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Sunday, 23 November 2014


(will add date and source of this in due course. It is early 1890s)
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN: I have been too busy to write a paper, but it has occurred to me to have something to say on the development of the gasholder. This was brought, about by reading the admirable address of Mr. Hunt before the Midland Association, in which I noticed a series of omissions with which I shall deal later on. Your President, in introducing the subject, has used the word evolution of the gasholder. The word I use is development of the gasholder. I cannot understand evolution in connection with it; I cannot understand the gasholder growing out of a shovel or anything of that kind, but I can understand a man, when the necessity arises for something new, devising something to meet that necessity, and I can understand that, as circumstances change the invention may be developed to a ·much greater extent than` was anticipated by the original contriver of the apparatus.

Now, the gasholder today is to all intents and purposes the same in essence and in principle as the first gasholder that was ever made for use on the works. The skeleton diagram shows different sizes of gasholders; there is a little one at the bottom which I assume to have been one of the first gasholders that was made; I daresay it is larger than the first. I take the size - it is an imaginary size - as 12 feet diameter by 12 feet high, but I expect the first gasholder was even smaller than that. The contents of such a gasholder will be about 1200 cubic feet, and the only difference between that and the largest in existence is that the contents of the largest is about ten, thousand times as much as that of the first one that was made --  12,000,000 cubic feet, as against 1,200 cubic feet. The first gasholder, I suppose, was built upon the premises of our friends the Gas Light and Coke Company, and at that time there was no question whatever that they led the world in gasholders and everything else. I do not know when they lost the lead, but they certainly have lost it for a great many years.

The first gasholder I saw was one of the Gas Light and Coke Company’s, in 1838. My father was engaged in the works in Brick Lane. I can remember him taking me to the gas works but my memory of these gasholders is too hazy for me to venture to say anything about them. But I can go back to 1840.  The first gasholder I remember being built was in 1840.   I was playing about the tank, and running along the planks one evening, as I had not got the rhythm of the plank, the next instant I found myself in a puddle at the bottom of the tank, fortunately not hurt. That gasholder cost £35 per thousand cubic feet capacity; and the last one built by the South Metropolitan Gas Company cost £5 per thousand cubic feet capacity, so that there is a great difference in the matter of price. I can remember distinctly the gasholders at the Old Kent Road works in the thirties. The first was a central guided one (No. 1) of 53 feet diameter and 12 feet deep, holding 30,000 cubic feet of gas. In the centre was a cast iron column with a roller at the bottom and a roller at the top; and it was surrounded by a. brick wall to keep it from the wind. Then came another similar holder, a telescope holder holding 44,000 cubic feet. It had a timber frame of really highly scientific geometrical construction, with single timber uprights, but the top beams holding them together were very well contrived indeed. Then came the gasholder I have referred to which was built in 1840. That had a cast-iron frame with tripod standards held together at the top, not by horizontal girders stretching from standard to standard, but by two triangles of girders, making, in fact, a frame that was the strongest, I suppose, that was ever seen for a small gasholder, only holding 60,000 or 70,000 cubic feet. It was a cast iron frame, and it was such that it would almost have held a ship of war from tumbling over.

That is as far as I recollect of the forties; but when we come to the fifties we come to a striking innovation in the manufacture and construction of gasholders by the late Mr. Croll. I have mentioned the telescopic gasholder. I do not know who the originator of .the telescopic holder was, but I think the originator of the telescope was the originator of all our large holders, for without the principle of telescoping it would have been quite impossible to make gasholders such as we have now. Whoever he was, he was a clever and ingenious fellow, and we owe him a debt of gratitude for his contrivance. Mr. Croll had the idea that too much money was being spent on gasholders, and at his works at Bow, for the Great Central Gas Company, and also at Rotherhithe, for the Surrey Consumers Company, he constructed some very light gasholders about the year 1850, upon which, some five and twenty years afterwards, there was an interesting discussion before the old British Association of Gas Managers, Mr. George Anderson taking a part in it with the late Mr. Thomas Hawksley; and it was Thomas Hawksley who used the expression gossamer gas holders in describing these holders at Bow and Rotherhithe. Robert Harris said afterwards: Well, whether you call them gasholders or not, all I can say is they are standing nothing has happened to them. They were untrussed, but that was nothing new, because the first gasholders ever built which were 10 or 12 feet in diameter, must have been untrussed

