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Newsletter No 3 March 2015


The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has decided not to list the historic gasholders at Bethnal Green and is "minded to issue a Certificate of Immunity" (COI).  Comments had to be made by 27 March 2015.  An expert on gasholders has made a representation to the DCMS with respect to the No. 5 gasholder and your correspondent has sent the following letter asking the Secretary of State to review his decision with respect to the No. 2 and the No. 5 gasholders.

DCMS Listing Review Officer

26 March 2015

Dear Sir,

I have lived in Bethnal Green since 1981 and was very pleased when the two historic gasholders at the Bethnal Green Holder Station were included in LBTH's Regent's Canal Conservation Area.  When I realised that LBTH was planning a small park on the site of the two historic gasholders I came up with the idea of having playspaces within the retained guideframes in the park.  This idea was subsequently incorporated into an online petition organised by the East End Waterway Group.  

The online petition is being sent to you by Oval Space so that the Secretary of State is made aware of the fact that nearly 1400 East Londoners want to keep and reuse these structures.  Not just because they are a part of our treasured local scene but because they are the best surviving examples of the two main 19th century types of gasholder in London, which was the birthplace of the gas industry. 

The fact that there are already a number of listed later examples of the No. 2 type in London does not mean that the No. 2 at Bethnal Green should not be added to the National List.  Its double-order columns are of a more satisfactory 'width' in relation to their combined height and the guide frame as a whole than the listed examples at Bromley-by-Bow and St Pancras.  As the guideframe also has square upper panels and rectangular lower panels, the No. 2 at Bethnal Green is the neo-classical exemplar of its type in London.  All the listed holders at Bromley-by-Bow and St Pancras have rectangular upper and lower panels between their attenuated double-order columns and, in terms of their neo-classical appearance, are inferior to the stunningly well-designed No. 2 at Bethnal Green. 

I am deeply shocked that English Heritage has not only failed to appreciate the obvious merits of the No. 2 gasholder but feels compelled to regard the neighbouring No. 5 gasholder as an "essentially utilitarian structure".  Just because it lacks architectural features does not mean that the No. 5 is without special architectural and historic interest.  As Malcolm Tucker has so clearly demonstrated it is a beautiful piece of engineering design and in this respect is probably the best example of the few surviving examples of its type in London.  Furthermore, its designer was sufficiently aware of the merits of the No. 2 gasholder to make sure that its more numerous upper panels were as square as possible to complement the No. 2's square upper panels.  This is why the two historic gasholders constitute a harmonious ensemble on the banks of the Regent's Canal.

Gasholders are no longer "not an uncommon building type" and there are now so few surviving examples that the traditional basis for highly selective protection no longer exists.  Even so, had the two historic gasholders at Bethnal Green been fairly assessed by English Heritage they would have recommended them for national listing, regardless of the fact that they are located in what was a detached holder station where alterations have changed the local context.  It does not in truth really matter that the neighbouring holders have been replaced because they are going to be demolished.  The No. 2 and the No. 5 have sufficient group value in themselves to be nationally listed.  Furthermore, their group value is enhanced by their canalside location and the other surviving coal-related structures on this lower section of the Regent's Canal (see the attached slightly amended version of the notes which accompanied the online petition).  

The group value of the listed gasholders at Bromley-by-Bow has been eroded by the loss of two gasholders and the incredibly ugly alterations made to one of the surviving gasholders.  Their group value and significance will more or less disappear when flats are built inside their guideframes.  The group value of the listed gasholders at St Pancras is non-existent.  The No. 8 was relocated to a site nearer the canal and the triplets are going to be located elsewhere. 

To say that "the site lacks context" implies that to be listed gasholders must have a gasworks.  There are no surviving gasworks in London: all gas-producing buildings and plant have been demolished.  Where is the gasworks at Bromley-by-Bow?  Where is the gasworks at St Pancras?  In fact, the two historic gasholders at the Bethnal Green holder station are the only historic large urban gasholders in the whole of London and probably England which still have surviving remnants of their associated gasworks, namely the high walls and partly-infilled coal barge basin in Haggerston Park, which is just a short distance to the west (see attached notes).  

All that is needed are interpretation panels at both sites to "demonstrate the technical processes involved in coal gas manufacture and storage" as carried out by myself and Malcolm Tucker at the cleared site of the Stepney Gasworks (see attached notes).  The remnants in Haggerston Park are considerably more substantial than the very small remnants at Stepney.  Together with the retained and reused historic gasholders in the small park at Marian Place, the walls and partly-infilled coal barge basin in Haggerston Park constitute the last remaining opportunity to create a meaningful memorial to the internationally important London gas industry.  

For all these reasons, and the reasons set out in the attached notes, and the fact that nearly 1400 East Londoners have signed the EEWG petition, I sincerely hope that the Secretary of State will review his decision and add Bethnal Green's No. 2 and No. 5 gasholders to the National List.
Yours sincerely,

Tom Ridge


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.

Pictures by Ed Ram
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.  Compared to all the listed gasholders at Bromley-by-Bow and four similar listed gasholders at St Pancras, the No. 2 is the most compact and the most well-proportioned.

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 of 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 nearby, 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.  With the exception of the reinstated columns, all these structures and buildings along the canal, together with the two historic gasholders at Bethnal Green, are in the Regent's Canal Conservation Area.  

Tom Ridge
December 2014

Information from: 
London Gasholder Survey a Report for English Heritage by Malcolm T Tucker (September 2000)
East End Waterway Guide by Tom Ridge (to be published 2015)
At some point in the very near future we will probably have to send the Bethnal Gasholders Petition to St William Homes LLP and its two shareholders, National Grid plc and The Berkeley Group Holdings plc.

Thanks to you and all the other people who signed we have a petition to send at the last minute but we also desperately need wide media coverage for it to make a difference.


We have heard from Tower Hamlets that we can't present our Poplar Gasholder Petition to a council meeting (council procedure rule 19.2).  But as with Bethnal Green, we can submit it when there is a planning application: by which time the gasholder(s) will have been demolished!
new eewg logo East End Waterway Group
Local residents, schools, community groups, amenity societies and businesses working with the Canal & River Trust, Tower Hamlets Council and others for the protection and beneficial use of the six mile waterway ‘ring’, its historic buildings, structures and habitats.
Copyright © 2015 EAST END WATERWAY GROUP, All rights reserved.

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