The Manufactured Gas Industry

Author(s): Russell Thomas

This set of reports aims to provide a detailed but succinct national overview of the manufactured gas industry to inform Historic England policy and conservation strategies. It provides an illustrated summary of what we know about this once vast industry. It has attempted to draw together the dauntingly voluminous amount of literature on the subject, which is held in a limited number of archives. This report will also be useful to a wide range of interested parties, such as local authority Historic Environment Record officers and others concerned with studying, managing and recording sites related to the manufactured gas industry. The report has been compiled as a desk-top study, although informed by past visits by the author to a number of former gasworks sites and over 22 years of involvement in the subject. Manufactured gas was one of England’s most extensive and important industries for over 150 years. Gas was manufactured on sites referred to as gasworks, which were present in every city, town and many villages across the country. They had a profound impact on both the urban and rural landscape. Not only visually, from the striking features of the gasholders and retort houses, but also culturally, socially and environmentally. The industry started in England but gradually spread across the British Isles, Europe and further abroad. The technology constantly evolved and different processes were developed, which allowed the industry to meet the challenges of increased production and competition from electricity. The manufactured gas era ended in the 1970s, most of the associated structures have been demolished and the last remaining vestiges of this era, the gasholders, are no longer required and undergoing a programme of demolition. This document provides an overview of our understanding of the development of this industry. It outlines the history of gas manufacture from the first discovery of gas, the distillation of coal and oil, advent of the first factory gasworks, through the growth of the public gas industry (c.1800-1850), the introduction of new technologies, rationalisation (c.1919-1947), nationalisation (c.1949), switch to oil reforming, conversion to natural gas (1966-76) and privatisation (c.1986-2000). This is followed by a summary of the development of the processes, buildings, structures and engineering.

Report Number:
Research Department Reports
Modern Standing Building Standing Structure Industrial Heritage


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