Southend Timeline

Bringing Your Memories Back to Life

Southend Gasworks Company.

The initial steps to set up the Southend Gas Company 

were set in motion on 27th January 1854 when a small group of the local gentry met at the Hope Tavern a building that still stands today as the Hope Hotel.


Right: Christmas Quarter 1900, receipt of one 144 held by the Southend Timeline, the last being October 1931


The meeting proposed the forming of a company dedicated to bringing gas lighting to the town’s homes and streets. With a growing population of around 8000people and the name of Southend-on-Sea becoming a favourite for holidaymakers the new railway line was expected to bring even more to the growing town, these founding members of the company wanted to turn Southend dark streets in to a dazzling blaze of light like those enjoyed in London.


Mr Charles Woosnam proposed the company be set up with a £1500 capital investment of 300 shares priced at £5, along with Mr Woosnam the other founding directors of the fledgling company included: E.W Madams, H.D Brook, C. Woosnam, G. Vandervord, J.B Brasier, and J.G Payne should be directors, with Mr Payne as chairman and Mr Brasier as secretary. 


A vote on the proposal was unanimously backed, the new company began a town wide search for a base of operations, a site was offered by Mr D Scratton who at the time was Lord of the Manor of Prittlewell, who donated 4 acres of his own land.


This was more than 70 years before the exploitation of the natural gas reserves in the North Sea in the late 1960’s until then the United Kingdom relied mostly on what was known as “Coal Gas” it was also known as “Town Gas” or “Illumination Gas”

 

Left: Another receipt this one dated 12th June 1929, this is for the new office in 



The manmade gas is produced by the forcible destructive distillation of coal, this was brought into the site by barge that would offload it at the Gasworks Jetty that had a conveyor belt that carried along the pier over Eastern Esplanade and in to the processing facility.

 

The gas produced contained a number of flammable gasses including hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane and volatile hydrocarbons together with small quantities of non-calorific gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen.

 

The Coal Gas was used to light street lights before people started using it in home gas cookers and heating homes.

 

By-products of the process included tars and ammonia, these were not waste materials with ammonia being a vital product in the dye industries and the tar being used for Coal Tar Soap.

 

The process involves the intense heating of the coal to very high temperatures this breaks down the coal so that it releases the gasses that can be siphoned off and put into storage inside gasometer.


In December 1854 permission was granted to the company to begin laying the first stage of the gas lighting network, the initial streets included Royal Terrace, Grove Terrace, and the St. John the Baptist church. 


LEFT: The Gasworks site and Gasworks Pier (to the left of the Corporation Loading Jetty) Image Copyright of Britain from Above 

 


The first gas began flowing on 8th May 1855 lighting some 120 lights by March 1856 the network had grown to some 340 lights including some on the newly opened rail station.

 

The continued growth of Southend saw its population surge past 28,000 by 1901 the growth of the population was matched by that of the gas company which now had some 5000 gas burning lights throughout the town.  The company now introduced pre-pay coin meters for those that could not afford the normal quarterly charged bills this enabled more subscribers to sign up to the pleasure of gas lighting at home.

 

The introduction of cooking with gas in 1902 saw some 616 cookers installed in just two months of going on sale, the cleaner more efficient style soon overtook the traditional method of cooking with coal in the hotels and guest houses around the town.



On the 29th November 1897 an extreme high tide flooded much of the town penetrating the gas supply pipes, urgent repairs were immediately undertaken which saw supplies re-commence in just six hours.


The Southend Corporation (Council) offered to buy the company in 1899 however the offer was turned down, the company got permission to begin supplying gas to Leigh in 1903, with Thorpe Bay getting its first supplies in 1907.


In 1901 the company opened its first showroom this included a display of the latest lights & cookers as well as an advice and paying-in desks, however the venture was short lived and burnt down the same year, the company bought a new property in 1909 and reopened the facility in 1927.


The popular pre-payment meters were causing problems by the vast amount of coinage that had to be transported by the Gas Company employees so the company decided to motorize the collection service in 1906.


In 1919, the workers in the coal yard called a lightning strike for better pay and conditions, whilst in 1921 they came out in sympathy for the national miner’s strike.

