produced in 1893.  It doesn’t sound like it was the most successful product.  It only toasted one side of the bread at a time and the heating elements tended to break, but you have to admire Col. Crompton’s vision.  To find out more about the history of toasters go to the on-line toaster museum.

Father of the Baby Belling


This 1950s Baby Belling is for sale. If you are interested go to justkampers.com.

A hundred years ago, in 1912, Charles Reginald Belling (1884-1965) set up an electrical engineering business with two friends.   The firm made a variety of electrical equipment but it is probably best known for the very cute Baby Belling cooker.

Charles, often known as CRB, was born in 1884 in Bodmin, Cornwall where his father, Thomas was a dentist.   After attending school in Cornwall he was apprenticed to Crompton & Co of Chelmsford, a firm which had pioneered electricity in the home.   A few years later he moved and joined the staff of Ediswan in Ponders End, supervising the manufacture of arc lamps, transformers and heaters.

He set up his own business making electric heaters in a shed in Enfield.  The firebars that he had designed (wire wound around a special form of ceramic) made electric fires much better.  The heaters sold well and the business expanded.  He applied some of this technical know how to cookers as well.

The first Baby Bellling was produced in 1929.  These small ovens were cheaper than full-sized models and came onto the market as the number of houses wired for electricity was increasing.  The proportion of British houses with an electrical supply rose from 18% in 1926 to 86% in 1949 [1].

CRB introduced a little cooker which did a great job in small poky flats and bedsits, definitely a food hero.

Belling is still going and has produced a book to mark its centenary.  For more information go to http://www.belling.co.uk/Centenary/History/

[1]  Rebecca Weaver and Rodney Dale, 1992, Machines in the Home, British Library, London, p. 6..