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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Those holders in Roan Street

Until forty or so years ago a set of gas holders stood very near to Greenwich Station. The site was an large and interesting one in that it had also held factories which were part of the gas industry. Was it another old gas works?

Wading through the Greenwich ratebooks for the last century looking for the Roan Street gas works was no fun. I knew that the site had been a market garden owned by a local dignitary called Hargrave, but it was not clear which road it was listed under. Roan Street? Ravensbourne Street? Cottage Place? Or something else. The only thing I really knew was that the Roan Street gas holders were shown on the 1869 Ordnance Survey map and were then owned by the Phoenix Gas Company.

So I went to look at the Phoenix Minute Books to see if they had anything to say about it. They were awful - not indexed, and written in an illegible copperplate hand (give me scrawl anyday). I was so fed up that I turned to the back page where the minutes were in a different handwriting (copperplate might look beautiful but you cannot read it! However there is always one fortnight a year written in untidy handwriting). There it was, right at the end of the book, 'the engineer at Greenwich reports a need for more holders, he is looking at suitable sites'.

So, in October 1864 Phoenix Gas Company bought a site in Greenwich from a Mr. Smith and ordered a gasholder to be built on it. The trouble is that they never recorded where the site was, just that it was 'in Greenwich'. So - was it Roan Street? There are two clues. One: they minuted a problem when they bought the site - someone wanted to build a road through it and they tried to persuade 'Mr.Rennie' to take over the unwanted river frontage because this road might not be built. If you look at a map of the Roan Street site, you will see that it used to go down to the Ravensbourne but in the 1860s Norman Road was built and cut the river frontage off. The other clue is that Phoenix's order for a gasholder was accompanied by another for a main 'to go down Roan Street' - although I suppose that it doesn't necessarily follow that it was going to connect to the new holder.

Anyway I hope we can be 90% (well, perhaps 85%) sure that the Greenwich Roan Street site was a holder station built by the Phoenix Company in 1864.

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