As I have mentioned many times I grew up in the UK, and one of the most enduring images I have is this whacking huge scaffolded monstrosity in Bury St. Edmunds near the roller rink… and I see these things in every image of industrial Britain. And I never knew what they were, until I by chance Googled a picture of a gas holder being decommissioned in Ravenscraig, Scotland.
They’re called gas holders… got it. Very cool. They strike me as very British - I’ve only seen one or two in America. I like the whole Victorian riveted look to 'em. So I’m looking to find more examples, and then I make the discovery that the blooming things rise and fall! Who knew? I never saw one rising and falling!
I feel something of a twat, because a) I’m 35 and I never knew what they were called, and b) I didn’t know that the tanks rose out of the ground! I suppose you learn something new every day…
They are a holding tank for the kind of natural gas that is used for heating and whatnot, not flatulence.
The really cool thing about gasometers, though, is the data on atmospheric pressure waves generated by the explosion of Krakatoa that they provided. This appears in Simon Winchester’s book Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded.
They had a couple near the Long Island Expressway on Long Island, NY that was a commonly used landmark. You’d hear traffic reports saying the Expressway was backed up to the gas tanks. They were torn down in 1996, but the area they were in is called Gas Tank Park.
It funny how if you live with something (however big and weird looking) it becomes invisible. There’s one near the entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel in south London where once upon a time I ran the resident sound system for a rock venue. The gasometer loomed over the venue but you only ever noticed it when it was full and blotted out the sky.
Going to fire up Google Earth to find out how faulty my memory is.
Yeah, sorry about not including a link. We didn’t have them in rural Oxon or Northamptonshire. It’s more of a city thing. The one in Bury I remember, but I swear I never saw it inflate, or be anything but the scaffolding.
So those of you who live near gasometers, how quickly do they rise? Could you watch it rise and fall, or does it happen really slowly?
I know there are tons of gas tanks in the US - f’rex, the Gas Tank on Route 93 south of Boston - but a gasometer or gas holder is quite different. Here’s one in St. Louis.
An Arky, that’s exactly my point. I’ve seen those things (I guess, saw) and I never knew what they were called, or that they held gas. I always figured they were some kind of water tank.
They’re all over the US. Every major city has several. So it’s not some unique UK thing.
The rising & falling is slow, taking hours to go from from completely full to completely empty. And the gas company is trying to keep it mostly full all the time, so the actual fluctuations are typically not very large.
The extraction of gas from coal and distribution is a significant part of the history of industrial Britain during the 1800’s.
The knock on effect was that lots of coal had to be produced and led to a big expansion of mining, this meant lots of railways to move the coal, and in turn meant lots of steelmaking, and the resultant coke had to be marketed to consumers.
Coal gas plants played a big part in the organisation of unions in the UK, read up on the history of Tom McGuire.
You can also make a very good case for coal gas, which became used extensively for domestic purposes, being responsible for slowing down the development of the electrical industry.
Those gasometers have a huge historical significance.
I, and apparently others, figured you never had to fart and had no idea why other people sometimes looked so troubled in public.
But, bless the Victorians and their riveted metal joints. What a comforting picture. And here just last night we watched Wallace and Gromit movies, with space ships and knitting machines and all manner of somewhat old-fashioned looking inventions. Ahhh…