Greenwich Gas Holder

Terry has sent me a copy of Gaslight, the newsletter of the North West Gas Historical Society, which proves that the rest of Britain is worried about the future of our fabulous gas holder, even if Greenwich Council seems not to be.

Of course there used to be two of them . The one that’s now gone was the largest in the world when it was built, but the one that remains is no less important, and – I’m nailing my colours to the mast here – should not be elbowed out of the way by a school that has no business on the Peninsula in the first place.

Perhaps if councillors and local scaremongers had actually made a bit more effort in their own schools they might be able to wrap their minds around why this gas holder poses no threat to any community – by its very construction it is as safe as gas can ever be.

Mary Mills (gosh, I’m mentioning her a lot today – it’s completely coincidental…) talks about the history of the gas holder in her book Greenwich MarshThe 300 Years Before The Dome (currently out of print, but badger her to revise and reprint) so I won’t go into detail here, but it’s worth remembering that gas holders are iconic in their design – a step-change away from the traditional curlicues and over-ornamentation that many Victorian Public Good Works had – and towards minimalism – it was built to impress with its sheer size and efficiency, not fancy ironwork.

But back to the safety. The way I understand it is this. Gas explodes when it’s in contact with oxygen, but it HAS to be a special, extremely subtle mix of the two (a Stoichiometric Mixture, if you want the correct term – look it up on Wikipedia and you’ll get some fabulously boffinesque equations which I’m sure mean something to someone.) This is very rare indeed – so rare that most of the time gas in the atmophere just burns – which is why it’s good to use as a fuel.

What those clever Victorian dudes did, was to cut-out the air entirely. As the gas is used, the holder gets smaller, making sure that there’s only ever gas in there – not air, which means that if there’s ever a problem – for example a tile falling off the outside – if a little gas escapes and if it’s exposed to a spark, it burns. It doesn’t explode, and is easily put-out. In fact, this happened all the time during WWII bombings – the gas burned for a while; it was extinguished and resealed. There was never enough air in the mix to make it explosive. All the time gas is coming out of any perforation, there’s never a mixture.

The supposed unsafeness of Greenwich Gas Holder is an excuse that’s being used for political reasons, using fake science and scaremongering to get a result expedient for those who have other axes to grind. The movement of John Roan School is a political hot-potato, but to bring in a Victorian gas holder that has been safe for well over a hundred years and will continue to be so is merely moving the pawns around the board instead of tackling the major pieces.

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