The company introduced a profit share scheme in 1922, this was instead of a pay rise, and made the workers part of the company’s success or failure.



A new gas holder, capable of storing 250,000 cubic feet of gas was officially put in to service on Tuesday 25th November 1924, it had been built by Messers Samuel Gutter & Sons of Millwall. 


The General Strike of 1926 saw a unique show of loyalty to the company not one member of the company’s staff joined the strike all remaining at their posts.


In the 53years between 1900 & 1953 some 125,000people signed up to Southend Gas the population increased to some 150,000 people, with Southend and the company rapidly expanding into the districts surrounding popular resort the gas company decided that to better emphasize the area it served it changed its name to The Southend on Sea and District Gas Company.


During 1911 the Leigh Urban District Council agreed to buy gas supplies in bulk from the Gasworks company, at this time the Council had owned the Leigh Gas Works and refused to sell it to the gas company when an offer to buy it was submitted in 1913.



In November 1918 the Gasworks siren was sounded to mark the end of the hostilities of the First World War.



The gasworks company made a successful bid to buy the Rochford Gas Company in 1920 and a second offer to buy the Leigh Gas Works in 1923, with the offer being accepted.



The Gas Light and Coke Company bought the Southend company in 1932, by this time the gasworks site on Eastern Esplanade has grown considerably, with out of borough storage facilities in Rayleigh and Canvey.


The Gasworks saw action in the Second World War, it was bombed on Sunday 10th August 1940 thankfully little damage was caused with the majority of the high explosive bombs falling on the mud in front of the site.



The Gasworks were again under threat on Thursday 19th September 1940, when German bombers targeted the seafront between Southend and Southchurch, seven houses were destroyed and the gas network suffered extensive damage and neuromas ruptures, repair crews quickly fixed the network as soon as the raid was over and the area checked for any unexploded ordinance.   


In 1939 and the dark clouds of war settling over Europe, the Government appointed “Fuel Overseers” across the country.


The County Borough of Southend was part of a region that also included: Rochford Rural District, Rayleigh, Canvey and Benfleet Urban Districts. 


During the war years (1940-44) Southend received a higher percentage allocation of the area’s coal as it was serviced by two railway lines and was seen as a strategically important part of the nations home defence.



The Gasworks saw action in the Second World War, it was bombed on Sunday 10th August 1940 thankfully little damage was caused with the majority of the high explosive bombs falling on the mud in front of the site.



The Ministry of Fuel & Power had established a large coal reserve storage dump within the borough to keep the town, railways and defences supplied, however during the winter of 1944-45 it was opened up as an emergency supply to the large part of Essex. 



The Gasworks were again under threat on Thursday 19th September 1940, when German bombers targeted the seafront between Southend and Southchurch, seven houses were destroyed and the gas network suffered extensive damage and neuromas ruptures, repair crews quickly fixed the network as soon as the raid was over and the area checked for any unexploded ordinance.   



 Another change of name to The Southend District of the North Thames Gas Board occurred during the nationalisation of the local gas boards during 1950-1960.


LEFT The Gasworks site towers over the seafront in this view taken from over the boating lake


The Great East Coast Floods of 1953 again caused disruption to the gas supply but the service was once again rapidly re-connected the gas-works site slowly wound down the amount of gas it handled until the closure and demolition of the site in 1968 when the local gas boards were nationalised forming British Gas.


The 5 hectare Gasworks site itself laid empty and unused for 36 years, in August 2004 work commenced on the cleansing of the site, it is currently under re-development, it had previously been considered uneconomical to use the land because of the high level of contamination of hydrocarbons and by heavy metals on the site polluted over the years of use, further investigation also found that much of the underground facilities used in gasworks were still in-situ including gas tanks & feeder pipes, the original hard standings were also discovered be heavily contaminated.


The clean up project has included, the removal of the tanks and pipes the removal cleaning and replenishment of contaminated land has also been carried out to remove any pollutants from the site with 75% of the original soil re-used.  A total of some 15,000 cubic meters of soil was cleaned and re-used on the site.  Once this was completed plans were given the go-ahead for the site to be re-developed.  

