Bethnal Green 1

Gasholder No2 1998 picture from Malcolm Tucker – click to enlarge

The Bethnal Green Holder Station was established in the 1850s as a detached holder station for the Shoreditch Gasworks of the Imperial Gas Light and Coke Company, opened in 1823. The site of the Shoreditch Gasworks is now occupied by Haggerston Park in LB Hackney. The old brick walls in the park are the retained walls of the gasworks. Also retained in the north-west corner is the dry southern end of Haggerston Basin: a short narrow basin off the Regent’s Canal used by barges delivering coal to the gasworks. Unlike the gasworks, the holder station was built on the Regent’s Canal; and both historic gasholders are situated near to the south side of the canal.


The No. 2 gasholder was designed by the engineer in charge of the Shoreditch Gasworks, Joseph Clark; and completed by Westwood and Wright’s of Dudley in December 1866. It has a columnar guide frame of 16 cast-iron columns on a circular in-ground brick tank, 134 feet in diameter. Each column consists of two superimposed classical columns: a lower Doric column and an upper Corinthian column, separated by a rectangular junction box for the lower ring of decorative cast- and wrought-iron girders. The upper ring being bolted to rectangular junction boxes on top of the Corinthian columns.


The lower junction boxes have lost their applied mouldings; the capitals of the Corinthian columns have lost their leafwork; and the upper junction boxes have lost their superimposed cornice blocks. Despite these losses, the No. 2 gasholder’s guide frame was clearly designed to a very high standard of orthodox classical detailing.


The No. 2 is also the smallest and earliest surviving of a series of gasholders designed by Joseph Clark for the Imperial Gas Light and Coke Company. A number of these survive in the large group of Grade-II-listed gasholders at the Bromley-by-Bow Holder Station on the east bank of the River Lea, in LB Newham.

Bethnal Green gh No. 5 framing, MTT 5 Nov 1998 300

Gasholder No5 – picture from Malcolm Tucker – click to enlarge


In 1876, the Imperial Gas Light and Coke Company merged with the Chartered Gas Light and Coke Company to form the Gas Light and Coke Company, which was the world’s largest gas undertaking until nationalisation in 1949.


The No. 5 gasholder was designed by the new company’s engineer, George Trewby, and was completed in 1889. It has a lattice guide frame of 22 steel box-lattice guide standards on a circular in-ground concrete tank 200 feet in diameter and 50 feet in depth. The elegant tapering guide standards are joined by four rings or wrought-iron or steel girders with lattice webs. The No.5 gasholder’s lattice guide frame of 1888-89 is a mature example of its type: compared to the first examples erected in the 1870s, of which the No. 1 gasholder at the Poplar Holder Station in LB Tower Hamlets is the earliest now surviving.


At 146 feet, the No.5 is twice the height of the No.2 and makes the dominant contribution to the canalscape. However, the setting of each gasholder is enhanced by the proximity of the other. Furthermore, they are the only surviving adjacent gasholders in London which represent the two main types of 19th century gasholder guide frame in London, which was the birthplace of the gas industry; and until recently, the No.2 gasholder was the oldest in operational use in the country.


There were four gasworks along the 8¾-mile-long Regent’s Canal, which was opened in 1820. The canal’s main trade was coal, carried in barges from Regent’s Canal Dock (now Limehouse Basin) to supply the Stepney, Shoreditch, Haggerston and St Pancras Gasworks, and numerous coal merchants. Of the few surviving historic gasholders on or near the Regent’s Canal, the four gasholders at St Pancras are being relocated on new sites, whereas the two at Bethnal Green are in their original positions. They are also nearest to Limehouse Basin. At the basin there are two surviving structures associated with transhipping coal from North Sea collier to Regent’s Canal barge.


Furthermore, along the canal between Limehouse Basin and the Bethnal Green gasholders there are structures and buildings associated with the coal trade. At the site of the Stepney Gasworks there are remnants of a coal-handling structure and a coal store; and four reinstated lower parts of gasholder guide frame columns dating from the mid-1850s, which are now probably the oldest surviving parts of gasholder guide frame columns in the world. Surviving next to the canal at Mile End Road is an 1820 house built by John Gardner, who operated a fleet of canal barges carrying coal, timber, bricks and malt. Also, at Twig Folly Wharf, London’s only surviving canal barge builder’s building.


Tom Ridge
September 2014

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