Gasworks wonders

Gasworks wonders
An empty Victoria gasometer in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

The urban landscape is changing for ever as hundreds of iconic Victorian gas holders disappear across the UK and Europe. But champions of their stark formalist beauty are many – and some ingenious repurposing is already afoot, from King’s Cross to Vienna…

‘As the bowler runs in, it’s so quiet you can hear the creak of the gasometer,” the cricket commentator, Henry Blofeld, once mused during a broadcast of Test Match Special from the Oval. For Blofeld, and countless cricket fans, many of whom have never set foot in south London, the looming skeletal frame of the gasometer is not just part of the landscape but of the atmosphere of the ground on match days.

The Oval gasometer, like others that have outlived their use across the country, is under threat of demolition, its presence measured in the hyper-inflated value of the land on which it stands rather than its historical or architectural significance. When demolition plans were announced by Southern Gas Networks in 2013, Blofeld reacted in characteristically lyrical fashion. Cricketing legends such as WG Grace and Jack Hobbs had played in its shadow, he noted: “In comparison, pulling down the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace would be child’s play.”

In 2013, though, National Grid announced plans to demolish a total of 76 gas holders across England, and Southern and Scottish Gas networks followed suit with their proposal to get rid of 111 over the next 16 years. That process will leave the urban landscape denuded of what, since Victorian times, has been one of its defining elements. []


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