Industrialisation started in Sands End when the Imperial Gas Company bought the Sandford Manor estate in 1824. This 'outlying' district of London was until then a mainly rural area relying mainly on market gardening. In 1851 a local gardener who owned land adjacent to the gas works successfully sued the Company over the affect pollution was having on his plants.
Fulham Gas Works 1926. No 4 gas holder is being re-built with no 5 holder in the background. Picture supplied by Hammersmith and Fulham Archives.
Expansion proceeded at a rapid pace nevertheless and the Imperial Gas Company merged into the Imperial Gas Light & Coke Company in 1876. The company even paid for the construction of Imperial Road. The name later changed to North Thames Gas. It's presence and influence in the area can be seen on this 1896 map. Former employee Doug Poplett has also provided his own plan of the way the Company was set out during the 1950s.
Not only were locals employed towards the latter part of the 19th century but also large numbers of German immigrants. Many were housed in Imperial Square. Nearby Emden Road was named after the harbour town from which many of them came. There were 33 dwellings in Imperial Square . The houses overlooked an open space which was later paved and planted with trees and shrubs.
Maureen Hughes nee Elster provided the above photo. A great grandparent of hers, Hinrich Elster was a stoker at the gas works during the mid 1800s but died before he was 30. Maureen says many of her Elster and Stephens ancestors employed by the company died of lung related diseases.
Along with the chimneys of Fulham Power Station, the great gas holders along Imperial Road were very much a part of the Sands End skyline during the 20th Century. Gas holders were rebuilt and the workforce expanded. Sands End men were taken on as apprentices and the ladies were employed in offices in places like Watson House.
In 1968 gas from coal was replaced by gas from oil, using steam and a chemical catalyst. The business was wound down over the next few decades with the site being mainly used for the storage of North Sea Gas and as a filming location for popular TV series such as The Sweeney and The Professionals.
Hammersmith and Fulham Council owned much of the site during the 1990s and over the following years ambitious redevelopment proposals were published for nearly 2000 new homes, commercial space, restaurants, shops, a hotel and even a station.
The picture below was supplied by Maureen Elster. Maureen writes; " It's of the Gas Company pensioners re-union 1942-43. Thomas and Sarah Stephens (my grandparents) are 5th and 6th from the right in the front row.
In its centenary edition published in July 1988 the Fulham Chronicle published the above feature about gas. It read;
It may be hard to believe that a gas holder can be considered of particular historical or architectural interest but in fact the number two gas holder at the Fulham works built in 1830 is a thing of beauty.When it was listed in 1954 the holder, decorated with Victorian ironwork, was the oldest of its kind still in working operation. It was built by the Imperial Gas Light and Coke Company as part of a massive gasmaking complex on the 28 acre Sandford manor estate at Sands End.
Sandford House itself has an interesting history. It was apparently built by Charles II for his sweetheart Nell Gwynn and the couple are said to have spent many happy hours there together.
For more than a century the works was at the forefront of the gas-making technology, leading where other companies across the country were to follow.
In the middle of the last century the works had a noisy but profitable neighbour in Cremore gardens, a pleasure ground of some 16 acres.For many years its light and music attracted Londoners to firework displays, dancing, circuses and many other entertainments. Not least of the excitement were nightly balloon ascents and they quickly became a popular craze. The balloons, including the great French captive balloon which carried up to 30 passengers at a time to a height of 2000 feet, were filled with gas from the works.By 1925 the gas company which manufactured gas from coal shipped into a wharf on the Thames had 52,000 on its books. In 1926 a plush gas showroom and district office was opened at the Broadway, Walham Green, in a bid to answer the demand for fires, cookers and heaters. Opening of the office coincided with the strike in the coalfields which sparked the General Strike, but fears that gas supplies might be cut were averted as supplies of coal were shipped in from North America.
In the 1920s the company employed some 20,000 people in West London.Increasing demand led to a steady growth in the grid of gas mains serving homes and businesses. The works importance can be gauged from the fact that during World War 2 the German airforce was given specific instructions to try and bomb the installation. Their attempts failed.
Further expansion of the grid followed the nationalisation of the industry in 1949 bringing the works under the North Thames Gas Board. The discovery of natural gas in the North Sea marked the beginning of the decline in Fulham's importance to the industry. Gas making from coal went on until 1968 and then from oil, which was relatively cheap then, until 1975. Since that time the works and holders were simply used for the storage of the North Sea Gas
Now read the memories former gas workers and their families.