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So Long, Bethnal Green Gasometers

September 21, 2022
by the gentle author

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As work commences on the demolition of these longtime landmarks, I publish my eulogy to two beloved citadels soon to vanish from the landscape.

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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 sealed.

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

Demolition begins

Iron plate torn off like orange peel

You may also like to read

The Gasometers of Bethnal Green

The Departure of Empress Coaches

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Greg T permalink
    September 21, 2022

    I’ve been going past them on the train for over65 years …
    The area has changed a little in that period (!)
    Also been walking or cycling past them in more recent times, getting to & from The Broadway
    How are they dealing with the contaminated ground, I wonder?

  2. dudi harris permalink
    September 21, 2022

    so enjoy these reflections and stories, i myself was born in Arnold circus Shoreditch 67 years ago. I now live only a few miles away in barkingside and occasionally walk around my old childhood stomping ground.
    I find these writings bring a smile to my face and sometimes a tear to my eye as i remember my days in the East End
    Very well written i can here the noises of the east end in the stories

  3. Lorraine permalink
    September 21, 2022

    Now that’s the strangest thing: I am nearly 70, so these structures have accompanied me throughout my lifetime, yet never before have I appreciated their beauty, nor their age. These photos bring them closer for me to examine the ornate and – almost – delicate nature of the ironwork. Something that I never viewed in such a way before I now see differently and more appreciatively, having always previously considered them – and virtually disregarded – a necessary evil, as I encircled them during my daily life.

  4. Annie S permalink
    September 21, 2022

    I sincerely hope the gasometer structures are going to be incorporated with the new buildings!
    I went to a planning consultation on the site a few years ago and the developers said they intended to keep them.
    They are a wonderful iconic feature of the area.

  5. Sharon permalink
    September 21, 2022

    Such a sad fate for these majestic structures.. they have a quiet beauty all their own.

    I live near the site of some similar – disused for many years and demolished pre-pandemic, with approval of the local council. The reason? Promises of a new care home.
    The empty site now destined to be left as fly-tipped waste ground for years. The reason? It has proved ‘too costly’ to decontaminate the land. So predictable..

  6. Mark permalink
    September 21, 2022

    Beautiful totemic structures that bind us, in a positive way, to the past. Should’ve been listed.
    Progress? Bah! So long.

  7. Eric Forward permalink
    September 21, 2022

    Sad news indeed. Iconic and have provided the backdrop in many a film, TV series, advert, magazine and book cover. Is certainly one of my favourite stretches of the canal. Here’s hoping they do it some justice.

  8. Peter J Washington permalink
    September 21, 2022

    Kings Cross estate, we converted their existing gasometers skeleton into new apartments as they were listed, no reason as why not these ladies can’t be the same.

  9. Leslie Holeyman permalink
    September 21, 2022

    Just brought a book out called It’s Been A Gas on my years working within the Kent Gas district where we maintained these sites. Freely available on Kent libraries or inter library loans.

  10. Helen Thompson permalink
    September 23, 2022

    I have always found these structures intriguing, and have only ever seen one from a distance (around the O2 Arena area) But I had no idea how very beautiful and detailed they are close up, it would be a great shame if they were totally lost.

  11. Dave Phillips permalink
    September 28, 2022

    Ah… just over the ditch from Empress Coaches. You’ve taught me well! Thank You for providing one of the absolute best blogs Ever in human history. Cheers! Dave

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