1870’s - Small Town Gasworks

From the early 7800s, gas was increasingly used for heat and light, and was not generally superseded by electricity until the 1920s. Although never as popular as steam, industrial gas-powered engines were also introduced from the 1870s. Before North Sea Gas, the gas was produced from coal, and even quite small towns had their own gasworks. The air was often heavily polluted by their fumes, to which was added the smoke generated by factories and domestic hearths. Why were people evidently prepared to tolerate such atmospheric pollution?

Until quite recently, practically every town in the country had its own gasworks, identified by the pungent smells associated with the industry. Apart from the preserved gasworks at Biggar in Lanarkshire and Fakenham in Norfolk, there are few relics of these once-typical features of the industrial landscape. Only the prominent gasholders remain, storing the natural gas from the North Sea that we now exploit as an energy source. Gas was traditionally produced by roasting coal in horizontal retorts. It was driven off through a hydraulic main while residual tar - which had many uses, including soap-making - was separated and collected in underground tanks. The gas then went through various stages of cooling and washing, during which other useful by-products such as benzole, napthalene and ammonia were extracted. Much of the gas-making process went on in buildings characterised by unglazed openings and louvred roof ventilators, but the tower scrubbers and condensers for tar removal usually stood in the open, as here. One of the final stages was to pass the gas through purifier boxes containing trays of iron oxide, which removed hydrogen sulphide. It was then measured by the gasometer, a term sometimes mistakenly used to refer to the gasholder, the large vessel used to store the gas. Gasholders were built as a series of telescopic sections that rose or fell according to the volume of gas within. A governor ensured that the gas subsequently passing into the public mains was of uniform pressure, even at times of peak demand.

1770’s - Water-Powered Textile Mill

1880’s - Steam-powered Factory