Then came trussing and large diameters, and then Croll went to considerable diameters without trussing; moreover the guide framing was of a very light character, and these holders stood, and stood well. Up to this time I do know w here the largest gasholder was. The largest gasholder I, can remember was in 1854 - I can go back to 1851. I remember going to see the gasholder built by the late Mr. William Innes, engineer of the Phoenix Gas Company, at the Kennington station. That Kennington station had been the property of the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company .I suppose where their reservoirs were placed. The Gas Company bought this land containing the reservoir, and, I believe put a gasholder in one of the tanks. I am not sure whether this gasholder Innes built was not the one put in one of the reservoirs. [Mr. May, Richmond, said it was.] That contained 1,400,000 cubic feet, and was the largest gasholder of its time. It was 160 feet in diameter by 35 feet deep, and believe had two lifts. Innes adopted a very singular method of guiding It., Instead of the ordinary cast iron columns, he made a column of thick boiler plate and fixed it at the bottom in a little shallow cast iron socket, and he bolted it by a simple flange to a cast iron plate, and covered it over with sham moulding. Then at the top he just connected them by ties. After the amalgamation of the South Metropolitan we felt uncomfortable with those columns, and we put girders upon them. But the fact that such columns on such all unstable base held as they did for thirty years in a prominent position, exposed to all sorts of winds, without any mishap or any risk of any kind occurring, seems to indicate that very little is necessary to keep a gas holder in its place, and proves, moreover, that the direction in which some had been going was quite mistaken, in building these enormously strong framings.

In 1854 that was the largest gasholder in existence. Then we come to about the year 1860, when the late Robert Jones came upon the field. He was the first to build a gasholder containing about 2,000,000 cubic feet. He built two, one at the Commercial works, where he was engineer, and one at the London works, where he was consulting engineer - at Nine Elms, where they are still in existence, two lift gasholders. But the one at Stepney has been converted into a three lift, making the capacity 3,000,000 cubic feet; and the father of our friend here, Mr: Jones who gave us a paper yesterday, was the man to take the lead, and he built a large holder with contents of 2,000,000 cubic feet.

Well, I will go on with this about the size of gasholders and deal with other matters afterwards.  The next step in size was made by Mr. Thomas Kirkham, of Fulham, and that holder is there now, with a very highly ornate framing, with cast iron columns and cast iron girders, with a lot of tracery. The contents of that holder are about 2,600,000 cubic feet. Then we come to the seventies, and the honour must be given to our friend Mr. Corbet Woodall, who built a large holder at Kennington. He went to about 3,100,000 cubic feet. I think this holder is of 218 feet diameter and 45 feet, deep. That has been converted into a four lift holder since, and the capacity: of 3,000,000 cubic feet has been converted into a capacity of 6, OOO,OOO. But in the case, of that holder we have wrought iron framing - a sort of tripod standard and lattice girders. That was the step to 3,100,000 feet capacity.  Then came the holder in the Old Kent Road, which went to 5,500,000, and which adopted more than had been done before the diagonal system of framing. Now I come to Mr. Hunt’s omissions in his address to the Midland Association. In speaking of gas holders, Mr. Hunt did not say one word about a pair of handsome structures which he put up at Birmingham capable of containing 6,000,000 cubic feet each. In each there is deal of originality of design, particularly in the standards which are exceptionally graceful in strength, with double columns. Mr. Hunt then had to live as the largest gas constructor in the world. After that I think there were several large gasholders made, but the next step was to 8,000,000 cubic feet, at East Greenwich. That is a four lift holder 240 feet in diameter and 45 feet deep, with a very expensive tank. The ground was full of water and a great deal of pumping was required.  The cost of the Old Kent Road holder (the 5,500,000 cubic feet one was about £9 per thousand cubic feet capacity, and in the case of the 8,000,000 one the price only reduced to £8 owing to the expensiveness of the tank.

I ought to have said that Mr. Corbet Woodall’s great holder at Kennington was without internal trussing. It was one of the largest. Mr. Jones at, Stepney was practically without trussing, but Corbet Woodall’s was entirely without it depending entirely on the supporting frame of the tank. The 8,000,000 cubic feet holder at Greenwich, as I say cost about £9 per thousand cubic feet capacity, and also is without trussing. There were several other 8,000,000 feet holders, built (some by our. friends, the Chartered, and others at Glasgow); and then we come to the largest size, 12,000,000 cubic feet, at Greenwich with a shallow tank, 300 feet in diameter, by 30 feet in depth.