The Great East Coast Floods of 1953 again caused disruption to the gas supply, with pipes flooded special pumps were quickly deployed to pump the system out, engineers quickly got to work repairing the gas pumps and valves and rapidly re-connected the Gas supply.


The gas-works site slowly wound down the amount of gas it handled until the closure and demolition of the site in 1968 when the local gas boards were nationalised forming British Gas.

On 21st January 1974, a planning application by Nore Marina Ltd was submitted to the council, this was to under take modifications to the Gasworks Jetty, to enable boats to be moored to it.  Another application submitted to the council was to  create a large scale marine, stretching from the pier to Lifstan Way, however the application was withdrawn before it could be scrutinised.


At the same time as Nore Marina Ltd submitted their planning application, they offered to sell the jetty to the Council.


Southend Council bought the pier on the 29th January 1975 and arranged for the demolition of the decaying structure.


Around the same time, the Council hired ByCel Metals to demolish a large steel framed building on the northern end of the gas works site, a deal was arranged where the Council would pay £15 for the company to demolish the building and clear the resulting rubble with the company keeping any metal they could salvage. 

In August 1982 a contract was issued for a £3375 preliminary investigation into a future suitability development, this led to a more detailed £17,000 investigation into biological and chemical contamination on parts of the site.


In March 1984 a planning application was submitted by G.K. Ladeabau Southend Limited, that would have used the part of the gasworks site immediately to the right and back of the old gas board offices which were in use as the Pier and Foreshore offices as a car park for a larger development on the out of use Corporation Loading Jetty.


The proposal for the Loading Jetty would have seen the old warehouse demolished, and the erection of a part two part three storey building housing, Kiosk, fast food restaurant, chandlery, public house, health club, night club and a restaurant.


Alongside the redeveloped pier would have been a floating jetty and pier to enable the mooring of boats, it was also proposed to have a 97 space car park on the Loading Pier itself.

ABOVE:  With construction progressing on Esplanade House, the Gasworks Jetty is sitting partly dismantled, 

The 5 hectare Gasworks site itself laid empty and unused for 36 years, in August 2004 work commenced on the cleansing of the site, it is currently under re-development, it had previously been considered uneconomical to use the land because of the high level of contamination of hydrocarbons and by heavy metals on the site polluted over the years of use, further investigation also found that much of the underground facilities used in gasworks were still in-situ including gas tanks & feeder pipes, the original hard standings were also discovered be heavily contaminated.


The clean up project has included, the removal of the tanks and pipes the removal cleaning and replenishment of contaminated land has also been carried out to remove any pollutants from the site with 75% of the original soil re-used.  A total of some 15,000 cubic meters of soil was cleaned and re-used on the site.  Once this was completed plans were given the go-ahead for the site to be re-developed.  

The North Thames Gas Board

During the 1900’s the gas markets of the United Kingdom were mainly run by local council authorities or small private firms.

During this time gas was known as inflammable gas or “Town Gas”, this was piped to houses as a fuel for, heating, lighting and cooking, much of the advertising of the gas was via exhibitions and shops on the High Street.


The gas supplied during the late 19th and early 20th century was a coal based gas, this caused a large problem with getting deliveries to processing plants, it would also cause large amounts of pollution and waste.


The use of coal to create gas was slowly phased out as the supplies of Natural Gas was increased with wells in the North Sea, and imports from outside the country.


The Clement Attlee Labour government of 1948, undertook the implementation of the Gas Act, this would see the compulsory sale of the 1064 privately owned and council owned gas companies to new Central Government body, that subdivided the amalgamated companies into twelve different regional gas boards, each of these would have its own management structure and be responsible for the up keep of its own network. 



