The Rise and Fall of the Gasometer

By 20 November 2019 General

Gasometers are an example of Britain’s industrial history, which are slowly being decommissioned, changing our skyline forever.

But exactly what is (or was) a Gasometer (or Gas Holder as it’s also known)? It’s a large metal tank, where gas was stored before being distributed through pipes to consumers. Gas holders were originally used for balancing the daily demand of manufactured gaseous fuels.

With the move to natural gas and creation of the national grid network, their use has steadily declined as the pipe network can store gas under pressure, and has been able to satisfy peak demand directly. Deeming the use of gasometers redundant.

Some of the major cities in the UK are noted for having many gas holders which have been a major part of the landscape for up to 200 years. Some of which have gone on to be listed, resulting in them being saved from destruction, saving a minute part of this key symbol of a bygone age which was a key icon of a mass manufacturing industry.

Popular Gasometers include the Oval Cricket Ground (right) and the Historic London gasometer reborn as public green space. You can see various poignant images of these historic structures here.

Many people remember the gas holders local to them and were a big part of growing up, giving a sense of where they were geographically and their demise can bring a touch of melancholy. They may have been a mystery to many children who would have questioned what they were for. The cylinder, which was held within the outer structure, would go up and down periodically dependant on whether they were full or empty in a concertina style.

As more and more of these gasometers are being decommissioned and dismantled, National Grid decided to mark the occasions by doing a range of activities; including various events; Local school visits to learn about the history of the gas holder, local open days to allow people to find out about what was happening with the sites following decommission or holding competitions.

Unfortunately, the old structures take a lot to maintain and look after, following demolition the resulting empty land is a great opportunity for future property projects, which means keeping them is generally not an option. Keith Johnson, a land regeneration manager working for National Grid explained “National Grid is not a property company. We’ve been going through a programme of demolition for the last 15 years. And it will probably last for another 20. By getting rid of them we are giving the land back to developers. It’s a massive opportunity. It’s true that they have been part of the community in the past, but that value has now gone. The disused holders’ existence costs vast amounts of money, we’d have to maintain them structurally and make sure that the sites are secure”. Source: BBC

Will the Gas holders be missed? As the reported by the BBC these gas holders, though they are now defunct, with many being removed, will continue to play a part in British culture.

Whether we like it or not, these giant metal structures of our past are slowly being taken away. For many who have grown up with these being a prominent part of their city, the real loss may not be to the industry, but the reminiscent memories from our childhood that only very few things can inspire.

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Article written by Kimberley Salmon, Finance Assistant