In May last year our Chairman led a group of us on a short tour of Chelsea Creek, the Gas Works and Sandford Manor House. All very much changed by gentrification of this highly developed former industrial area where Lots Road adjoins the Creek and Imperial Wharf. For those that were not there, here is the same ground covered somewhat earlier for the Fulham Society.
The Imperial Gas Company purchased the Sandford Manor Estate in South Fulham in 1824 for use as a gasholder station. The first gas holder, with a capacity of 30,000 c/ft., was erected a little south of Sandford Manor in 1824, a second one following soon after and two more being added in 1827. The Works were started with plant from Dutton Street, Grays Inn Road, a private gasworks belonging to William Caslon, the typefounder, begun in 1820 and purchased by the Company, who transferred the plant to their Fulham site in 1829. A listed gasholder dating from 1830 still stands on the site, with a plaque erected in 1948, bearing the words “has been in constant use since 1830”. It is the oldest known gasholder in the world. In 1856 Works Offices, and storage buildings, were built on either side of the new main entrance to the works in Sands End Lane. This office building is the small stuccoed building on the old Sands End Lane frontage. Coal was always delivered to the works by water, originally via the Kensington Canal and after 1862 from the docks connected to the canal. From 1926 sea-going colliers unloaded at the riverside wharf. In 1834 the Kensington Canal Company is recorded as “repairing the banks alongside the Gas works”, and in 1836 they constructed a lay-by for barges, with a second lay-by being completed in 1844. In 1856 a dock leading into the canal was built along No 4 Retort House and in 1859 the Company bought 6 acres of land on the far side of the dock. This whole area of the works was modified in 1862 by the construction of the West London extension railway in the bed of the Kensington Canal, carrying the railway across the bridge to Clapham Junction, – officially opening in 1863. Part of the canal leading to the river was left and became a large dock for the Gas Works, joined to the existing dock by the removal of the dock gates. Imperial Square, consisting of 28 cottages for key workers, was built in 1868 just off Sands End Lane. In 1878 negotiations were concluded with the Fulham District Board of Works over the construction of Imperial Road. The Gas Light & Coke Company agreed to pay £1000 and to construct this new road as a Public Highway in consideration of Permission to partially close Sands End Lane, thus enabling the Company to incorporate within their site boundaries the land they had acquired on the other side of Sands End Lane – Emden Street then being formed to join the two roads. From 1908 until 1917, low gravity gas was made and stored separately on the site for transmission to the Hurlingham Club, where it was used for ballooning – a sport which flourished briefly at the club. In 1908 five balloon contests are recorded with the number of balloons varying from 9 – 31. It is recorded that the Club paid £300 as the first annual instalment for the laying of a special gas main. Balloon contests were still being held in the summer of 1912, but seem to have lapsed just before the beginning of the First World War In 1928 a new Laboratory building went up to designs by Walter Tapper, consulting architect to the Gas Light & Coke Company, who in the same year was made Surveyor to Westminster Abbey. In 1952, two cast iron retorts, one circular and one D section, dating from around 1843, when clay retorts replaced the original iron ones, were found in a vertical position acting as traffic bollards. They were recovered and presented to the Science Museum. In 1948 the gas industry was nationalised and the Fulham Gas Works were taken over by the North Thames Gas Board, and since the arrival of North Sea gas have been continuously run down. The southern part of the site was sold off to a private company and a large new residential development, Chelsea Creek, is currently being built. This incorporates some of the original features of the old Gas Works, including the dock with an extension to the river. The 17 acre site along Imperial Road which was formerly used for converting and storing domestic gas is now being developed as a housing estate named Kings Road Park. Luckily all the listed building on the site are being preserved– the 1927 office building, the Laboratory building, the 2 Ware Memorials and the listed Gasholder 2 which was built in 1830. The over ground structures of this gasholder will be moved
and incorporated in the new development Unfortunately the developers claimed that it would not be possible to retain the magnificent No 7 gasholder of 1877-9, which dominated the views down Imperial Road, so this had to be taken down. It was one of six gasholders designed by Vitruvius Wyatt for the Gas Light & Coke Company of which only 3 remain in London.
Of course all but the listed GasHolder have now gone. How Fulham and Hammersmith have changed and continue to change from large country houses and market gardens to industrialised wharves and factories and now housing, retail and white collar work of all kinds! Where to next – FHHS will be there to record!