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The Bethnal Green Gasometers

May 9, 2019
by the gentle author

If you care about the fate of the Bethnal Green gasometers,  I recommend you attend the public consultations held by St William Homes (a joint venture by National Grid and the Berkeley Group) who are currently considering the option of retaining the gasometers as part of their redevelopment of the site.

The exhibition takes place this Saturday 11th May from 11:00am – 4:00pm, Monday 13th from 3:00pm – 7:00pm and Tuesday 14th from 11:00am – 3:00pm at the Redeemed Christian Church of God, 7-8 The Oval, Bethnal Green, E2 9DT.

Behold the majestic pair of gasometers in Bethnal Green, planted regally side by side like a king and queen surveying the Regent’s Canal from aloft. Approaching along the towpath, George Trewby’s gasometer of 1888-9 dominates the skyline, more than twice the height of its more intricate senior companion designed by Joseph Clarke in 1866.

Ever since these monumental gasometers were granted a ‘certificate of immunity against listing’ by Historic England, which guarantees they will never receive any legal protection from destruction, their fate has been in the balance.

The Bethnal Green gasometers were constructed to contain the gas that was produced by the Shoreditch Gas Works, fired by coal delivered by canal. The thick old brick walls bordering Haggerston Park are all that remains today of the gas works which formerly occupied the site of the park, built by the Imperial Gas Light & Coke Company in 1823.

Crossing Cat & Mutton Bridge, named after the nearby pub founded in 1732, I walked down Wharf Place and into Darwen Place determining to make as close a circuit of the gasometers as the streets would permit me.

Flanked by new housing on either side of Darwen Place, the gasometers make a spectacularly theatrical backdrop to a street that would otherwise lack drama. Dignified like standing stones yet soaring like cathedrals, these intricate structures insist you raise your eyes heavenward, framing the sky as if it were an epic painting contrived for our edification.

Each storey of Joseph Clarke’s structure has columns ascending from Doric to Corinthian, indicating the influence of classical antiquity and revealing the architect’s chosen precedent as the Coliseum, which – if you think about it – bears a striking resemblance to a gasometer.

As I walked through the surrounding streets, circumnavigating the gasometers, I realised that the unapproachable nature of these citadels contributes to their magic. You keep walking and they always remain in the distance, always just out of reach yet looming overhead and dwarfing their surroundings. In spite of the utilitarian nature of this landscape, the relationship between the past and present is clear in this place and this imparts a strange charisma to the location, an atmosphere enhanced by the other-wordly gasometers.

After walking their entire perimeter, I can confirm that the gasometers are most advantageously regarded from mid-way along the tow path between Mare St and Broadway Market. From here, the silhouette of George Trewby’s soaring structure may be be viewed against the sun and also as a reflection into the canal, thus doubling the dramatic effect of these intriguing sky cages that capture space and inspire exhilaration in the beholder.

We hope that the developer recognises the virtue in retaining these magnificent towers and integrating them into their scheme, adding value and distinction to their architecture, and drama and delight to the landscape.

The view from Darwen Place

Decorative ironwork and classical columns ascending from Doric to Corinthian like the Coliseum

The view from Marian Place

The view from Emma St

The view from Corbridge St

The view from Regent’s Canal towpath

George Trewby’s gasometer of 1888 viewed from Cat of Mutton bridge over Regent’s Canal

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The Gasometers of Bethnal Green

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17 Responses leave one →
  1. Alex Knisely permalink
    May 9, 2019

    Several gasometers in Saxony have been re-purposed as “panometers”, with central viewing platforms at many levels and shifting images projected onto the interior curtain wall. I have not visited that in Leipzig, but that in Dresden is MOST impressive; a day in the mid-1700s was shown to great effect. The Dresden gasworks are now the site of one of the city’s best tourist attractions — why should that not happen in Hackney as well?

  2. Greg Tingey permalink
    May 9, 2019

    Redevelopment including removal of the GASHOLDERS could be difficult, as I understand that the ground aroud the site is very heavliy contaminated ( Being on the site of an old gas-works )
    And that it is in fact, cheaper to leave them where they are.
    I hope that this is the case …..

  3. May 9, 2019

    What wonderful iconic treasures. Historic England MUST be abolished!

  4. Jill Wilson permalink
    May 9, 2019

    Wow! They are definitely worth saving… I love the way that the Victorians bother to include classical architectural features in what could otherwise have been a very bland bit of industrial engineering.