I should like to say a word here with reference to my, brother. It was his idea to construct a shallow tank. After the construction of the first tank at East Greenwich it occurred to him that it would be a great saving if we could build a tank without pumping. We adopted the idea, excavating down as far as the water would allow; in fact, until we reached water and made up, the height above ground. So we there have a tank 30 feet deep only for a holder 300 feet in diameter. To meet the difficulty of guiding such a holder we had to devise a special system of guide rollers for the inner lift to prevent it tilting. We combined the English and the French systems - the English radial with the French tangential roller top and bottom - and we think we have succeeded in making it safe for filling and emptying the top lift. I am not sure whether it would not be, better (to make perfectly sure with these shallow holders and top lifts going above the framing) to adopt Pease’s wire rope guiding as well as rollers
Now we come to one or two other points about gasholders. First thing is with regard to the framing. I believe the builders of gasholders were mortally afraid of going up in height, and you can see at some of the old works, as I have, single lift holders with these enormously strong tripods as guides. They all seem to have had an idea that it was dangerous to go high, and I believe that was why preference was given to the single lift and the man who first introduced a telescope holder was a bold one. The most notable advance in telescopic holder building was made by the late William Mann -I am afraid my friends do not remember him. He was universally respected, and he was a man of whom I never heard a single word of disparagement. When he was engineer of the City gasworks at Blackfriars he was very much cramped for room and there was nothing for it but to go up. He then built a three lift holder. It was one of the finest objects to be seen on the left hand side crossing over Blackfriars Bridge. It was 100 feet high, 84 feet in diameter, had three lifts of something over 30 feet each, and stood in an iron tank somewhat above the ground. Here I think the diagonal bracing was introduced in a scientific and thorough manner, and it is the first instance I ever recollect of its being so used; all that was some time in the sixties. It was used as a development in the gasholder in order to make it safe in going to such unwonted height as 100 feet. That, I consider, was a most important step in the construction of telescopic gasholders. 

Mr MAY (Richmond) That framing, it may be interesting to you to know, was reerected at Calcutta.  

Mr. LIVESEY: In the early days it was the great object to have as little pressure as possible. Gasholders were made light and, of large diameter, consequently giving very little pressure. Then when they came to adopt the telescopic method, they had balance weights to balance all three points and to keep the top level. They seem to have been very much afraid of going up; but at any rate we have got past that ere now and it was only a development to meet the size, and to meet the enormous advance in the gas production,

 The first curb was a small angle iron, and nothing else. When you come to trussing, they put in a couple of angle irons, and a bolt between these two angle irons carried the trussing. With regard to the trussing, Mr. Hawksley said that an untrussed holder was, like a wheel without the spokes. That was his expression; the trussing tended to keep the thing in a true circle. When trussing was done away with it was necessary to make the curbs considerably stronger and the box girder system was introduced. Then curved thick plates came into vogue. Mr. Woodall adopted those at .his gasholder at Kennington, and it has been adopted pretty generally. The reason why he adopted it was that in visiting the gasworks, I think it was Kings Cross one day he noticed an untrussed crown, and this plate was buckled in a series of little hills and valleys running from the circumference to the centre and giving an idea that the curve had given way to compression. That led him to believe that if we could keep that plate rigid and true we should greatly increases the strength of the curb. Others, I suppose, came to the same conclusion certainly Mr. Woodall did in his holder at Kennington and that eventually came to be a very common form of crown plate.

Then another thing. I take it one of the greatest improvements ever made in gasholders was Piggott's·cup. It very commonly happened that leakage took place between the rivets and it was common experience of gasmen in those days to have to repair the cup; the thing had to be hoisted out of the tank, and there was no end of trouble to· renew the cup. Then Mabon obtained a patent. Horton infringed it and there was a lawsuit at Manchester in the year 1862, between them on the question. Piggott, the engineering member of the firm, the son of the late Thomas Piggott, was present at the trial, and while he was there the idea occurred to him, why not bend the plate? In, 1862 they had a: contract with the South Metropolitan Company for the building of gasholders. The contract was let and the work was in progress and they came to us and said ‘will you let us try this form of cup?’  We consented; Piggott’s cup was put into that gasholder in 1862, it is at work now, and there had never been any trouble with it. I therefore think that one of the greatest improvements ever made in the matter of gasholders was the invention by the late George Piggott of this cup.

Then as to the framing, I may mention that John Paddon introduced the arrangement shown on the diagram at Brighton or at Hove, rather. As he built his gasholders to a considerable height and they were exposed to gales being near the sea he put in trusses so as to give rigidity to the top of the frames.  It was a very common practice in the early days on the introduction of lattice girders to try and ornament them and rosettes at the junction of the lattices. These rosettes harboured rust and certainly they could not paint or do anything under them. We had a similar thing in some of the gasholders at South Metropolitan and I had them all taken off, so that you have the iron of the girders get-at-able. While I am on the subject of ornament I may tell you a little of my late friend, Major Dresser. One day, when we got the gasholder in the Old Kent Road nearly finished, he paid me a visit, our late friend, John Somerville, was experimenting at the time with ornamental finials to the standards. He made them of different shapes, and had one shape on the top of this standard and another of a different shape on the top of the next. Major Dresser looked and said: "What on earth are those things? “Well, I said, “they are intended for ornament”. “Ornament!” said he “you have not got a particle of ornament about a gas holder; do not spoil it by putting up those monstrosities”. We have followed his advice, and have never since tried to put anything in the shape of ornament upon a gasholder.

