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With Covid clipping my wings I’ve been spending a lot of the year scanning old railway slides going back 30 years. This process made me realise how something that was a landmark in the background at several locations (some quite famous) has gradually disappeared over the decades. Gasometers.

I grew up in Southport on the West Lancashire plain. With it being flat there were very few landmarks but one was a huge gasometer near my Grandmothers house where I spent much of my pre-school years in the early 1960s. She lived just down the road from something that used to be commonplace, the local town gasworks. Younger readers probably don’t know this but before natural gas was discovered in the North Sea towns and cities used to manufacture their own gas from coal. Many of these gasworks were near to railways which brought in their supplies of coal. Southport was a good example. It had a branch line that ran down the side of the street. Here’s an aerial picture of Southport gasworks taken in 1938 which is on the excellent ‘Britain from above’ website.

The railway to the gasworks runs along the street (Crowland St) on the right of the picture. My Grandmother’s house is just off the picture to the bottom left. Town gasworks were strange places to live near because of the smells that used to permeate the area as coal was cooked to release the gas. A by- product of the process was coke. I remember going with my dad to buy coke from the gasworks as it fuelled a boiler in our cellar which powered the central heating system he’d installed himself. I remember the sound of the gasworks whistle which signalled the lunch break and start/finish of work. The gasworks closed in 1964 but the gasometers remained and were joined by a much larger one which was built in 1969. 277 feet tall it dominated the skyline and could be seen for miles around (as you’ll see in later pictures). It was decommissioned in 2008 and it and its smaller neighbours were demolished soon after. Having lived so near to one of these monsters it’s probably no wonder that I’ve always noticed them in my pictures. So, here’s a selection of pictures where they feature, and the first one’s from – Southport!

On the 26th January 1997 Merseyrail liveried Class 150201 threads its way out of Southport Chapel St station through the dereliction of what was once a large railway complex. So much in this scene has now disappeared. The old excursion platform to the left and the railway yards beyond (which included the ‘Steamport’ railway museum) are now an industrial estate and supermarket, whilst on the horizon are the unmistakable shapes of the gasometers of the old gasworks.

Here’s another view of Southport taken 10 years later on the 4th October 2007 when the smaller gasometers had already disappeared.

Class 150218 heads for Meols Cop and is about to pass the site of St Lukes station which closed in 1968. The vans to the right are parked on the formation of the direct line via Blowick which closed in June 1965.

Here’s another example from the North-West, this time at St Helens..

On the 12th March 2001 142010 arrives at St Helens Central on the Wigan North Western – Liverpool Lime St service. Nowadays the former Down sidings behind the signalbox are a forest of Silver Birch trees.

Another example from the North-West, this time it’s Wigan.

87001 arrives at Wigan North Western from Euston in typically dull Wigan weather on the 5th April 1991. The gasworks was just the other side of the line running into Wigan Wallgate station. Now, both the gasometers and the MFI outlet are history.

Meanwhile, down South..

This is a view of the Easter approaches to Reading station taken on the 29th March 1991 with the skyline dominated by three different gasometers. Now, only the frame of the one on the right hand side of the picture remains, but that can no longer be seen as new office buildings block the view. Of course, now the Great Western Main Line has been electrified, so this view is a sea of masts, portals and overhead wires. I must get a comparison shot just to show the difference.

Further down the Great Western Main Line and a few years later..

Here’s Didcot station on the 19th February 2001, almost a decade on from the last picture and what’s on the skyline? Mind you, whichever direction you look in the skyline’s changed here! Behind me were the massive chimneys and cooling towers of the old power station which have also disappeared! Meanwhile electrification masts make this picture impossible now.

The Great Western main line seemed to be blessed with these monoliths as there was another at Southall in London.

Sadly, I never got a shot of the Southall monster in all its towering glory. but you can see it in the background of this 1995 shot of 60099 sat in Southall Down Yard.

Meanwhile, over in South London…

Here’s a real embarrassment of riches! On the 15th March 1996 456022 heads for London Victoria on a service from London Bridge. In the background is the massive gasometer at Battersea Park whilst on the right is the iconic Battersea power station.

The Battersea monster could be viewed from several stations. Here’s how it dominated Battersea Park station – as seen on the 24th June 2009…

Next to the beast of Battersea was one of the older gas holders which had the classic frame structure surrounding it. In this case it was decorated with the shield that forms the centerpiece of the City of London coat of arms.

On the 24th June 2009 a SET ‘Networker’ threads its way between the gasholders and Battersea Dogs home. Nowadays the site is covered in high-rise housing.

Od course, the classic example was over in North London, between St Pancras and Kings Cross stations.

On the 22nd October 2001 the gas holders at St Pancras were being dismantled to make way for the Eastern extension to St Pancras station which would eventually become the Kent high speed platforms.
Here’s how they’d looked a few months earlier. I took this picture on the 24th July 2001. Fortunately, they’ve been preserved and one has become the framework for a novel form of new housing.

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