Regional Gas Boards

1 Scottish Gas Board
Scotland 

2 Northern Gas Board  Durham, Northumberland and parts of Cumberland, Westmorland and the North Riding of Yorkshire 

3 North Western Gas Board Lancashire and parts of Cheshire, Cumberland, Derbyshire, Shropshire, Westmorland and the West Riding of Yorkshire 

4 North-Eastern Gas Board The East Riding of Yorkshire and parts of the North and West Ridings of Yorkshire (including York) 

5 Wales Gas Board Wales 

6 West Midlands Gas Board  Parts of Cheshire, Herefordshire, Leicestershire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire (including Birmingham) and Worcestershire 

7 East Midlands Gas Board  Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Rutland and parts of Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Staffordshire and the West Riding of Yorkshire 

8 South Western Gas Board  Cornwall (including the Isles of Scilly), Gloucestershire and parts of Berkshire, Devon, Herefordshire, Oxfordshire, Somerset, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire 

9 North Thames Gas Board
Parts of the administrative County of London and of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Middlesex and Surrey 

10 Eastern Gas Board  Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, the Isle of Ely, Norfolk, the Soke of Peterborough, Suffolk and parts of Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire and Middlesex 

11 Southern Gas Board  Dorset, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and parts of Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Devon, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Somerset, Surrey, Sussex and Wiltshire 

12 South Eastern Gas Board  Kent, and parts of the administrative County of London and of Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex 



The Gas Act of 1972 saw the amalgamation of the twelve regional gas boards into one company controlling the whole of the UK’s gas supply, maintenance and upkeep, it would be known as British Gas. 


In the year 2000 the deregulation of the UK energy market saw the UK energy market opened up to private operators once again, this has seen eight “giants” taking the lions share of the market, however a number of smaller companies do supply power.



The Gasworks Jetty

The Southend Gas Works Jetty this was built in 1895 despite the fact that Southend Council had refused it planning permission demanding it be re-designed, the gas board built it anyway getting round the refusal by building the pier in Southchurch at that time not absorbed in to Southend this happened two years later in 1897 by which time the pier was up and operating.


RIGHT: The Gasworks Jetty showing the coal hoppers that feed a conveyor belt running into the Gasworks site. 


At the time of the refusal the Gas Company were richer than the new council which had only been formed in 1882.


The Gas Company did take Southend Councils request about a design change in to mind when they built the structure, the newly re-designed pier had a unique feature to its design one that stuck two fingers up at the Council, it was built with a kink in it to represent the boundary kink between Southend & Southchurch!


The Gas Works Jetty was an Iron and wood pier that straddled the Eastern Esplanade Road in to the Gas Works site.  The pier operated until the closure of the Gas Works Site in 1968 this saw the rapid demolition of the Jetty and gasworks site.



Gasworks Railway

The Southend Gasworks had its own dedicated railway network, this consisted of Kerr Stuart & Co “Wren” locomotives.

The Wren class was a 2ft 1¾ gauge 0-4-0 saddle tank railway. 


The first of these produced numbered 850 was sent to Southend Gasworks arriving on 24th December 1903. 


The little locos were powerful for their size, at 75% of boiler pressure they would produce 28hp, more than enough for operating on the Southend gasworks site.


A second loco Kerr Stuart 4154 was delivered to Southend in 1920, a third also joined the railway.


The railway ran down to the ground level via a boomerang loop on the western side of the pier.


The railways onsite works depot was located alongside the main building at ground level.


As the aging railway system became more difficult to maintain and more expensive to operate it was later replaced by a conveyor belt system, this would have large hoppers at the end of the pier into which the coal would be deposited, it would drop down on to the conveyer belt, that ran the length of the pier.  


The conveyor belt was extended on a raised gantry into a building inline with the pier. 

The Gasworks Offices

The original Gasworks offices were housed in a red brick building on the southern side of the site


RIGHT: Abandoned and boarded up, the gasworks office sits empty. 


the building also housed the public front desk for people making enquiry's or paying bills. 


After the building closed it was left boarded up, with it sitting empty and no maintenance being carried out to it the structure begun to decline, the ivy slowly enveloped the building, the ever ever54 spreading ivy taking its toll on the aging building water ingress took its toll on the buildings structure, until it was demolished in the mid 1980's with the site left derelict. 


BELOW: Ivy slowly envelops the building.

 

Another part of the Gasworks site included the "landmark" for all the wrong reasons Esplanade House, the building was a 1960 carbuncle that was looked upon as a blot of the seafronts townscape.