    Great photos too – especially the ones with the reflections. And I love the thought that they capture the sky.

    Let’s hope the developers realise what a fantastic opportunity they have got to do something really imaginative with the site using the gasometers as an inspirational starting point.

  5. Linda Granfield permalink
    May 9, 2019

    Thank you for this article–beautiful photos!

    My grandmother (b. 1899) lived on Cannon/Canon Rd in Bromley (then Kent) and gasometers were close by. At least they still were in 2014. I knew nothing about how they worked but learned. Fascinating, albeit noisy, business essential to residents.

    I hope the developers incorporate the intricately detailed structures in any future plans. They are towering examples of William Morris’s ‘beautiful and useful’ quotation.

    Thank you.

  6. Annie permalink
    May 9, 2019

    Thank you for the information, I will definitely try to visit the exhibition.
    I sincerely hope the gasometers can be saved, I really love that area of the canal.

  7. May 9, 2019

    I also hope that the developers will see their beauty and integrate them in whatever scheme they have in mind. By the way, I loved the “Cat & Mutton Bridge” named after the pub of the same name.

  8. May 9, 2019

    I do hope they are retained, I drive past these regularly when visiting my mum and they are magnificent.
    Earlier this year, what looked like a giant metal spider was attached to the top of one, the Gasometer appearing as it’s web, did anyone else see this?
    Beautiful photographs GA, especially the one showing the reflection of their classical beauty in Regent’s Canal.

  9. May 9, 2019

    Thanks for drawing these majestic structures to our attention. They are marvellous examples of Victorian industrial architecture and should be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

  10. Laura Williamson permalink
    May 9, 2019

    Another here who loves the elegance the Victorians could bring to the most utilitarian structure. This must be one instance (ground pollution permitting) where sympathetic inclusion in a modern usage, which preserved their spare beauty, would be a possibility.

  11. Helen Breen permalink
    May 9, 2019

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, I like the close-up short of the gasometers with “Decorative ironwork and classical columns ascending from Doric to Corinthian like the Coliseum.” They must be well maintained since there is no sign of rust.

  12. May 9, 2019

    Thank you Gentle Author. Although I appreciate architecture and the surrounding landscape that I can see with my own eyes I have had very little education as to how structures such as these should fit in the modern day environment. You have pointed precisely out how the gasometers do
    actually enhance the area. the photos are beautiful and you could say contain the iconic magic of a rapidly disappearing London. You have drawn attention to something which is worth saving . Your blog is an essential service to Londoners !

  13. Eric Forward permalink
    May 9, 2019

    I live on the site of an old gasworks in Stepney Green, so I’m afraid it does look like complete removal / redevelopment is an option if looking at Grand Union Place as an example. However, looking to Kings Cross, they’ve managed to build within the structures to create something quite unique. I’d recommend it as another beautiful canal side walk. I do hope they manage to retain these structures, there is something beautiful and unique about this stretch of the canal, it would be awful to see these go.

  14. Ms Mischief permalink
    May 9, 2019

    Historic England deserves a kick up its arse!

    Can anyone suggest a better name for the idiotic organisation that actively encourages the destruction of the historic fabric of England… unless it’s one more aristocratic mansion?

  15. Mary Mills permalink
    May 9, 2019

    Lucky Bethnal Green – please wish us well with the magnificent East Greenwich No1. – much later than Bethnal Green – which seems doomed because of the Silvertown Tunnel.

    Please tell Greg Tingey above that Marian Place holders were a holder station a considerable distance from where the gas was made which was Haggerston Park

  16. Sharon permalink
    May 10, 2019

    As we travel by train around the country we often get to see the ‘arse end’ of towns, complete with gas HOLDERS. Though these are fewer and further between these days.

    I’m with Greg Tingey on the redevelopment too – gasworks certainly were known to have badly contaminated the land they were built on. Whether the same is true for gas holders remains to be tested for. Not sure I’d like to try growing anything in such land.

    Wouldn’t mind living in a sympathetic adaptation of such a beautifully design piece of functional engineering though. When did the idea that everything had to look as ugly as possible come in? It can’t be that much cheaper to build ‘ugly’ than to build ‘elegant’ or ‘stylish’, can it?

  17. L Mil permalink
    May 10, 2019

    East End Waterways have very constructive comments and suggestions to development, one gas holder with residential inside, the other with park inside. Details here:

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