Exploring your local gas heritage

Gas has been used to light our streets, heat and light our homes, schools and workplaces, and cook our food for over 200 years. At one time, every major town and city in the UK included a gasworks.

In this Case Study, pupils explored their locality and used a range of primary sources to uncover evidence of their local gas heritage, including where it was made and how it was used to light the way.

Who

Year 6

Man on a ladder lighting a gas lamp
Lamp attendant, Liverpool, 1968. Ref: G00050 Credit: Warrington Gas Archive

Intended outcomes

Pupils will:

  • Learn that other types of energy were used for lighting, before electricity
  • Use primary sources of evidence to find out about gas heritage – how it was used and where it was produced in their local area
  • Develop enquiry skills in questioning, identifying and using useful primary sources, and organising and presenting historical evidence.

Pupils started by exploring how gas was used as a major source of energy in the past, for lighting, cooking, heating – even to power cars, radios and hairdryers! They looked at images of old gas lamps, gasworks and gas holders, to see what they would have looked like, as well as watching short films about the lamp attendants who still look after the remaining gas lamps in London today, and how gas was made in the past from coal.

Pupils then used old maps, aerial views and street names to find out if there had a been a gasworks located near to their school. They went on a local walk to uncover further evidence of gas heritage in their locality. They took along old photos of gasworks and used these to compare how the site looked ‘then & now’ – had the buildings been repurposed or completely redeveloped? They also took along images of old gas lamps and lampposts, to see if they could find evidence of streets or parks having been lit by gas, and to compare street lighting ‘then & now’. They took rubbings of interesting cast iron designs on the lampposts, made sketches and took photographs of their findings.

Back in the classroom they discussed the pros and cons of the old and modern lamps, and thought about what it would be like if there were no street lights at all. They also considered the pros and cons of preserving and repurposing the old gasworks buildings versus redeveloping the site – e.g. for social housing.

What we did

  • Researched old maps, aerial views and street names
  • Compared how buildings and sites looked in the past with how they look today
  • Explored and evaluated the design of different types of street lighting – past and present
  • Considered the safety/social implications of having no street lighting

Challenges

  • The teacher had to find time to carry out a thorough risk assessment of the route that the pupils would take on their heritage walk

Successes

  • Pupils enjoyed spotting all the different types of street lights on the walk
  • Pupils understood how important things we take for granted are – like street lights
  • Pupils could describe and tell a story about what their area looked like in the past and how it has changed.

Resources and web links

Next steps/extension activities

  • Find out more about the people who worked in the Gas Industry by watching and listening to videos and podcasts of former gas workers as part of the National Grid: Capturing Stories project. You could even try to find people in your local area who worked in your local gas industry and encourage them to share their stories with your class and the project.
  • Go on a visit to your nearest Gas Museum, such as: The National Gas Museum, Leicester, Fakenham Museum of Gas
  • Do more research on the Old Flames website, created by retired employees of British Gas (HQ), which has about 1400 photographs obtained from the archives of National Grid or within the National Grid Archive itself
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