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.
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.
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.
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?
Two of the gasometers, showing their 19th century origins in the ornate ironwork.
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.
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.
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.
Crumbling brickwork and growing weeds – as much picturesque decay as in any gothic folly.
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.
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.
Beyond this ramshackle storage unit the trees, possibly in the cemetery.
Below there are other signs of the world outside glimpsed under the gantry.
Among the quiet buildings there are some surprises:
Some kind of crane on rails I think looking like a forgotten half-folded Transformer.
So let’s leave these sleeping giants and withdraw along the access road.
“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.