Liverpool's Garston Gasholder, historic building recording (c) MOLA

Gasholders: recording and rethinking our recent industrial past

Amir Bassir
09.05.2016

Owing to modern developments in gas storage, gasholders are increasingly obsolete and are therefore being demolished or reinvented across the country. Amir Bassir, who works in our Northampton team, has been developing rapid survey techniques for the historic building recording of gasholders and other historic infrastructure across the East and West Midlands, and he tells us more…

Gasholders in the modern landscape

A visible link between producers and consumers, gasholders are a familiar landmark in the urban skyline. These structures, which fuelled Britain's post-industrial development and growth, represent the last visible remains of our former town-gas industry. The recently granted Listed status of Kennington Gasholder 1, overlooking the Oval cricket ground, and the conversion of gasholders at King's Cross to a public park and apartments, reflect a continuing public interest in Britain's industrial and architectural heritage and the desire to see some of the physical structures retained and incorporated into developments.

However, many former gaswork sites are also being redeveloped provide sites for much-needed residential and other developments. The largest owner of gasholders in the UK is National Grid, who own around 500 gasholders across 350 sites and in 2013 announced that 76 gasholders had been earmarked for redevelopment. As part of their decommissioning and dismantling scheme, they commissioned a programme of archaeological recording.

Recording historic gasholders

Amir Bassir, Historic Building Recording Project Officer at MOLA, based in our Northampton team, has so far recorded gasholders at 10 sites throughout the Midlands, including Birmingham's Washwood Heath Gasholder Station, Liverpool's Garston Gasworks and Sheffield's Meadowhall and Neepsend Gasworks. As well as traditional recording techniques, Amir has been producing photogrammetric 3D models of key structural and mechanical components. This is a fast, cost-effective and accurate method of recording complex elements, meaning that work can be streamlined and completed in significantly less time. These techniques are also applicable across a wide range of historic infrastructure, not just gasholders. You can see some examples of these models online on Sketchfab.

The recording process can also capture the intangible heritage that surrounds these landmark structures, including stories which may have been lost to local communities. An example of intangible heritage was found at the Garston Gasworks in Liverpool. During WWII a Luftwaffe parachute bomb landed on the gasholder, yet miraculously did not explode on impact. The aptly named, Harold Newgass, a Royal Navy bomb disposal officer, spent two days in freezing water and surrounded by highly flammable fumes with a limited supply of oxygen, diffusing the bomb, for which he was awarded the George Cross for bravery.

Stories like these demonstrate the value of preserving records of historical structures and the role they have played in our history. The results of archaeological work are compiled in publicly accessible reports and shared online and in local and national archives. Our recording of these gasholders ensures that whilst they may disappear or evolve with our skyline, their stories live on.

Want to learn more about historic building recording for planning and development? Please explore our website and project pages or get in touch business@mola.org.uk.

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