The Gas Tower: Historical Images

The gas towers have been part of Reading's landscape for over a hundred years. The last one is scheduled for demolition soon, although it's had a recent stay of execution, thanks to the objections of local residents with concerns about pollution.

Reading's Local Studies Library has a large archive of local photographs, and it's not hard to find the gas towers among them. They towered over the town, sometimes full, sometimes empty, depending on the weather and how much gas was being consumed at the time. As you arrived in the town by rail, they were a prominent reminder that you were "nearly there".

We're delighted to be able to present some of those photos here, by kind permission of Reading Local Studies Library.

Construction of Gasholder No. 3

This monster went up next to the railway embankment in 1901. The towers must have seemed huge to the local residents - the figures of the workmen are tiny against the huge sheets of metal they are working with.

The photo was taken by Walton Adams, who developed some innovative photographic techniques in his Reading and Southampton studios. Adams was a prominent portrait photographer, whose more usual subjects included David Lloyd George and members of the royal family. The drama of the gas tower construction must have attracted his attention.

Making Gas

Here's what the Reading Gas Company works looked like in 1905, in a photo from the Reading Standard. On the left is the retort house, where gas was manufactured from coal in the absence of air. The two tall towers in the middle are tower scrubbers - no, not for cleaning the towers, but for removing contaminants from the gas before it went into the tanks. The gasholders on the right are Nos. 2 and 3 (the remaining tower is No. 4).

The view from the streets

This is Leopold Street, looking towards Rupert Street. The gas towers survived longer than these houses, which were demolished to make way for the new estate in the early 1980s.

(Photo by Terry Allsop, 1979.)

Views from the tower

These aerial views are taken from Gasholder No. 4 itself. They show the oil gasification plant, looking towards the town centre, and further infrastructure along the side of the railway line, as well as a bird's eye view into the playground of Newtown Primary School. The pumping house and pipeline next to the railway line are still in use.

(Photos by Terry Allsop, 1979.)

Newtown in 1979...

...and 1984

Take a close look and spot the differences! Newtown changed dramatically when the old Victorian terraces were demolished to make way for the new estate and the green expanse of St John's Primary School. The Jolly Angler's survived, and so did a row of four terraced houses in Avon Place, with their distinctive dormer windows (just visible in the bottom left of the first picture).

(Photos by Terry Allsop, 1979 and 1984.)

And finally, a bird's eye view (with self-portrait!)

(Photo by Terry Allsop, 1984.)

All photos © Reading Local Studies Library

Article by Mary Chambers