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The Last Gasometer In Poplar

October 6, 2017
by the gentle author

This is the last gasometer in Poplar and, as you can see, it is not all there. Already parts have gone and quite soon it will vanish entirely. The pleasing circularity that once enclosed the sky diminishes with the loss of each segment. They are disappearing like slices of a cake devoured by a hungry ogre and, shortly, nothing will remain.

To visit now – and come upon it, as I did, lit by the last rays of the setting sun – is to be like one of those travellers of old who undertook the Grand Tour and saw the Coliseum for the first time, marvelling upon it as an heroic example of an earlier age of handmade engineering upon an epic scale. Designed in 1876 by Robert & Henry Edward Jones, father and son engineers of the Commercial Gas Company, the iron structure was manufactured nearby between 1876-78 by Samuel Cutler & Sons of Millwall on the Isle of Dogs, constructional engineers who specialised in the erection of gasometers.

Once you understand that this gasometer has dominated the skyline in this corner of Poplar for nearly a hundred and fifty years, and your eye attunes to the elegant proportion of its criss-cross braced structure, you recognise its similarity to the rope work on a regimental drum or that button-back, deep upholstery of which the Victorians were so fond. It is the oldest example of a lattice-work framed gasometer in this country. Look more closely and admire the nineteen elegant tee-sections which brace the frame with their intricate ironwork consisting of a vertical tapering lattice girder at right angles to a vertical tapering plate girder. They are the first and only examples of this type.

To the left, you can see the march of generic new-London ugly flats which will become slums within a generation. This last gasometer was one of three that formerly comprised Poplar Gas Works here beside the cut, but there will be no preservation and reuse, such as we have seen at Kings Cross where gasometers have been integrated into a new housing scheme to enliven the architecture and maintain a sense of place.

Demolition was granted in September last year with the approval of Historic England, although this was not made public until  last December when it was revealed that a public consultation had only been advertised by an obscure notice at the site in Leven Rd. In July this year, a local councillor asked the Mayor to save the gasometer and received the following response.

“The Council recognises this significant local historical asset and there is a case that it should be preserved as part of redevelopment. In planning policy, this is specifically reflected in the adopted and emerging Local Plan, where in the site allocation, it states that development should aim to ‘…retain and integrate the gas holders as part of the provision of green open space…’ The council plans to strengthen the design principle within the site allocation and seek to further acknowledge the gasholders significant local historical merit.”

Yet the gasometer is in the midst of demolition and, despite a petition by several thousand local people, no proposal has been put forward to integrate it into future plans. Long-time local heritage campaigner Tom Ridge is currently fighting for the preservation of the relics on site, so that future generations may marvel, as we do today, at piles of ancient carved stones from antiquity, and wonder at past glories which are lost.

Gasholder Number One is partially dismantled

The tee-sections which brace the frame with their intricate ironwork, consisting of a vertical tapering lattice girder at right angles to a vertical tapering plate girder, are the first and only examples of their type

Gasholder Number Two is already lopped off

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The Gasometers of Bethnal Green

A Walk to View The Gasometers

6 Responses leave one →
  1. October 6, 2017

    As a historian and former Meccano nut I find much that tugs a heart string in what you write, GA, but …

    I’ve tried to love these structures, yet can’t. Their lack of human proportion and blatant crash-landing into any vista disturbs me. Similarly, I’m sure the electricity pylon’s going will be mourned some day, but not by me (weirdly, I have no problem with wind turbines, perhaps because of their current, parlous necessity). The council’s alleged plan to retain the skeleton in green space would, to me, only have spoiled the latter.

    Aesthetic appreciation is a very personal thing, and I’m sure plenty of folk will think I’m down with the mulligrubs.

  2. Marion permalink
    October 6, 2017

    I grew up in a suburb in Sydney called Mortlake. Mortlake was the home of the gasworks of the Australian Gas Light Company (AGL). Within its complex it had 3 gas holders, one of which was the second largest gas holder ever built in the world, with a volume (capacity) of 12,750,000 cubic feet or 361,000 cubic metres. It was built in 1917.
    We could look out our front door and see the gas holders from a short distance, and watch how the the holders expanded or not, depending on the volume inside.
    It’s funny, because whilst we didn’t give them much thought whilst playing outside on the streets, in some way they were a constant presence, because I can’t think about my old suburb, and childhood without the gasworks being part of those cherished memories.

  3. Linda Salter permalink
    October 6, 2017

    In Salisbury, we have a gasometer which is being demolished. It is going from the bottom section which has now partially Breen taken off site. Not in a favoured part of the city and currently the land used by P.O. for parking. Houses planned I believe. Hoping some will beer affordable but our biggest problem in this part is – parking!

  4. Peter Gray permalink
    October 6, 2017

    I assume that we no longer need gasometers to store domestic gas supplies? If that’s the case, I still don’t see why we have to get rid of everything that is considered old and ugly and useless. After all, if that was the case we would’nt have any members of the Conservative party left!

  5. October 6, 2017

    I wonder if they are looking at how the Kings Cross gasholders have been repurposed and resited. It seems to have worked for Camden.

  6. josefina muñoz permalink
    October 6, 2017

    “Progress” does away with everything. I see the series Call the midwife, which is located in East End, in Poplar, especially because it allows to see the neighborhood and the people, the new inhabitants from other lands. Of course, every day I read the wonderful blog of The gentle author, because it illuminates the day.

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