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Tell Tale: The birth of petrol

2 years ago

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Ben Oliver | Journalist


27 January 2022

Petrol was invented in the East End of London. I don’t mean the actual substance: a great brown-black crude oil gusher didn’t suddenly erupt on the Bethnal Green Road, nor did a local first figure out that it could be refined into more useful products. But the word was invented in Hackney Wick, by the ironically named Victorian inventor and shit-or-bust entrepreneur Eugene Beauhamais Carless. It’s why we Brits call it petrol while Yanks put gasoline in their tanks. Consider yourself a petrolhead? Thank Carless.

But his contribution to our language and to the earliest, pioneering years of motoring earned him little, and few remember him now. And just as the petrol age concludes, the last vestiges of Hope Chemical Works, where he not only named petrol but first produced it in this country, are about to be demolished. A crucial part of our industrial and motoring heritage will be erased. No blue plaque is planned for Carless, so instead we’ll remember him here.

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