Categories ArchitecturePosted on

Gas holders: iconic structures under threat but thriving in London’s King’s Cross

If you’re familiar with London, chances are you’re familiar with gas holders. You might not know exactly what a gasholder is, but you’ve probably walked by one more than once, without stopping to think what it could be. The thing is, gasholders – also known as gasometres - are iconic to London and are cemented with history. Their huge hollow telescopic metal structure is now what remains from a time when they encased vast containers that did as the name suggests: stored large volumes of gas, usually from a nearby gasworks.

If you’re familiar with London, chances are you’re familiar with gas holders. You might not know exactly what a gasholder is, but you’ve probably walked by one more than once, without stopping to think what it could be. The thing is, gasholders – also known as gasometres – are iconic to London and are cemented with history. Their huge hollow telescopic metal structure is now what remains from a time when they encased vast containers that did as the name suggests: stored large volumes of gas, usually from a nearby gasworks.

Gas holders began to emerge in Britain in Victorian times, with the first invented in 1824 and built in the North, in Leeds, giving nearby gasworks increased storage for purified, metered gas. The holder acted as a buffer – removing the need for continuous gas production. These storage benefits were soon appreciated by local gas works, and the structures were built all around the country in great quantities from the middle of the century onwards. The first was a two lift, column supported type. Later, they could comprise of four lifts being frame guided and then retrofitted with an additional flying lift.

Gasholder Park, King's Cross, at dusk
Gasholder Park, King’s Cross, at dusk

In London, a number of gas holders were built in King’s Cross in the 1860s to provide gas storage for Pancras Gasworks, covering a large part of the city. Originally constructed in 1860-67 and enlarged in 1879-80 with new interconnected guide frames and telescopic lifts, gas holders No. 8, and a triplet structure that comprises gas holders No. 10, 11 and 12 were built, used until gas was no longer manufactured using coal from the Imperial Gas, Light and Coke Company in the year 2000, when the gasworks was decommissioned.

Gas holders No. 10, 11 and 12 are known as the ‘Siamese Triplet’ because their frames are joined by a common spine. This structure is renowned for its unique frames, which are highly decorative and have three tiers of hollow cylindrical cast iron columns, cast iron capitals and three tiers of wrought iron riveted lattice girders.

Under threat
Despite their lack of intended use, the King’s Cross gasholders, along with others across the UK, have remained a familiar sight across the British landscape, so much so that it would possibly seem a little odd without them.

But with land in the UK capital being costly to say the least, it’s no surprise that these redundant but iconic structures are under significant threat. Developers seeking highly sought-after land are eyeing up gas holder plots to regenerate space to make room for new development projects, such as luxury flats or multi-chain restaurants. Anyone familiar with the canal walk to Victoria Park will be well acquainted with the gas holders in Bethnal green, which, too, are under threat from redevelopment.

seen london Gas Holders 3

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Thanks to Argent, one of the UK’s best respected property developers, King’s Cross is now a place where these well-recognised iconic structures are something to celebrate.

Gasholder No. 8 is the largest of the iconic gasholders that once dominated the skyline at King’s Cross. When the redevelopment of King’s Cross began, gas holder No. 8’s cast iron structure together with its triplet sibling gas holders No. 10, 11 and 12 were dismantled piece by piece, painstakingly restored by specialist engineering experts in Yorkshire.

It took two years to restore Gasholder No. 8, and in 2013 it was moved back to a new home north of the Regents canal. Here sits in new landscaping with paths leading down to the canal towpath, and the frame itself houses a newly sculpted canopy and small new park and event space called Gasholder Park, designed by Bell Phillips Architects.

“By day Gasholder Park is a place to play or pause and take in the view over the canal and Camley Street Natural Park. By night, subtle lighting transforms the park into a destination for events,” said Anthony Peter, Project Director at Argent, the developers behind the gas holders project.

“Recently the park was used as an open-air theatre for Central Saint Martins’ renditions of Shakespeare’s plays and we look forward to seeing many more events and activities for people who live work and visit the area to enjoy over the coming months and years.”

seen london Gas Holders 4

The triplet frame of gas holder No. 10, 11 and 12, which includes 123 cast iron columns, has not been completely re-erected yet, but once finished, it will encase a series of studio, 1, 2, 3 and 4 bedroom apartment buildings. Designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects, the concept design includes a series of roof gardens at the top of the buildings, which will offer some great views over the canal, parks, and the city.

seen london Gas Holders 8

“They will open up as breath-taking apartments inside the triplet of gasholders, giving people the opportunity to live and enjoy new spaces surrounded by celebrated museums and cultural centres, exceptional shopping, restaurants and elegant parklands,” added Peter.

seen london Gas Holders 7

No easy feat
Despite their unique structure on the sky line, gas holders are a difficult and complex restoration project, so aren’t always an appealing prospect for developers. However, as proven by Argent, the right gasholder, in the right place, by the right developer, has great potential to create something special. King’s Cross is certainly one of these examples.

“Argent carefully considered what to do with the Gasholders and after a lot of public consultation, it became clear that people strongly identified with and loved them. The repurposed gasholders have been given new life and will now be enjoyed by future generations to come,” explained Peter.

The return of the first refurbished of the triplet beams to King's Cross
The return of the first refurbished of the triplet beams to King’s Cross

“We wanted to retain the gasholders because of the character they bring to King’s Cross, and as a nod the important part they play in the history of the area. What we have done at King’s Cross is take structures which are visually stunning and given them a practical, but innovative use.”

As the restoration at King’s Cross demonstrates, with the right expertise and architecture, Gasholder structures can be successfully restored for future generations to enjoy.
But it’s not to say that all remaining gas holder structures will have the same success story. There is a worry that the same won’t happen for other iconic gas holders around the country.

“It is certainly a possibility that other iconic gasholders around the country can be saved and restored,” added Peter “However, it would be naïve to suggest that this would apply to every gasholder due to a range of practical considerations including time, effort and cost.

“We worked very closely with English Heritage on the restoration and both felt it was important to find a use for the buildings so they would continue on forever.”

Gasholder London
Then www.kingscross.co.uk
Now gasholderslondon.co.uk

Gasholder Park
Then www.kingscross.co.uk
Now www.kingscross.co.uk

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