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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

What has been mised out here?

This work is about some early gas works in east and east central London. There are a number of sites still around with large and prominent gas holders still on them - what are they? Two constraints have been applied here - those of geography and time.


Although this book has been about east London that geographical area has been stretched to include Westminster - since the earliest gas works of all were in that area - and have been stretched further to include Mr.Hatchard in Pimlico. However the 1831 works of the Equitable Gas Light Co. on the riverside of Grosvenor Road in Pimlico is not included - since a boundary has to come somewhere, and it was not a particularly unusual works. This also means that to the west the very important and early works of the Brentford Company are not included.

Other works in neighbouring areas which have been excluded are:

the Woolwich Equitable Gas Light and Coke Company and the Woolwich and Charlton Consumers Gas Light and Coke Company, both on the Woolwich riverside since both are slightly outside the time limit as is a gas works which existed inside the walls of Woolwich Arsenal.

There were also two works inside Deptford Dockyard which have not been researched and which are likely to be after 1840.

North of the river to the east the boundary has roughly been taken as the river Lea and thus excluding a number of private factory sites in Stratford and West Ham as well as, further east, a works at Silvertown, and another at Three Mills.

To the north of the area there were virtually no works throughout a large belt of the wealthier parts of north London. Nothing north of the present North Circular Road has been considered.

To the south works in Bromley, and Crystal Palace (including Bell Green) are not included. Throughout the area there were a number of railway gas works which are not included.


A number of well known gas works, which still exist within the area of east London, have been excluded for being too recent. Perhaps the main exception to this is the exclusion of the Commercial Company’s Works at Harford Street in Stepney which dates from the mid-1830s. At the time of writing a Public Enquiry is underway to determine the future of this site which contains some very important early features. It is perhaps better that the local campaigners (largely Tom Ridge) tell their own story of this works.

In the 1840s a movement developed which led to a number of gas works being built. This was largely pushed by local commercial interests which believed that gas could be made and sold at a lower price if works were owned by those who used the gas. Such companies were called ‘Consumer Companies’

The original Consumer works is in the area of east London is The Great Central Gas Company in Bow Common Lane and some buildings still remain on an otherwise derelict site. Another ‘consumer’ site is that of the Surrey Consumers Gas Co. covered by the still standing gas holder in Salter Road, Rotherhithe. Both of these companies had interesting and in some ways scandalous histories.

Still later, from the 1870s, the larger gas companies built very large ‘super’ works on what were then out of town ‘greenfield’ sites. These account for the majority of sites still to be seen today.

- the Imperial Company’s works at Bromley-by-Bow has a nest of gasholders still to be seen from the District Line and the Blackwall Tunnel Approach. This enormous site is now partly covered by light industry and a large paper warehouse. Until recently it was the location for the London Gas Museum and, apart from the gasholders, is home to an interesting collection of war memorials. The bridge over the river Lea into the site was also built as part of the works design

- the Commercial Company’s works at Leven Road in Poplar, only very slightly south of Bromley by Bow and also to be seen from the Blackwall Tunnel Approach. Some holders remain on site.

- Beckton - the ‘super’ works of the Gas Light and Coke Company and one of the most famous works in the world. The very place name ‘Beckton’ is taken from the Governor of the Gas Light and Coke Company at the time - Simon Adams Beck. Some holders remain on site as does some workers housing in Winsor Terrace. Prominent from the A13 are the ‘Beckton Alps', heaps of refuse from the works were used as a ski centre. The architect-designed buildings of the works was hired out in the early 1980s for the filming of ‘Full Metal Jacket’. To this end the buildings were covered in Vietnamese slogans and then blown up. The gigantic remains of the works lay untouched and dramatically ruinous for many years.

- Finally the other ‘most famous’ gas works in the world, depending on whether you come from north or south of the river, South Metropolitan’s East Greenwich Works on the Greenwich peninsula. This is now, of course, the site of the Millennium Dome the organisers of which have, somewhat grudgingly, left what was once the largest gas holder in the world on site. How long that will last is a subject for some speculation. (Not long!)

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