East Greenwich Gas Holder

I hadn’t intended writing about this yet. I’d wanted to get more information about this wonderful piece of industrial history that decorates (yes, decorates, IMHO) our skyline, but events seem to be moving so swiftly that if I leave it any longer there might be nothing left to write about, a victim of what I can only see to be blatent greed – and the perils of coming second.

It’s one of what used to be two gasometers standing on the Peninsula – the biggest in the world at the time. It was a fab new design at the time (since copied throughout the land)and invented by Sir George Livesey in modern, unadorned lines rather than creating the fancy cathedrals that had marked Victorian design up until then, such as can be seen at Crossness. Sadly for us it was the second one of its kind. The first is in Old Kent Road. Work in Greenwich was started in 1884 and the world’s largest Gasholder was finished two years later.

I’ve always loved that gasholder in a strange, industrial sort of way, and I had assumed (wrongly, as it turns out) that it was listed. The Old Kent Road one, as the “first” example is considered to be the only one ‘worth’ listing. Personally, I disagree. After all, East Greenwich’s Gasholder is a symbol of an area – and a time – that has gone and of which there will soon be nothing left at all. It’s an icon in itself and it’s proudly pointed out in the Thames Path information boards as being something for tourists to enjoy. In all the plans for the Peninsula I’ve seen, it’s stood proud among all the new stuff as a little haven of history and a spot of green around its base. It survived even when its twin was demolished in 1986.

But now the only way that whoever it is that wants John Roan School to move to the Peninsula can get their way is to decommission the gas holder as it’s a potential hazard, and they have enough clout to get it done.

Quite apart from the fact that that gas holder is part of our heritage, how much is decommissioning a gasometer going to COST? And where is the new gasholder going to be?

Someone wants this move very badly indeed. I haven’t taken sides so far in the John Roan dispute as I’ve been reading what everyone else has to say but I’m beginning to think that this is madness beyond comprehension. I just can’t see the advantages of trying to fit a quart of children into a pint pot of a school that needs a special filtration system just to get decent air to the classrooms and doesn’t have any room on ground level for a playground (which presumably doesn’t have any filtration. Pollution doesn’t just hang around the ground.) The only possible reason for this move has to be greed – selling off the old site by the park for tedious luxury flats. But as a lover of all things historic, the gas holder’s demise is the straw that broke this particular camel’s back.

I don’t hold any hope for history here. But surely we could keep the shell of the gasholder, to save some small part of the Peninsula’s soul? Maybe they could turn it into an oxygen cafe for the kiddies to use during break times…


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