diamond geezer

 Saturday, May 26, 2012

I thought I'd go back and look at the Twelvetrees gasometers closer up. You can't get right up close from Three Mills, you have to start on the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road. Follow Twelvetrees Crescent over the river and past the barrier into the business park (it says private no entry, but stuff that, you're not a car). There on the left, past a pipe-packed British Gas facility, you can't miss them. Seven in total, tightly bunched, doing not much except standing around looking gorgeous.

They don't make energy-storage infrastructure like this any more [photo]. Tall and imposing, with metalwork manufactured far more intricately than necessary because that was the Victorian way. They were erected between 1872 and 1878 on behalf of the Gas Light and Coke Company, London's 19th century equivalent of British Gas. The surrounds are all made of cast iron, while the central telescoping drums are all made of steel. Viewed up close you can see the connecting bands are decorated - a different repeating pattern on each storey [photo]. If you want to stand alongside and sound knowledgeable, you should point out that the lower part of each column is Doric, while the upper part is simplified Ionic. They're a set of gasholders with genuine classical influences - Boris would be so very proud.

Gasholders aren't the modern way, and now only those that have been listed (like these seven) are likely to survive. There are plans afoot to add a visitor attraction here, to make the gasholders some sort of sports facility destination, but these appear to have stalled on the drawing board about two years back. Certainly there's no current sign of access being granted, artificial sports pitches being laid or well-meaning ladies with clipboards handing round questionnaires about sustainability. And hurrah for that. Standing here in the evening sunlight, admiring the maze of columns and ladders, it's hard not to be impressed with this lot just the way they are.
A list of London's gasholders: Battersea, Beckton, Bromley, Bromley-by-Bow, Cambridge Heath, Edmonton, Fulham, Kennington, Kings Cross, Kingston, Ladbroke Grove, Lower Sydenham, Mitcham, Motspur Park, New Barnet, New Southgate, North Greenwich, Romford, Rotherhithe, Southall, Tottenham, Wood Green. help me out with this!
Immediately across the road from the Twelvetrees gasholders, hidden from view by a shield of trees, lies a secret garden. I say secret, even though it's shown on maps and everything, because I've somehow never known it existed despite living less than a mile away. The path's not signposted or anything, neither is it obvious from the 323 bus stop that anything this intriguing might lurk within a clearing in the trees.

It's a war memorial, a war memorial in three parts. On the left is a domed pergola, clearly intended for trailing plants, but any such foliage is long gone. In the centre is a large plaque, rather bolder than those on either side, etched with the names of a hundred or so fallen men. And on the right, blimey, it's a memorial gas lamp. An ornate octagonal iron casing sits on a tall white column, topped off with spikes and crown-like flourishes. And within the glass, 24 hours a day, a gas ring burns. There must be a dozen or so vents, and if you watch carefully you can see the gas gently flickering as it burns in permanent memory.

Across the grass, unseen by any casual passer-by, is a statue of a kindly-looking gowned man. You'd think might be nationally important, but he turns out "only" to be Sir Corbet Woodall, Governor of the Gas Light and Coke Company during the Great War. Industrialists merited their own statuary back then, not that anybody seems to care today. Indeed the building down by the road used to be the London Gas Museum - yes there really was such a thing - but that was closed over ten years ago and the exhibits dispersed elsewhere. The surrounding area may now have become a bland business park full of cavernous warehouses, but at least the company's gasholders still stand as a fitting reminder of the capital's industrial past.

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