Gasworks and Gasholders

Introductions to Heritage Assets

Gas works, or sites where gas was manufactured by thermally decomposing fossil fuels and stored in gasholders, were one of the most ubiquitous and widely distributed industrial complexes of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Frequently constructed on the edges of urban areas, close to their customers and adjacent to rivers, canals and railways - reflecting both the inability of the early works to transmit gas over large distances and the reliance on a supply of coal – meant that gasworks and gasholders had a considerable visual impact on the landscape.

Beginning with the formation of the Gas Light and Coke Company in London in 1812, coal gas manufactured at gasworks in towns, cities and on private estates was transmitted via England’s first energy networks before first nationalisation (1949) and the conversion to natural gas (from 1967), brought about the end of the industry and the clearance of many sites of gas manufacture.

In 2020, the physical remains of the manufactured gas industry again face the threat of clearance as the gas networks’ programme of gasholder decommissioning and demolition releases former gasworks sites for residential and commercial redevelopment.

This document provides an overview of our understanding of coal gasworks and their attendant low-pressure gasholders, with a particular focus on the building types which survive in part or in full across the country. It provides a brief historical background and chronology of the development of the manufactured gas industry from its origins in the 1790s, through the formation of the industry (1800-1820), its subsequent expansion (1820-1860), regulation (1860-1890), modernisation and rationalisation (1890-1949), nationalisation (1949) and adoption of natural gas (1949-1967).

This is followed by an introduction to the process of manufacturing gas and summaries of the development of the various buildings (including gasholders) which were historically associated with gasworks. These summaries detail their function, construction, materials, main components, architectural treatment and associated landscapes.


  • Introduction
  • Historical background and chronology
  • Development of the building type
    Retort houses
    Purifier houses
    Meter houses and governor houses
    Offices and laboratories
    Managers' houses
    Perimeter walls and works’ entrances
    Coal and coke stores
  • Associations
  • Change and Future
  • Further reading

Additional Information

  • Series: Guidance
  • Publication Status: Completed
  • Pages: 36
  • Product Code: HEAG296


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