Thursday 22 June 2017


Biggest gas holder in Europe - an exceptional structure built to revolutionary principles - listing now refused - and scheduled for demolition - ideas for reuse apparently not considered

For a list of converted and reused gas holders round the world see gas holders reused


There are more links at the bottom of the page to relevant sites -including links to how they use gasholder sites in other countries and some artworks

To start - the historical background to the holder and why it is important


The gas industry in South London, beginning around 1820, had developed as a chaos of small competing private companies. Regulation was imposed on them by governments from the 1870s – partly following parliamentary lobbying by George Livesey.  This resulted in the area being dominated by Livesey’s South Metropolitan Company from the Old Kent Road. East Greenwich works was built in the 1880s as the out-of-town mega works which the government wanted to be built but it was also a show place for Livesey’s ideals and standards. Only perfection was good enough for South Met.!
(More about Livesey below)


The simplest description of a gas holder is to imagine it as a  cup sitting turned upside down in a saucer which holds a pool of water. The cup is built in a tier of sections which can lift and fall according to the internal pressure

The East Greenwich holder is one of a series designed by George Livesey which he began at Old Kent Road at what was originally the main works of the South Metropolitan Company and where he developed his ideas.  Of this series few remain.

The holder with its companion which was demolished in 1986.
Together they then made up the largest amount of safe gas
storage ever

No13 Gasholder at Old Kent Road has now been listed.  Built in 1879-81 it’s frame was the first built on George Livesey's revolutionary cylindrical shell principle which treats it as a single huge cylinder. There are many other revolutionary aspects to the design and materials and while the structure appears to be simple it is in fact very complex and very different from the older, often highly decorative, holders.

The holder also needed a greater numbers of lifts – the tiered and telescoped sections inside the frame - to raise the volume of gas which it could hold.  Thus it is far taller than would normally be expected. It has four of these ‘lifts’ and is the first holder ever built to this size. It rises to about 180 feet and holds 8.2 million cubic feet of gas.

The great height of construction was made possible by new materials and it effected a great saving in cost which had a huge subsequent effect. Part of Livesey's success derived from his many improvements in design making it more efficient and lighter.  Costs of storage were also less in terms of landuse and labour - and workers could be encouraged to go to church on Sundays even though Sunday dinners had to be cooked.

The holder is free of all extraneous decoration and it thus sets a new bench-mark for gasholder design of which it is a refinement in size and sophistication and an exploitation of the beauty of pure structural form. Ideas then being embodied in industrial and domestic design as the modern movement.


Some years ago English Heritage commissioned a report on London holders. The consultant recommended Old Kent Road No.13 for listing – and did not recommend EG No.1. or any others. Very recently this report has been revisited and as a result OKR13 has been listed and EG1 consigned for demolition.

1 comment:

M said...

Brian says:
While you quote in your write up - No's 1 & 2 provided the largest volume of storeage, please remember that the Astoria Gas Works in New York had two 15mcf holders - an extra 10 mcf than Greenwich.