The Evolution of Gasworks and the challenges posed by their redevelopment
Gas was the first practical form of lighting, introduced in British factories in the first decade of the 19th Century. It soon became popular in the lighting of City Street, spreading first across the United Kingdom and then across Europe and Worldwide. The Industry benefited from the knowledge and contribution of engineers and scientists worldwide until its demise from the 1960s onward, with a gradual transition to natural gas.
The Industry has left a physical legacy of heritage in the form of some surviving structures and an environmental one related to the pollution caused by the Industry during its operation. Gasworks provide a challenge for redevelopment, often due to the hazardous nature of the wastes and by-products produced by the manufacturing processes, further complicated by the presence of surviving structures. Such structures include the buildings involved in the gas manufacturing process or gasholders, often retained long after manufacturing had ceased. The heritage value of these sites can be significant, especially if the structures are still present. They can then provide a link with local communities where they could have operated for over 150 years.
This presentation seeks to explain the history, including the complex challenges of returning these sites to beneficial reuse, thus maximising their heritage value.
Russell Thomas is a Technical Director at WSP in the UK, working across a diverse range of areas in the environmental field. He is acknowledged as one of the world's leading specialists in the investigation, understanding, remediation and heritage of Gasworks, with over 25 years of experience in this field. Russell has worked closely with all the major UK gas companies, the National Gas Archive (UK), and Historic England during this time. He has been a long-standing Institution of Gas Engineers and Managers (IGEM) member and chairs their History Panel. Through his unique experience, Russell has acquired in-depth knowledge of former gasworks sites and built his own gas archive. He has investigated several hundred former gasworks sites worldwide, including projects in the UK, Europe, the USA and Australia. His knowledge has been tested on television as an expert witness and invited speaker at conferences and academic courses.
He holds visiting positions at two world-class academic Institutions, the University of Strathclyde and the University of Manchester and has supervised many PhD students over the past 20 years.