South Metropolitan Gas Company

From London's Ghost Acres

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1829 to 1949

Located in



The South Metropolitan Gas Company was founded in 1829. In 1833 the first works were built near the Grand Surrey Canal on Old Kent Road (The National Archives). The works on Old Kent Road began as 3 acres but by 1880 they stood on “36 acres of ground, thirty of which are freehold, the rest being leasehold. From time to time the original works have been added to and the ground built upon, until they have assumed colossal proportions. They can now make in twenty-four hours 7,000,000 cubic feet of gas, which means that they can carbonise 700 tons of coal per day, and in winter this is actually done” (The Engineer July 2 1880, 5).

The South Metropolitan Gas Company amalgamated with the Surrey Consumers Gas Company in 1879 and then amalgamated with the Phoenix Gas Company soon after. With these mergers, South Metropolitan Gas Company gained gas works at Rotherhithe St, Vauxhall, Bankside, and Thames St, Greenwich. In 1881 the company also gained 96 acres at East Greenwich, which were opened on July 30, 1887. The South Metropolitan Gas Company continued to take over other gas works, including the Equitable Gas Company and the Consumers Gas Company in 1885. The company expanded into tar works and chemical works manufacturing but was nationalised in 1949 and became part of the Metropolitan Division of SEGB (The National Archives).

Gas works were used to produce and store flammable gas. Coal was largely mined in Britain but also shipped in from Russia, Germany, Sweden, and Norway. The coal was shipped in on a barge up the river or on trains and then burned to create the gas, which was then purified and put into the gas holders until needed for consumer use. The process also created coke, tar, ammonia, and sulphur as by-products.