How did a company that was responsible for lighting the streets of London become one of the UK’s leading energy companies?
Read the story of Centrica’s birth and how we have been at the centre of the UK’s energy industry for more than 200 years
The Early Years | Gas Light and Coke Company
1812 to 1949
With Napoleon waging war in Europe, the gas industry is born in the United Kingdom with the founding and incorporation of the Gas Light and Coke Company (GLCC) in 1812. Originally the purpose of the GLCC was to provide gas lighting to the streets of London, but it would eventually expand into domestic gas supply.
The company was founded on innovation, and the group of aspiring innovators, inventors and professionals who founded the “Chartered Gas Company” had a monumental task ahead of them.
To be successful, the company had to translate the pioneering spirit, wild optimism, and inventive genius of its founders into a profitable enterprise through both experimentation as well as relentless trial and error.
Little did they know that from those humble beginnings would rise a company that would go on to be at the centre of the UK’s energy industry for centuries to come.
At the time, public gas supply was an unknown and entirely new commercial venture that can, in some ways, be compared to some of the most innovative start-ups of today.
GLCC was at the forefront of a new industry, navigating some of the toughest challenges such as figuring out how gas could be purified and conveyed safely to people’s homes or working out how gas charges could be levied and collected before the gas meter existed.
The company had been successful in tackling these challenges and as a result, it grew and expanded significantly throughout the 1800’s. It was so successful in fact, that by its peak in 1948, the GLCC was supplying a population of 4.5 million.
The Gas Light and Coke Company, the original company from which British Gas is descended, is incorporated
Preston becomes the first town in the UK to have gas street lights. Until the 20th century, gas was primarily used for street lights
GLCC designs the world's first gas meter which is installed at the gas works of the Royal Mint
The world's first domestic water heater is designed
The UK's first pre-payment gas meter is designed
Nationalisation and Going Public
1949 to 1997
After World War 2 the industry experienced significant changes with the passing of the Gas Act of 1948 which nationalised the UK gas industry.
Once it came into effect in May 1949 all privately owned and municipal gas companies, including the Gas Light and Coke Company were merged into 12 area Gas Boards – which became collectively known as British Gas.
By the time nationalisation took place, the GLCC was so large that the area it covered, which stretched from Pinner in North West London to Southend-on-Sea in Essex, that it ended up making up a significant part of the entity that would be known as the North Thames Gas Board.
This was the beginning of publicly owned, vertically integrated supply of gas in the UK which would once again be reorganised with the Gas Act of 1972 that effectively merged the 12 Gas Boards into the British Gas Corporation.
It wasn’t until 1986 that the act was repealed by the Conservative Government in one of their first large-scale privatisation efforts and British Gas Plc was floated on the London Stock Exchange, effectively ending its nationalisation.
While it wasn’t the first of the privatisation of the 1980s, it was certainly the most ambitious and has since been made famous by the campaign slogan: “If you see Sid...Tell him!”.
The campaign was aimed at getting millions of ordinary people to buy shares, which at the time, was a relatively novel idea in Britain, since ownership of shares was viewed as the exclusive domain of the wealthy.
With a spend of £32m behind it, the campaign was a dramatic success, reaching 98% of the adult population in the UK, resulting in masses of people queuing for hours to buy into the newly formed company and British Gas Plc being born.
The now public company would continue to operate until the 17th of February 1997, when British Gas Plc demerged into Centrica and BG Group.
As Centrica, our company would take over and steward the British Gas brand into the 21st Century.
Queen Elizabeth II opens Britain's first nuclear power plant in Cumberland.
The Clean Air Act is introduced, which boosts the use of gas fires for heating
The gas industry is privatised and British Gas plc is formed with the first shares traded in December.
The Office of Gas Supply (OFGAS) was at the centre of the framework of regulations established under the Gas Act 1986, which created British Gas plc
Centrica plc was formed on 17 February following the demerger of British Gas plc, which was renamed BG plc.
The gas sales and trading, services and retail businesses, alongside gas production from the North and South Morecambe fields, were transferred to Centrica.
Centrica | The most unique Energy Company in the UK
1997 and beyond
Since the demerger and our inception, we have grown to become the only truly vertically integrated energy company in the UK and we continue to play a central role in the Energy industry and the transition to Net Zero.
Over the years we have built a portfolio of distinct, but complimentary businesses, that enable us to operate across the entire energy value chain with the goal of helping our customers live sustainably, simply, and affordably.
We Make it
Producing gas at Spirit Energy and generating electricity through our Nuclear stake and in Centrica Business Solutions
We Store it
Both gas storage through Centrica Energy Storage + and electricity storage in our Centrica Business Solutions battery projects
We Move it
Centrica Energy, our trading arm, is one of Europe’s largest wholesalers of gas and electricity
We Sell it
Over 8 million homes are supplied with gas and electricity through British Gas and Bord Gáis Energy
We Mend it
We install and maintain heating systems in more than 3 million homes and we’re leading the way in the rollout of heat pumps and EV chargers
Our company was built on a pioneering spirit, optimism, and inventive genius, and it’s a legacy and heritage we’re proud to honour.
We’re excited about leading the transition to Net Zero and can’t wait to see what the future holds for us. We are certain that our best and most exciting work is still ahead of us.
Centrica acquires Direct Energy, marking a major step in international expansion
Centrica acquires the Rough offshore gas storage facility and the associated pipeline and onshore processing facility at Easington.
Centrica acquires Dyno-Rod, the UK’s leading on-demand drain maintenance specialist, bolstering its home services offering.
Rights Issue announced on 31 October 2008 to help fund Centrica’s vertical integration strategy
Centrica acquires 20% of British Energy’s nuclear fleet of power stations from EDF.
The Group also acquires Venture Production plc, making it a leading operator of mature and orphaned gas assets in the UK continental shelf
British Gas celebrates 200 year anniversary and launches its remote heating control service, which paves the way for the Hive-branded smart heating system
Centrica signs long term American LNG export contract with Cheniere
Centrica acquires Bord Gáis Energy, one of Ireland's leading energy company formed in 1976.
Centrica acquires NEAS energy which becomes Centrica Energy and ENER-G Cogen International Limited, which becomes part of Centrica Business Solutions.
The Group also agrees a 5 year LNG deal with JERA
Spirit Energy is launched, a joint venture with German energy and infrastructure firm Stadtwerke München (SWM)
Centrica agrees to sell Langage and South Humber Bank CCGT power stations for £318million.
Centrica cut its dividend in July 2019, after making a loss of £446 million in the prior six months
The Group also signs Sale and Purchase Agreement from Mozambique LNG Project, while the Catholic Church goes green in one of the UK's largest energy renewable deals
In March 2020, the Chief Executive Officer Chris O'Shea is appointed.
Later in the year the Group signs a long-term LNG supply deal with Shenergy, and agrees the sale of its North American business Direct Energy to NRG Energy, for $3.625 billion.
Centrica Energy Assets formed to develop and build low carbon generating assets.
British Gas steps in to help over 700,000 customers who found themselves without a supplier due to the energy crisis.
Centrica also commits to recruit and train 3,500 apprentices by 2030.
Centrica launches it's ex-forces 'pathway' recruitment programme aimed at hiring 500 forces leavers across the business
British Gas and Daikin successfully install the first heat pump part-funded by the government’s new Boiler Upgrade Scheme.