Thames Street Gas Works

From London's Ghost Acres

Revision as of 14:47, 12 May 2016 by Bath (Talk | contribs)


It is not without regret that I read in the last issue of the CO-PARTNERSHIP Journal that another link with the past had been broken. Thinking that what I can recollect of Thames Street Works may interest a few I am putting on paper some matters brought to mind by the breaking of the link. In January, 1864, I was born at Thames Street, my grandfather, David Hunter, then having the management of the works and my father being foreman.

My grandfather's house was near to the Meter House, and my father lived in the house occupied until recently by Mr. King. My grandfather had a nice garden (also a grazing ground for goats) between his house and No.4 gasholder. An early recollection, perhaps the earliest, is that of seeing work being done in the Meter House, and wondering what it meant. It was the installing of a governor - until then the pressure in the district mains had been regulated by a man watching a gauge and adjusting a valve to counteract the changes shown by the gauge.

The Coal Lift was a rather primitive piece of wooden plant. Its form was that of sheer legs. The skip could be lowered into the hold of the ship when the legs were horizontal, and its contents could be tipped into a truck when they were vertical. The peculiarity of this lift was that it had no engine. It was driven, by means of rather complicated gearing, by an engine connected with the exhausters. The Stage Retort House was built but not brought into use. Ground at Norman Road had been acquired (about half the present area) and what was then considered a large gasholder (No.8) had been erected. Such was Thames Street when I was a small boy.

In October, 1887, my father went to Woolwich as Engineer to the Consumers Company, but I did not lose touch with the old works until (I think) 1872, when my grandfather retired.

I was in the service of the Woolwich Company when it was absorbed by the South Metropolitan Company in 1885. Late in that year I was moved to Thames Street, and the changes I found there were very marked. The old Coal Lift was gone, and in its place hydraulic cranes formed what was considered one of the best lifts on the Thames. Steamers of 800 tons, or more, could be unloaded in less time than vessels of 200 tons with the old lift.

Purifiers stood where my grandfather's house had been, and what was once a nice garden had become a place for revivifying purifying material. Two small gasholders had disappeared from the works, but the loss of them was more than met by a second holder (larger than No.8) at Norman Road The daily make of gas had increased from under a million cubic feet to three times that quantity.

The late Mr Braidwood was the Engineer, and while I was there he made a number of changes. Perhaps the most noticeable of them was a revolution of the carbonising plant through his keen interest in the development of inclined retort.

He invented and patented a catch for Morton's retort doors. It was an excellent little gadget, for, as all adjustment could be made by it, the unsatisfactory, eccentric bolt in the centre of the crossbar was done away with.

For about thirty years Thames Street was the home of the Lighterage Department. That department had its beginning in 1887, when the Company's first tug, the "George Livesey" was launched. The Company owned only a few barges then, but their number increased so rapidly that a second tug was soon needed. This was the "T.B.Hawthorn," and it was not very long before it was followed by the "Partnership."

Much could be written about the strike of 1889 - I will only say that it was a time of intense anxiety and very hard work.

The old works was the place where several engineers who made their mark in the industry received their training. Among them were two nephews of my grandfather, John Somerville (Maidstone, Dublin and Bank side) and Robert Hunter (Stalybridge and Chester), while under the late Mr Wates, who preceded Mr. Braidwood, our late President, Dr. Carpenter, was a pupil."

Gas works were used to produce and store flammable coal gas. Coal was mined in Britain and then shipped on a barge up rivers or on trains to the gas works. There it was burned to create the gas, which was then purified and put into the gas holders until needed for consumer use to light streets and buildings. The process also created coke, tar, ammonia, and sulphur as by-products.


1827 to 1926


Loading map...

Located in



Gas, Tar, Coke, Ammonia, Sulphur

Used Raw Materials



From To Owner
1827 1880 Phoenix Gas Company
1880 The date "{{{to_date}}}" was not understood.The date "{{{to_date}}}" was not understood. South Metropolitan Gas Company


From To Industry
1827 1926 Coal Gas Industry