New threat to demolish East Greenwich’s historic gasholder

East Greenwich Gasholder
The gasholder was part of the former East Greenwich Gas Works

East Greenwich’s historic gasholder, which has dominated the Greenwich Peninsula for 130 years, faces a new threat of demolition after owner SGN plc submitted a new application to dismantle the structure to Greenwich Council.

SGN asked Greenwich Council at the end of last year if it needed permision to take the gasometer, one of the last remaining structures left from East Greenwich Gas Words, down because it was a “significant security and safety liability”.

Planners determined the company did need permission – but not on heritage grounds. Instead, it wanted to know more about how it planned to dismantle it.

The new application features a heritage report about the structure, which states:

Gasholder No 1 is a frame-guided gasholder 77m in diameter with four lifts and 28 wrought iron standards constructed in 1888 by Docwra & Son with input by Frank Livesey. Relatively plain and unadorned, it has double sets of diagonal bracing between the standards and stands six tiers high.

Built on a mound, the tank is set approximately 4m above ground level, something which was necessitated by the ground conditions and realised when work began in 1884. It was built by the South Metropolitan Gas Company as an expansion to its Old Kent Road gasworks after it became too over-crowded to add any more gasholders there, and also to keep up with the demands of the increasing London population.

Gasholder No 1 was soon joined by a second larger gasholder – No 2 – which was constructed in 1892. This was demolished in the early 1980s.

Gasholder No 1 is a typical example of its type, a development of George Livesey’s cylindrical shell design, first used at the Old Kent Road gasworks. However, this holder was plainer in styling and execution in its construction. It was one of the many large gasholders built by the South Metropolitan Gas Company in the late 19th century and, for a brief period of 5 years, was the largest gasholder in the world.

There are no legal protections in place to protect the East Greenwich gasholder on historic grounds – indeed, Historic England has issued a certificate of immunity stating the site cannot be listed for five years, because it is too similar to the earlier structure on the Old Kent Road.

Indeed, SGN’s new application states that “the gasholder dismantling is also regarded as permitted development and therefore acceptable in principle”.

However, last year a planning brief for the peninsula said development in the area “should build on the heritage value of the gas holder to enhance the character and distinctiveness of the area”.

It added: “This could be achieved through a variety of means. For example, the retention of all or part of the structure within a public open space or building, or reinterpretation of the structure and its industrial history through the design of building façade details, public realm/landscaping or the layout of the development.”

Redundant gasholders have been put to new uses in cities around Europe – most notably in Dublin’s docklands, where one now houses 240 flats. Apartments have also been built inside the old King’s Cross gasholders in central London, while one has been converted into a park.

Details can be found on Greenwich Council’s planning pages – search for reference 18/0923/D1. Comments on the proposal can also be submitted.

  • Viewpoint: ‘Greenwich’s threatened gasholder is a local icon – it deserves to be saved
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