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The gas industry began in the U.K. as a lighting solution in the latter part of the 18th century by William Murdock who began working for James Watt with steam pumping engines. The first gas used was coal gas. He got the idea because, as a child, he used to heat coal in his motherís kettle and light the spout as the gas emerged. In Cornwall, he ran the gas line from his own garden to his house and in 1794 it became the first working model of gas lighting in the world. After a demonstration in Paris, Murdockís bosses, Watt and Boulton, ordered gas lamps installed at their Soho factory.
In 1805, the Prince of Wales, George IV had gas lighting installed in his home in London and soon afterward the street at Pall Mall shone in the night under newly installed gas lamps. The gas lighting trend spread to other cities and in 1812 the first gas company, Gas Light and Coke Company, was founded in Westminster. By 1817, Samuel Clegg, the chief engineer of the company developed a gas meter and it began to be installed in Royal buildings. In 1820, there were over 288 miles of gas pipe and over 51,000 lamps.
Coal gas became dirtier to produce, new sources of gas were found in natural deposits. Natural gas wells are located throughout Europe and Asia, with large concentrations in northern Russia. Gas was first run by private local companies but in 1948, the gas industry was nationalized by The Gas Act. 1062 private companies were merged into 12 Area Gas Boards. During the 1950s and 1960s, gas use increased dramatically in the U.K. and hundreds of thousands of tons of liquefied natural gas was being imported from Africa each year.
Large-scale conversion to natural gas did not take place until 1966 when natural gas was made mandatory. Large reserves of natural gas from the North Sea supplied the country for the next ten years. The Gas Act of 1972 created the British Gas Corporation and all the Area Gas Boards became regions of the government-run corporation. Margaret Thatcherís Gas Act of 1986 privatized the corporation and shares became publicly traded on the London stock market. Competition was allowed 10 years later in 1996 and now five major companies compete for the British market, regulated by xoserve, Energywatch, and OFGEM.