The Last Gasometer In Poplar

by the gentle author

Gasometer In Poplar

This is the last gasometer in Poplar and, as you can see, it is not all there. Already parts have gone and quite soon it will vanish entirely. The pleasing circularity that once enclosed the sky diminishes with the loss of each segment. They are disappearing like slices of a cake devoured by a hungry ogre and, shortly, nothing will remain.

To visit now – and come upon it, as I did, lit by the last rays of the setting sun – is to be like one of those travellers of old who undertook the Grand Tour and saw the Coliseum for the first time, marvelling upon it as an heroic example of an earlier age of handmade engineering upon an epic scale. Designed in 1876 by Robert & Henry Edward Jones, father and son engineers of the Commercial Gas Company, the iron structure was manufactured nearby between 1876-78 by Samuel Cutler & Sons of Millwall on the Isle of Dogs, constructional engineers who specialised in the erection of gasometers.

Once you understand that this gasometer has dominated the skyline in this corner of Poplar for nearly a hundred and fifty years, and your eye attunes to the elegant proportion of its criss-cross braced structure, you recognise its similarity to the rope work on a regimental drum or that button-back, deep upholstery of which the Victorians were so fond. It is the oldest example of a lattice-work framed gasometer in this country. Look more closely and admire the nineteen elegant tee-sections which brace the frame with their intricate ironwork consisting of a vertical tapering lattice girder at right angles to a vertical tapering plate girder. They are the first and only examples of this type.

To the left, you can see the march of generic new-London ugly flats which will become slums within a generation. This last gasometer was one of three that formerly comprised Poplar Gas Works here beside the cut, but there will be no preservation and reuse, such as we have seen at Kings Cross where gasometers have been integrated into a new housing scheme to enliven the architecture and maintain a sense of place.

Demolition was granted in September last year with the approval of Historic England, although this was not made public until  last December when it was revealed that a public consultation had only been advertised by an obscure notice at the site in Leven Rd. In July this year, a local councillor asked the Mayor to save the gasometer and received the following response.

“The Council recognises this significant local historical asset and there is a case that it should be preserved as part of redevelopment. In planning policy, this is specifically reflected in the adopted and emerging Local Plan, where in the site allocation, it states that development should aim to ‘…retain and integrate the gas holders as part of the provision of green open space…’ The council plans to strengthen the design principle within the site allocation and seek to further acknowledge the gasholders significant local historical merit.”

Yet the gasometer is in the midst of demolition and, despite a petition by several thousand local people, no proposal has been put forward to integrate it into future plans. Long-time local heritage campaigner Tom Ridge is currently fighting for the preservation of the relics on site, so that future generations may marvel, as we do today, at piles of ancient carved stones from antiquity, and wonder at past glories which are lost.


Gasholder Number One

Gasholder Number One is partially dismantled

Gasometer In Poplar

The tee-sections which brace the frame with their intricate ironwork, consisting of a vertical tapering lattice girder at right angles to a vertical tapering plate girder, are the first and only examples of their type

Gasometer In Poplar

Gasholder Number Two is already lopped off

Images and words by the gentle author

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