The reason I propose plate girders instead of lattice girders is that the things have to last forty or fifty years, and I think a plate girder is less likely to rust and is more get at able for the purpose of painting than the lattice girder. There are examples in Mann’s framing; the 5000.000,cublC feet holder in the Old Rent Road with double diagonal bracing and is the 8,000,000 cubic feet holder at East Greenwich. with triple diagonal bracing. But there it is overdone. We put in the double bracing and then consulted an eminent engineer, who said, “Well, I am not quite sure about it but it might be wise to put in a little more, and so in addition to this double bracing we put in a third, so that looked a perfect network of bracing. The trouble with this system was that there was difficulty in getting the bars properly fitted in, and when we built this holder we made up our minds we never would never have any more with ties. The next was the 12,000,000 holder at East Greenwich in which two lifts go out of the frame, and there is diagonal bracing consisted of struts only, the strongest struts that you could use We have no cross girders except at the top. That holder has two lifts going out. We have one at Rotherhithe with two going out also. I might say a word about that I believe it is safe enough for a gasholder to have one third of its height or one fifth of its height, above the, frame, but I should not like to build one with half its height: above the frame. It seems to throw too much strain upon the rollers and upon the bearing parts

I must not forget to mention here various men and amongst the rest Mr. Webber, who, in the eighties, took a very prominent part, and a very useful part, in gasholder building, and who was, I believe, in favour of doing away with the frame. Then came Gadd and Mason with the invention of a spiral guide. Then came Pease with a really clever invention of a wire rope guiding.  It cannot be disputed that both of these systems were successful, but my objection to them is that the stress of the wind coming on the gasholder must be carried to the ground in some way, and I contend, that it is better that stress or pressure should be carried independently of the holder. If it is not carried to the ground by the framing, (when there is no frame) it must be carried to the ground by the sheeting and that I think would impose a strain on the sheeting.  It ought not to bear. Apropos of this I may mention that when I was quite young one thing puzzled me very much, viz. that the sides of the gasholders seemed to last when the crown became leaky and worn out. I said to myself: “Well here is a funny thing. Here are the sides going in and out of the water every day and they keep all right, and the crown never going into the water at all becomes leaky and has to be patched”. I think the explanation is that whereas the sides have no work to do the crown has a great deal of work to so and constantly changing work. When it is down it is not in tension at all; when it is up there is a certain tension, which comes on the plates. When it takes on the second lift there is greater tension and so on, a constantly varying tension which seems to me one of the causes why the crown gives way more than the sides.       ,

Then as to the systems of guiding. The English system was to have small radial rollers. The French system to have tangential rollers. I first saw them in Paris in the seventies. When we built the 5,000,000 cubic feet holder in the Old Kent Road we combined the tangential and the radial. But there is a difficulty in erecting the tangential so far from the holder. If you put them on, the side of the holder it is all right but for your top carriages you cannot do it, and it is rather weak. Then we contrived an angular system. I must say that I think the tangential is better than the radial because it gives double bearing points in a holder, especially when ‘applied as the French do it. You have twice as many points in the tangential system as you have in the radial, and our system is something betwixt and between in .which we have found advantages.

With regard to the size of gasholders, I think I may say that the mishaps' and difficulties we have with them are much less - now that we have gone to these enormous sizes than they were in the past with the small sizes. It used to be the practice to load holders to give the necessary pressure, and I remember one which was loaded with mouthpieces all round the top which made it top heavy. The holder tilted, as it might have been expected to do. They sent for a consulting engineer, and 'John Kirkham, who was of Pickwickian build, got a lot of the stokers on to the holder to drag the mouthpieces from one side to the other, and while they were dragging these mouth pieces about the holder suddenly tilted to the other side and shot the mouthpieces and the stokers and the consulting engineer to the ground. We are spared these difficulties

Then I once saw a gasholder on fire, the gasholder in the Old-Kent Road with the iron frame. One morning they found that something had happened to it in the night. They attempted to repair at, and brought a light or a red-hot iron, or something or other, near it, and it ignited, and I can remember distinctly a long flame of fire coming out from the crown. I was ' not quite sure about my recollections, but I asked an old pensioner the other day who worked with us in those days, and he said he remembered it quite well. I saw it. It burnt itself out, in accordance with my recollection. I was about ten years old. They simply looked at .it until it sank into the tank, and no harm whatever resulted.