The Gas Works

In the bad old days ‘town gas’ was made by cooking coal in a furnace without air so the coal couldn’t burn. Gas was driven off and could be collected and the solid that was left was still a burnable fuel always called coke. The gas often called town gas or coal gas was nasty stuff. One of its burnable products was the toxic carbon monoxide. The gas also had large amounts of hydrogen in it as well as a range of hydrocarbons.

In my local town of Devizes the gas works was sited alongside the canal. This was an obvious choice since coal could be brought in by canal boat although in my memory of the area, which only goes back to the 1970s the works itself was already closed. No doubt, towards the end of its life, coal had been brought by lorry and actually that was easier since lorries can tip whereas coal on a barge would have to be shovelled out.

Alongside the coking and gas plant there had to be storage tanks for the gas and gasworks always had gas holders, often called gasometers. And it’s the Devizes pair of these that we see today.

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The gas holders consist of two parts. The base is fixed and a moveable top part can go up or down according to how much gas there is. The gasometer name (meter does mean measure) came about because the height of the holder gave an idea of the amount of gas inside.

Many people of an age will remember cricket commentator John Arlott commenting on the size of the gasometers by the Oval cricket ground.

The clever bit was that it was the weight of that top part which provided the pressure to pump gas to houses.

Those gas holders stayed in place until about 1990.

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