LEFT: Esplanade House viewed from Eastern Esplanade, an empty hulk.


The building was originally used by the North Thames Gas Board as their reginal office, those workers lucky enough to work on the Southside of the building would benefit from the sea-views however a major downside was the draft the would blow in from the window frames an ongoing problem in the entire life of the building.

In the 1970's electronics giant Pye announced it was closing it's Ekco Works facility in Priory Crescent, the newly formed Access Card Company set up as competition to Barclaycard moved into the site, as the business grew and Access were looking to expand within the town, they took out a lease on a part of Esplanade House.


ABOVE RIGHT: A different perspective of Esplanade House, viewed from behind.  


With the slow decline in Access it closed both its Southend offices and relocated to Basildon, however it was not the end of the banking sector being a resident of the site as RBS moved into the building, they then relocated to Maitland House just off the High Street.


This left the Esplanade House site vacant and it soon became a target for vandals and urban explorers, the owners were stilling rates on the building the Labour Government had changed the law so that business's would not have to pay rates on any building that was uninhabitable so with this in mind they gutted the building, took out all the utilities all the windows and knocked down an entire end.


The derelict hulk would remain as a blot on the landscape for many years.


In October 2010 a film company hired the hulk and recreated an Iraqi market at its base and built a replica tank! the shooting for the film Screwed 

Mr Therm & The Wonderful Character

The mascot of the Gas Board was Mr Therm, a giant version of him was fixed to the side of the main plant building on Eastern Esplanade, he would appear in countless adverts over the years however…


Mr Therm was retired by the Gas Council in 1962 as the use of high speed gas increased and the use of coal based gas decreased.


A new mascot was introduced, whilst he was never officially given a name, he was known as The Wonderful Character as he first appeared for the “Wonderful Gas” advertising campaign, he was given the nickname of “Oily Joe” by workers in the company.

The character remained in use up until the late 1990’s.

The Planning Proposals

The gasworks site remained derelict for decades, a major cause for the lack of redevelopment was the cost of decontaminating the land, however a few planning applications were submitted. 


With the eventual closure of Esplanade House, and its slow and steady fall in to decay and dereliction the site was a real blot on the Southend landscape.


However with the closure of Esplanade House and its eventual demolition the whole site was available for re-generation, this prompted a flurry of planning applications. 


Below is a look at a few of those that were submitted but never built.

A proposal was submitted in 1990, to lay a hardstanding across the empty section of the site to create a 130 space car park.

Ambassador Hotel 


In 2003 The Ambassador Hotel was envisioned as a luxury hotel, with 60 bedrooms over 7 stories, three further floors were to house 13 serviced apartments and private Spa for residents and guests.


RIGHT: The proposed hotel with apartments above. 


The application also included 206 houses and flats


The application was passed, but with the condition that the fitness centre only be used by residents and guests of the hotel, in 2004 an application was submitted to remove the condition, so that the fitness centre could be open to all, it was given approval and construction started but...


Works only got as far as the foundations before work stopped and the site abandoned. 


BELOW: As far as construction got were the foundation, here laying abandoned. 

Jetty Point


The Jetty Point proposal by Longly Developments proposed to demolish Esplanade House and decontaminate the land.


LEFT: The 22 floor tower block that was proposed. 


Once the site had been cleared and cleaned the site would be redeveloped into "Jetty Point" 


The proposals that were submitted in 2006, would have seen a mixed development, consisting of 199 flats, 168 student rooms, 38 bedroom hotel, restaurant and retail floor space over 3, 4, 5 and a 22 storey tower block.


Plans also included piazza, ground and semi-underground car parking and secure cycle parking. 


The application was withdrawn before it was voted on by the council. Later the same year the proposals were submitted again but with the tower block reduced in height by one floor, again the application was withdrawn.


Along with the Gasworks site the proposals also included plans to redevelop the old Corporation Loading Jetty to include the new restaurant. 

In 2008 another application was submitted, this time the developers were proposing 220 flats, 64 bedroom hotel, retail, restaurant across a development of 5, 5, 6 and 18 stories the application was refused. 

