Brighton Gas and Coal Co.

Black Rock/East Brighton Gasometers
Peter Groves

Who Remembers Coal Gas?

Who remembers when dear old mum cooked using coal gas?  When I moved to Hangleton as a 3 year old in 1957, my mum had an old cast iron cooker installed.  It was second hand, or perhaps even third, with a grey enamel finish, and of course no pilot light or automatic ignition.  Some people had one of those big battery lighters that produced a spark to get the ring going, but we had to use a match.  Who also remembers when someone had forgotten to light the ring and the smell of coal gas, and the worry that switching a light on might cause an explosion?  “Quick open all the windows, don’t put the lights on!”  Who also remembers gas pokers, you plunged it into the coal and left it there for 5 minutes to get the coal burning?  Who also remembers the huge gasometers which rose and fell according to demand?

Brighton Gas and Coal Co.

The gasometers at Black Rock came about due to taxation.  Brighton Gas and Coal Co. works were established at Black Rock in 1818, just outside the town boundary in order to avoid tax dues.  Coal was landed from vessels on the shore and either hauled up the cliff or apparently carted through a cave* that lead from the shore to the works.  The site was used for production and storage until 1860, and from then for storage only.  The gas holders were improved and replaced a number of times.  The two gasometers that remain there today were constructed in 1935 and 1946; however they are no longer in use.  There is a plan to redevelop the Black Rock site and you can read about it here .

Natural Gas Conversion Programme

Finally who remembers the natural gas conversion programme?  Apparently it was between 1968 and 1976; gas engineers visited every home and converted equipment to work correctly on North Sea gas.  I think my mum’s house in Amberley Drive was converted very early 1970’s. As a 16 year old I remember being quite embarrassed as the engineer looked at mums cooker and said to his mate “blimey Jim this one’s out of the ark, doubt we’ll have the parts for it;” but luckily they did!  My mum was still living in the house in 1991 when I went back to rip out the old kitchen and install a fitted one.  The butler sink and wooden draining board came out quite easy, but I had to call on three mates to help me lift out the heavy old gas cooker!

* Page 15 of my 1929 book “Brighton Since the Grant of the Charter 1854 – 1929” by W. H. Attwick


Comments about this page

  • Black Rock gasworks was established in what was then part of Rottingdean parish. Due to the amount of coastal erosion over the past two hundered years it is not so apparent, but there was a long block of Rottingdean running parallel to the coast westward from the main part of the parish; this had one effect of denying Ovingdean a coastline. As Brighton had a tax levied on coal brought across the beach the gas companies had their gasworks in Hove[what is now Tesco Church Rd] and in the western-most part of Rottingdean with gas piped into the urban area.

    By Dr Geoffrey Mead (20/02/2021)
  • Thanks Geoff, you always have something interesting to add, many thanks!

    By Peter Groves (20/02/2021)
  • This gasometer was hit by a bomb during a daylight hit and run raid early in the war, for some reason it did not explode but the near by large block of flats was severely damaged as was part of Kemptown.
    I remember this because as the planes went across the town they machine gunned the streets and I was one of the people nearly shot..

    By Mr K I Ross (23/02/2021)
  • Hi Ken, I looked on the 1946 Brighton Bombing Map and it seems like three bombs hit the gas works area and one a direct hit, of course it was a legit target…………. its a surprise that no damage was done!

    By Mr Peter Groves (23/02/2021)
  • I seen to remember that it was said that the gas did not explode because it needed to have oxygen or normal air where the bomb hit but the gas cut out the chance of fire.

    By Mr K I Ross (24/02/2021)
  • I remember these gasometers so well. Back in about 1977, a mate and I, after a night on the lash, somehow got inside the old gasworks and, as you do, decided to climb the biggest one. At the time, there was a curving staircase like a glorified ladder, and presumably for maintenance, which ran around the circumference of the steel framework all the way to the top.
    After our “Made it Ma- top of the world” moment, we looked down, only to see a police car pull slowly to a stop in the road, almost directly, and a long way, underneath us. Oh dear. We dared not move in case they saw us against the moonlit sky.
    And so we clung on up there for what seemed like eternity, while the fuzz had their midnight break, eventually driving off, which allowed us to inch our way down, absolutely frozen stiff, and very, very sober by now.
    Once was quite enough.

    By Mark Thompson (20/04/2021)
  • Great story Mark, many thanks!

    By Peter Groves (21/04/2021)

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