Gas works: Ladbroke Grove 1970

Where the Grand Junction Canal and the main line railway to Paddington diverge from their parallel course there is a teardrop shaped  patch of land bounded on the east by Ladbroke Grove. In 1845 the Western Gas Company built a gas works there facing All Souls Cemetery on the other side of the canal. When North Kensington was developed for housing in the second half of the 19th century the Gas Works sat waiting at its northern edge. And there it stayed as London grew around it. In 1936 the Gas and Light Company built a progressive housing development on the Ladbroke Grove edge of the site powered by the wonder of gas, Kensal House, but more of that another day.

Today only a couple of gasometers remain overlooking the cemetery. Most of the site is taken  up by a Sainsbury’s super store. But in 1970 although gas production had ceased the owners seem to have been wondering what to do with the gas works, and denying rumours that the whole site would be given over to housing.

That’s the history bit. And possibly the reason why these photographs were taken. They show the Gas Works in a half way state, not shut down but not quite working either.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K70-594

For the uninitiated like me this is just an inexplicable tangle of pipes, doing something impressive no doubt, but I like it simply because of the shape. The lure of the industrial landscape can be just as strong as the desire to see a famous church or museum.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K70-599

You expect to see people on those gantries checking pressure gauges for signs of the chemical activity within these giant units.

Here are more of those pipes, and a ladder waiting to be climbed.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K70-608

See another ladder leading to a door on the right of the picture. What was inside that narrow tower that meant you couldn’t have a door at the foot of the structure?

Gas works 1970 665.7 K2177-B

Two of the gasometers, showing their 19th century origins in the ornate ironwork.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K2182-B

This picture shows the link to the railway, and the first sign of human life as two men point out something to each other. We’ll see them again.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K2180-B

Here is the basin which linked the works to the canal. I imagine coal or coke being moved on conveyor belts up these covered structures (I don’t know the correct term for them). You see signs of decay and disuse here. The water is still and silent.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K2183-B

There are those men again in front of one of the older buildings on the site. One of them wears a brown work coat over his suit. He’s the one who knows the works. The other may be a visitor.

There are further signs of the age of the works in the already abandoned sections.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K70-600

Crumbling brickwork and growing weeds – as much picturesque decay as in any gothic folly.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K70-609

Continuing that idea a silent interior space as quiet as a cathedral, bright light visible through the arched windows.

The size of the pipes induces its own kind of awe.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K70-610

I spent a brief summer working at Shotton Steel works in North Wales an installation as large as a small town it seemed at the time with internal bus routes to take you to the various outposts. It was particularly striking at night, maybe even beautiful. Perhaps it was there I developed a liking for these industrial structures, or perhaps it’s something we all have.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K70-612

Beyond this ramshackle storage unit the trees, possibly in the cemetery.

Below there are other signs of the world outside glimpsed under the gantry.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K2176-B

Among the quiet buildings there are some surprises:

Gas works 1970 665.7 K70-611

Some kind of crane on rails I think looking like a forgotten half-folded Transformer.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K2179-B

So let’s leave these sleeping giants and withdraw along the access road.

Gas works 1970 665.7 K2175-B

“Things were melancholy and industrial” as Paul Haines and Carla Bley once said.


There are other pictures of the gas works in earlier days in our collection so we may be back here again. Next week another forgotten building.

10 responses to “Gas works: Ladbroke Grove 1970

  • Michael Gall

    Very Poetic Post

  • Lucretia

    I find such structures bittersweet. I tend to see them at the end of their existences (or in photos years later like these) and try valiantly to imagine what it must’ve been like at their building. The feelings of optimism and shiny technology bringing us toward the future. What must it have felt like to conceive of it, draw & design, then build it? What did those long ago optimists see the future as?
    I find beauty in the ideas, but sadness at the rust and the eventual obsolescence.

  • Dave Hucker

    In 1971 there was a episode of Dixon Of Dock Green filmed there. It was called Jig-saw.

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  • owlwoman

    Have just found this page while researching a short story I’m writing. I used to live in Kensal Green and loved walking past the gasometers. Amazing photos!

  • Daniel grigsby

    I used to work st KG gas works a a distribution engineer/ganger from 1990 until British Gas closed the yard around 20000. BG became Transco and we still kept a small “satalite” yard along side the first holder you come to via the one road in out : canal way. I’m 50 now and it seems along time ago I was 24 and taking out my first gang of apprentices.
    Tough old game but what memories, laughs and tragedies were encapsulated ( if you’ll excuse the pun ) :,I became a joint repair specialist in in find and fix by encapsulating the mains from 4″ lps to 36 ” medium pressurise. Plenty of my “scars” or “patches” still mark the central and west London streets.. Each one with its own unique story !

  • Sam Veal

    I don’t know if it’s been mentioned before (I’m new to your wonderful site) but Mother London by Michael Moorcock has a paiur of sisters living in a cottage next to the gasworks on the towpath. These pictures help me see it clearer in my mind’s eye. Thanks for these.

  • Russell Thomas (@Gashistory)

    Wonderful photographs, not ones I’ve seen before. I expect given a few hrs I could work out what structures they are showing beyond Vitruvius Wyatt’s Gasholders. Thanks for sharing and nice the know the site was recorded before demolition.

  • Geoff Culbertson

    In 1933 my grandfather Robert B Culbertson was the Engineer at these works and lived in the Engineer’s House at the gas works. He died in 1971 and I don’t recall him talking about his time there but I believe he was seriously injured in an explosion there. He did recover. I would like to learn more if at all possible.

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