These structures used to be a familiar sight on the skyline of most UK cities throughout the 20th Century. Now, with the advent of better technology allowing gas to be stored under high pressure and the fact most of these structures are 70 years old + they are fast becoming a rarity. Some of them are listed, but most of them are not and within a few years you may struggle to find one.
I’ve climbed a few of these over the years. They’re not exactly the most inspiring places, there’s really only a few photographs you can take from one, but none the less they are interesting to be up close to. When you see how rusty and decayed these are after even a few years of disuse, you wonder how more of them didn’t leak and explode when they were in use. I mean, they had a LOT of gas in them!
The one pictured below is in Gillingham, Kent near the Strand and is one I had wanted to climb for years, but kept putting off because it was so near. At the end of 2015 I finally did it.
Gas holders come in many different shapes and sizes. Above is a pretty traditional steel framed holder, the framework being necessary to guide the metal ‘bellows’ that actually stored the gas. Then there are the ‘spiral’ holders which feature the stairway to nowhere when they are flat - not much of an explore these ones. Then there are the MAN style gas holders. These are completely enclosed, with a ‘piston’ that moves up and down inside the holder depending on the volume of gas being stored. These are reasonably rare in the UK, but there just so happened to be one in Canterbury (It’s now gone as of 2016.)
The gas holder below is one of the largest in the UK, it stands in Southall, west London. It was one of only a few gas holders of this size ever built in the UK. Another one stood at Battersea but has since been demolished and there are two of them on the Red Car steelworks site.
This one really was a bit special to explore, mainly because of the insane collapsing staircase on the inside which would have folded up as the piston inside the holder was raised. It was pretty hairy descending this as the entire thing moved as you stepped on it. Getting inside the gas holder in the first place presented its own challenges too as the gap on the access hatch was just too small to squeeze through meaning the only other option involved a walk across a 20cm wide beam over a 90 metre drop. Well nobody died, so it’s all good.
They’ve since started demolishing this structure and have knocked a massive hole in the side of it. Access problem solved (as of late 2016.)
Go and climb your local gas holder now, if you leave it a lot longer you may find its no longer there!