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.

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.

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 energising a greener, fairer future.

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.