The  Langley Developments Proposals.



A proposal was submitted to the council by Langley Developments Limited in 2008, it requested planning permission for the demolition of Esplanade House and the development of the site 216 flats in a 12 storey development, this was to be surrounded on three sides with 60 one bedroom houses, 129 two bedroom houses, 27 three bedroom houses, and a 64 bedroom hotel, there would have been 266 car parking spaces provided over the site.


The total land area proposed to be used in the development was 3495 square meters and 1.4 Ha respectively.



ABOVE ABOVE RIGHT : The low profile blocks proposed.


ABOVE RIGHT: The proposed layout


ABOVE: The 12 floor tower block proposed


RIGHT: View from the crazy golf course



Premier Inn.

In June 2013, the Premier Inn hotel chain submitted a planning application to construct a part 5 part 4 storey 64 bedroom hotel which including a Brewers Fayre restaurant on the ground floor.


The application was passed in that September with work commencing almost immediately. 


The hotel opened for its first visitors in February 2015.

Heritage on site.

Whilst the site was all but demolished and has been redeveloped for housing a hotel and a car park one small but important piece still survives.


One small section of the wall that surrounded the site remains, the listed structure hides a secret.


Behind the wall is a WW2 Home Guard Observation Post.


The re-enforced concrete structure measures 8ft 5in x 10ft 3in and a height of 7ft 3in (2.6m x 3.15m and a height of 2.24m)


 At the time of its construction it would have been partly hidden by the gasworks jetty, making if much harder to spot from the air.


A firing loop was cut measuring 1.18ft x 0.26ft (36cm x 8cm) into the Gasworks wall, this was to enable the Home Guard to observe and vehicles moving along Marine Parade and Eastern Esplanade.


However the narrowness of the slot and its very limited field of fire would have made it very difficult for the defenders to fire at any invading forces that might have attempted a beach landing.


New Car Park

The remaining 3.5 acre part of the Gasworks site was bought by Southend Council in 2017 after it had lain derelict for a number of years.


At the time it was owned by Robert Leonard Estates, which had secured planning permission for a major residential, commercial and hotel development. However, no work was carried out and the planning permission had expired.


The site has been granted permission for a five year temporary car park,  this will see 338 car parking places available, 30 disabled bays, 27 coach spaces (which can be used to boost the car parking places by 132) making a total of 500 spaces. 


Gates will prevent the car park being used for anti-social driving at night with a 10:00pm closing time, however this can be extended for special events, 

Memorabilia

The Southend Timeline is always on the look out for anything to do with the Southend Gasworks, whenever possible no matter what I will always try and add whatever I can to the collection, as well as the items shown above a number of other items are in the collection.








RIGHT: A 100% complete Dealers Card Book for the Gas Light & Coke Company, this one dates to the 1940's it was acquired by the Southend Timeline on 3rd January 2018. 


During the planning process a model of the new estate was created, these normally end up scrapped or kept in the companies vaults gathering dust never to see the light of day ever again, however...


The Southend Timeline was extremely lucky to be able to acquire the one constructed for the estate, it is currently stored in a safe location as due to it's size it can't be kept with the rest of the Southend Timeline Collection.


The model measures almost 6ft long and 3ft wide encased in a plastic case and is very heavy.


It joined the Southend Timeline Collection on 3rd February 2014.



Lights Camera Action!

In October 2010 the derelict hulk of Esplanade House caught the eyes of film producers and they decended upon the site to shoot a film.


The film "Screwed"  a semi-biographical story based on the experiences of former prison guard Ronnie Thompson who spent seven years working in some of the UK's most dangerous prisons.


Staring James D'Arcy (Master & Commander), Noel Clarke (Kidulthood), Frank Harper (The Football Factory), Jamie Foreman (Layer Cake), Andrew Shim (This Is England) and Kate Magowan (Stardust).


 The story revolves around former soldier Sam Norwood who takes a job as a prison officer when he returns from Iraq and becomes exposed to the underworld of prison culture - including corrupt guards and drug trafficking.


The film was released in 2012.