The fight to save Bethnal Green’s historic gas holders

Bethnal Green Gas Holder photoed by Patrick Jones

Picture: Patrick Jones

Gas has provided heating in UK houses for more than 200 years but the historic gas holders in Bethnal Green, which warmed homes for decades, could be about to disappear.

These large sites once had an important part to play in delivering gas to thousands of local people.  Prior to the 1960s the sites were used to manufacture and store town gas made from coal. Then, following the discovery of natural gas in the North Sea in the 1960s, the gas holders continued to be used to store natural gas which supplied local homes, properties and businesses.

The two gas holders in Bethnal Green were built in 1866 and 1889 by designer, John Clark. As productions of the British industrial era, to some the gas holders have historic importance and nostalgic sentiment.

But in recent years, all this has changed and a sophisticated network of pipelines now transmits and distributes gas direct to people’s homes.

National Grid, which owns the Marian Place site, is looking into the possibility of turning the site into housing and other development. Not everyone agrees and the role of the gas holders is a cause for debate locally.

Gillian West, a spokesperson for National Grid, told ELL:“The challenge and the opportunity here is to re-use redundant brownfield land in a way which supports the long-term sustainability of the area.”

“The days when these gas holders had a valuable function are behind us so we are looking forward and hoping that the site can contribute to meeting local housing needs and wider aspirations for investment and development in Bethnal Green.  This site could play an important role in providing new homes and facilities locally.”

However, some have long fought for the preservation of the gas holders. The East End Waterway Group has fought to keep the Tower Hamlets’ gas holders for years. Tom Ridge a representative from the group, told The Independent that as London is the birthplace of the gas industry it is important to keep these “very good” examples of it’s history.

English Heritage, the Government agency which advises on whether buildings should have listed status,  has already listed twelve other gas holders, giving them protection against development. It is currently considering whether to recommend to the Department for Culture Media and Sport whether the Bethnal Green site should also be listed.

A Bethnal Green resident said: “I quite like its structural nostalgic feeling, instead of tearing it down to live in apartments, it would be better to rebuild the gas holders rather than take the whole thing down”.

Video by Jiwei Zhu and Patrick Jones

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