TF9129 : Gas Meters
taken 14 years ago, near to Fakenham, Norfolk, England
Before natural gas the power for your lamps, cooker and heating came from town gas (or coal gas). This gas comes from bituminous coal when is put through the works process.
The first use of gas was by Scottish engineer William Murdoch, lighting his house in Cornwall with it in 1792.
Murdoch's employers, the Birmingham steam engine manufacturers Boulton and Watt, started to build small gas works for large users like factories. The first of these was installed Salford cotton mill, in 1806. This started another wave of industrial revolutions with the invention of the night shift.
In 1807 the German Frederick Winsor demonstrated the use of gas to light streets, in London's Pall Mall. He was the entrepreneur behind the first public gas works, which opened in Westminster in 1813.
With the popularity of coal gas increasing works started to spring up all over the place. In Norfolk some smaller places to have them included Alysham, Link Melton Constable, Loddon and North Walsham Link.
Fakenham Link Link Link dates from 1846 although most of the complex/machinery dates from 1910 at its peak it employed 8 men and served 500-600 houses and businesses.
For the first few years before the arrival of the railways to Fakenham coal was bought in by sea. However after the arrival of the Norfolk Railway/Eastern Counties Railway in March 1849 it was brought in by rail (although I donít think it was ever actually connected).
The coal came mostly from Yorkshire, good gas seams being Silkstone Fourfoot and Fenton, although Iím not sure if any of them were used here.
Coal is loaded into the retorts Link Link of which there are 14, over two furnaces.
Furnaces Link were filled with spare coke from the retorts, creating a very very hot fire. The spare from the firing was crushed Link and sold locally for smokeless fuel. The ash was also removed from pits in the floor Link. These retorts are basically air tight ovens, anaerobically baking the coal to remove the gas. The thick black smoke rises up to the hydraulic main Link. A large pipe half filled with water, the gas bubbles into the water, creating a seal. Thus meaning retorts can be opened and refilled without gas escaping. The water also removes some tar and ammonia which ends up in the tar tower Link.
Firstly the Tar and ammonia as well as other impurities drain out into the underground tar tank Link
The liquids were left to settle out before being pumped out and sold. The Tar was used for wood preservative and road production. At larger works it was sent to distilleries to make into petrol, creosote and other chemicals.
The ammonia was sent off for processing into ammonia sulphate fertiliser.
The gas however entered the condenser, a tall tower of pipes to increase the surface area exposed to a cool air or water. This example of 1953 date has removable sides for easy cleaning.
The gas cooled with more tar and ammonia as well as other fractions liquidised, then drained to the tar tank. From here it was piped to the exhauster house next door Link. The engines inside ran off gas as well as petrol and electric for backup Link Link and pumped the through the rest of the process. Firstly back outside to the washer Link. Passing through plates with small holes it made small bubbles to dissolve the ammonia out. Again the ammonia liquor drained to the tar tank. The gas has still had a hydrogen sulphide content, to remove the sulphur it is reacted with iron oxide (or rust) in an airtight container. It is piped into the purifier Link where this happens. The iron oxide coming from wood shaving impregnated with it. The chemical reaction produces iron sulphate and water, the water was drained off. When the wood chippings are used up the gantry is used to remove the top. The wood shavings were then placed in the oxidising area Link. Here the iron sulphate in the wood chippings goes though another stage of change, the iron oxidises again to become iron oxide. The sulphur crystallises out for easy removal. When the wood chippings (when used over and over again) became saturated with sulphur crystals they were removed completely for processing elsewhere. New chippings were added to the purifier Link. There was a set of valves and pipes to isolate a box that needed changing. The gas after leaving the purifier was ready for drying out then storage.
At some gas works a brusher machine was used to scrub out more ammonia, there is an example at Biggar.
After drying the gas entered the gas holder Link this is the last of the three built, this one completed in 1888. It could hold 400 cubic metres of Gas.
The holder was sealed by water and the pressure from the exhauster forced the tank to fill with gas and rise, then the weight gave pressure to feed the gas to customers when needed. A small boiler was used to prevent the water freezing Link.
The other gas holder, to a simpler design was situated in front, the remains are here Link a picture of it can be seen here Link
Another larger and more modern holder was situated behind the preserved example where the birch trees are now, a picture of it can be seen here Link
The whole of the gas flow was controlled from the valve room Link entering in the works meter Link. This measured the works output and could be compared to the amount of coal used to see profitability.
The gas pressure could be boosted at peak demand from the booster room Link Link
The works employed 8 men, including stokers/firemen, engineers and the foreman. He (the foreman) lived in the cottage Link which now houses local history displays. Several worked in the workshops Link making everything and anything to fix any problems and maintain the site. Now it houses meters (which came into use in 1817).
Fakenham also had a gas showroom, windows were added to the two front buildings to produce a shop. It now houses old gas curiosities like the gas fridge. Link. In 1949 the Labour government nationalised the gas industry (British Gas, since privatised).
After the first exploitation of natural gas the gasworks in the UK started to be demolished. Natural gas was cheaper to process, didn't require dirty coal and had a higher calorific value. Fakenham closed in 1965 and became a museum in 1987 now being a scheduled ancient monument due to the fact it is the last left in England and Wales.
The museum is free to all and is open Thursdays and Saturdays
3 June to 30 Sept inclusive
and Bank Holiday Mondays
5 April, 3 and 31 May, 30 August
10.30am to 15.30pm
- Grid Square
- TF9129, 278 images (more nearby 🔍)
- Ashley Dace (more nearby)
- Date Taken
- Thursday, 3 June, 2010 (more nearby)
- Monday, 7 June, 2010
- Subject Location
OSGB36: TF 919 292 [100m precision]
WGS84: 52:49.5853N 0:50.8109E
- Camera Location
- OSGB36: TF 918 292
- View Direction
- East-northeast (about 67 degrees)