This section deals with the period when a solidified gum, from which an innovative industry was developed, was first imported in quantity from Singapore. The 1840s were years of considerable social distress in the United Kingdom but also of technological innovation and application in which the new material was to play an important part.

A factory, built by the Wenlock basin on the Regents Canal, played a crucial role in processing the gum. Within quite a short time all kinds of domestic products were being manufactured there and a solution was eventually offered to a problem that was holding up the expansion of international communications.

As with section on Soochong, Shoguns and the Saracen’s surveys, chapters will be added over time. The first eleven have now been uploaded and are listed below.

Chapter 1     Blocks from the Deep

Chapter 2     Three Hancock brothers

Chapter 3     Gutta percha abandoned

Chapter 4     Railways threaten the Regents

Chapter 5     Killing the goose

Chapter 6     Full swing at Wenlock basin

Chapter 7     A Midnight Friend

Chapter 8     A query about mackerel

Chapter 9     In Praise of Gutta Percha

Chapter 10   Trial and error troubles

Chapter 11   Mr Bull and lying vanities

A note on currency and weights and measures


In the 1840s the currency used in the United Kingdom was based on the pound, represented by the £ sign. Twenty shillings (s) made a pound and 12 pennies (d) made a shilling so there were 240 pennies in a pound. A guinea was one pound and one shilling.

The move to decimalisation began in the middle of the C19th and was instituted largely because of the influence of Sir John Bowring (see Chapters 13 and 21 of the Soochong, Shoguns and the Saracen’s surveys section). Bowring was enthusiastic about adopting a system of weights and measures divisible by 10 and of applying that kind of division to the British currency too. He supported the retention of the pound because he thought it was a national institution ingrained into all our notions, and I hold it impossible to oust it and so pressed for the introduction of coins worth a tenth and a hundredth of a pound. This was the model eventually introduced, the first coin worth a tenth of a pound, designated a florin, being issued in 1849. However, that was as far as Victorian decimalisation went and the florin, which was worth 24 pennies, proved to be just an additional coin to those already in circulation.

A coin worth a hundredth of a pound was not actually introduced until 1971 when the radical overhaul suggested by Bowring was finally made. The British public then had to get used to the pound being worth one hundred ‘New Pennies’ instead of 240 in what soon became called old money. The florin had been replaced by a coin worth 10 New Pence a few years earlier.

Today, the guinea is retained in the sale of horses and cattle at auction, although payment is in pounds. For example, a Limousin bull was sold for 180000 guineas (a world record) at Carlisle in 2021, the payment due being £189000.


Under the Imperial system a ton weighs 20 hundredweight (cwt). A hundredweight weighs 112 pounds (lbs) and there are 16 ounces (oz) in a pound. These weights are still used today along with those of the metric system.

A kilogramme weighs approximately 2.2lb.

Measures - distance and volume

A mile is 1760 yards long. There are three feet to a yard (feet being the plural of foot). There are 12 inches in a foot. These measurements are still used today along with those of the metric system. In Imperial volume measurement there are eight pints to a gallon.

A meter is approximately 1.09 yards.

A litre is approximately 0.29 of a gallon.


All the photographs, unless otherwise credited, are mine. Much of the other material is in the public domain, but I have credited items I am not sure about.

Chapter 1 Blocks from the Deep

The image of the ‘Musaeum Tradescantianum’ was downloaded from the

Guildhall Library blog.

Chapter 4 Railways threaten the Regents

The photo of the train was downloaded for the Thames and Medway Canal Association website.

Chapter 5 Killing the goose

The photo of gum collecting in Sarawak was downloaded  from the Wellcome Collection

Chapter 6 Full swing at Wenlock basin

The advert was downloaded from the British Newspaper Archive, which is a superb resource. It is worth checking out at;

Chapter 8  A query about mackerel

The photo of the semaphore tower was downloaded from

Chapter 9  In Praise of Gutta Percha

The sliver of the advert was also downloaded from the British Newspaper Archive.

Chapter 10  Trial and error troubles

The contemporary illustration of laying a submersible cable was downloaded from

The image of the pointer unit was downloaded from mation-and-communications-technology/telegraphy-and-telex.html

Chapter 11  Mr Bull and lying vanities

The advert was downloaded from the British Newspaper Archive.

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When London Became An Island

Gutta Percha comes to the Metropolis


Commanders and clippers