My last blog was about gas lamps. This time I’m looking at gasworks. Who can remember walking past a working gasworks with their characteristic smell?  I can but being quite young I had no interest in such industrial processes at that time. However, it is on record that children, for example those who had asthma, were taken to gasworks where they could walk about freely and breathe in the local atmosphere which was supposed to have medicinal properties!  A by-product of the gas making process was coal tar. Coal tar is a thick black liquid which contains benzene, naphthalene and many other organic chemicals. Coal tar is used for medical and industrial purposes.

On country estates the gasworks were often located some distance from the Hall. However, in large cities, gasworks were built almost in the back gardens of terraced houses.

We are all by now quite familiar with the Sudbury Gasworks from looking at all the photos of the restoration on the website and perhaps wandering round to look at the progress on the building restoration.

Image of a redbrick grade II listed building during renovation works

Gasworks In England

In the late 1800s and early 1900s there were over 1000 gasworks in England. These ranged from very large gasworks in, for example Stoke-on-Trent and Derby, to small gasworks attached to country houses, as in the case of Sudbury. The only complete gasworks in England is in Fakenham, long since disused, but a splendid museum.

The Boom of The Gas Industry

Gas production was a very large industry at that time, most towns of any size having their own gasworks. Coal was transported from the mines all over the country, usually by rail. There were tens of thousands of coal wagons and many hundreds of steam locos to undertake this task. A friend of mine remembers coal trains queuing to go past his local station in East Derbyshire.   These days there are hardly any.  It is likely that coal for the Sudbury Gasworks came from the 6th Lord Vernon’s coal mines at Poynton to Sudbury Station by rail and then taken by horse and cart to Sudbury Gasworks. Here is one of his own coal wagons.

Old black and white photo of Poynton Collieries Coal Truck
(Courtesy of the Historical Model Railway Society)
Image of a black and white poster
(Courtesy of Derbyshire Record Office)

Many local metal workers and iron founders prospered as they supplied gas making equipment, gasholders, pipework, gas appliances, and lighting. A good example of such supply was Thomas Crump & Co. Ltd. of Friargate, Derby, who we know supplied such goods to Sudbury and to the similar gasworks at Tean Mill.  An image of his workshop is below. 

Black and white image of a factory

Gasworks In the Sudbury Area

Map of the sudbury area

The Local History Group has researched many aspects of the gaswork’s construction and operation in Sudbury, but in so doing many more gasworks have been noted in the local area, shown on the map opposite. I have limited the area of interest to a radius of 10 miles from Sudbury just to indicate just how many (21) there were in the sample area.

These were a mixture of municipal, factory, and country house gasworks. It is likely that many of the factory and country house gasworks also supplied gas to nearby users as did Sudbury. There are very few remains to be seen at these sites today.  How times change!

Roger Larke, Sudbury, Local History Group