Gas holders are typically Victorian-era containers used in urban areas to store large volumes of gas, usually from nearby gasworks. Natural, or town, gas would be stored near atmospheric pressure at ambient temperatures. The container would be moveable and rise and fall with the quantity of stored gas.
Now predominantly unused, with many having, or planning to be, dismantled, they have been referred to as the ‘sentinels of the Industrial age', with their iron lattice frames becoming an iconic symbol of Victorian Britain. One of the most famous gas holders overlooks the Oval cricket ground in South London (see image above).
Gas holders are also referred to as gasometers. This was a term coined by William Murdoch, the inventor of gas lighting, although it caused consternation among some of his peers who complained that a gas holder was a container and not a meter. However, the name fell into general use as the structures spread across the country during the 19th century.
The telescopic gas holder was invented in 1824, with the first example built in Leeds, allowing for much more storage. This early type of gas holder consisted of a number of vessels situated one inside the other. When the inner vessel was fully extended, the next outer vessel would rise.
However, development in gas pipe technology and the discovery of natural gas in the North Sea in 1965, led to a decline in reliance on gas holders. Instead of town gas being used, the gas from the North Sea was piped under high pressure. The role of gas holders became one of providing extra capacity when needed by the gas network, although as the pipelines became more and more effective, this role also soon dwindled.
By the 1990s, most local gas networks were able to function at full capacity without using gas holders, leading to a decision in 1999 to start demolishing them. National Grid, who own most of the gas holders, continue to oversee dismantling in order to sell off the now-valuable land upon which they sat.
The dismantling process is complicated. One crane is used to lift a worker who uses a plasma cutter to sever sections of the iron girders, while a second crane holds the sections and lowers them once they have been sheared off.
Northern Gas Networks have trialed ‘sludge solidification’, a process in which the solids that have accumulated at the bottom of the holding tank are buried with the base itself. The idea is that this is a safer and more cost-effective method than removal by tanker, and also helps prevent soil contamination.
There is hope for some of the remaining gas holders though, as there are continued protests from local communities when plans are made to dismantle them. Various architectural firms have sought to incorporate the structures into their designs. For example, Gasholder No. 8 has been converted into a park with a circular lawn and polished steel pavilion as part of the redevelopment of King’s Cross.
 Find out more
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
How the current pandemic will shape historic urban areas and their surrounding communities across the globe is impossible to tell. Join us to reflect on the implications for our current approaches to caring for valued places, and even speculate on future strategies and responses.
The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) has called on the government to urgently issue planning guidance to prevent unnecessary delays to development from the pandemic.
The Heritage Fund has put together a list of heritage-inspired activities to be done from home.
Spring is a good time to stand back and consider any building repairs that are required over the next 12 months, notes the LPOC, and regular inspection and maintenance is the key to keeping homes in good repair, as per its accessible step-by-step guidance.
Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service said “rapid and effective firefighting” had saved three quarters of the mill – which is now apartments.
Police have appealed for witnesses after thieves stole lead from the roof of All Saints Church in Halsham near Hedon during the coronavirus lockdown.
The regular newsletter showcases the IHBC’s own Continuing Professional Development (CPD) content as well as online opportunities from ‘IHBC Recognised CPD Providers’ and other conservation related training and events.
To make sure the public still has access to twelve of those famous works, #WrightVirtualVisits has been launched, which offers virtual tours of 12 iconic houses.
The Construction Industry Council’s (CIC’s) ‘CIC Coronavirus Digest – Issue 8’ surveys the latest government advice with updates from the construction industry.
Organisations with conservation links have been collating resources on COVID-19 impacts, including Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS), Historic Environment Forum, The Heritage Alliance (THA), and Historic England, on cleaning surfaces.
Councils are reported to be considering taking up rarely-used executive powers to keep the planning and development system moving during the coronavirus pandemic.
Historic England's 'After a Flood' provides timely advice on how to dry walls properly and avoid further damage to the building fabric.
Context Issue 162 offers a peek into an archive of timber conservation history through the records of the practice of FWB and Mary Charles Chartered Architects.
To meet the government’s target of being carbon neutral by 2050, we must recycle, reuse and responsibly adapt our existing historic buildings, according to this year’s Heritage Counts report, so Historic England and partners are calling for a reduction in VAT rates to incentivise this more sustainable option.