The gasworks was first established in 1853, located on land that now contains New Covent Garden Market, a former Royal Mail depot and a supermarket. The gasholders you see today were built following an infamous fire, triggered by a fire in a building adjacent to one of the original gasholders. The holders were destroyed and the accident cost the lives of nine people.
- Gasholder No. 4 – built between 1872 and 1873
- Gasholder No. 5 – built between 1875 and 1876
- Gasholder No. 6 – built between 1882 and 1883
- Gasholder No. 7 (blue MAN gasholder) – built in 1932
What did the gasholders do?
The Battersea Gasholders were built to store town gas produced by the London Gas Light Company’s Nine Elms Gasworks.
Today our gas is sourced from underground reserves across the world but, before this, gas was produced at a gasworks by heating coal.
Heating the coal produced the town gas that was used by Victorians to light gas lamps and, if homeowners could afford it, fuel gas cookers and heat baths. It was during the later half of the 19th century that using gas at home really took off in towns and cities.
After the discovery of North Sea oil and gas reserves, the need for gasworks rapidly diminished. The gasworks completely closed in 1970. For a time the site continued to store gas but improvements to the gas network mean that it can now be stored in the pipe system itself.
London Gas Light Company and Nine Elms Gas Works
The London Gas Light Company was just one of many companies in London that produced town gas. It built and owned the Nine Elms Gas Works and Vauxhall Gas Works. In 1850 there were 13 companies producing town gas in London.
Nine Elms Gas Works was completed in 1858. The 20-acre gasworks once employed over 800 people many of whom lived in the local area.
The gasworks itself was located at what used to be the Royal Mail Depot, away from the gasholders site and where coal was brought to the works by barge.
The City of London Gas Act 1868 created a single company to make sure Londoners were provided with a secure supply of gas at a fair price. Called the Chartered Gas Light and Coke Company, this single company had the legal power to absorb all the other gas companies and their gasworks. In 1883, the London Gas Light Company became a part of the Chartered Company.
During World War Two the gasworks suffered major damage but was rebuilt and continued to operate until its closure in 1970.
Who built the gasholders?
The gasholders were built as extra storage for the Nine Elms Gas Works and just like a modern construction project, many different people from different companies worked together to build them.
Gasholders four, five and six
These gasholders were designed by the London Gas Light Company’s engineer, Robert Morton also designed the Engineer’s House you can see behind the wall.
The large tanks at the bottom of all three gasholders were dug by John Aird and Sons who also worked on major projects such as dismantling Crystal Palace and moving it from Hyde Park to South London.
Gasholders four and five were built by a company called Joshua and William Horton that was based in Smethwick, near Birmingham.
Gasholder six was built by Ashmore and While, a company based in Stockton on Tees, near Middlesbrough. Only two years before completing gasholder six, the company built one of the largest telescopic gasholders at the time in Birmingham. They did this by ingeniously converting a non-telescoping gasholder tank and extending its frame allowing it to store double the amount of gas.
Gasholder seven – The MAN holder
MAN stands for Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg, which is the name of the German company that developed the design for the tall blue gasholder. MAN gasholders are located across the country, Europe and the US. MAN still exists and specialises in making engines, busses and trucks.
While the technology was German, the gasholders were built by an English company called R&J Dempster. R&J Dempster were granted the license by MAN to build the gasholders and went on to even build them in Germany itself.
Today, modern variants of MAN gasholders continue to be built across the world by another German company, Leffer, thanks to their relatively lightweight design and large capacity.