NOSTALGIA: End of an era

The Gazette's photo of the last day of Alnwick Gasworks on May 13, 1964.
The Gazette's photo of the last day of Alnwick Gasworks on May 13, 1964.

Dennis Dalby, a Gazette reader for more than 50 years, alerted us to the fact that this week marks the 50th anniversary of the last retort being drawn at Alnwick Gasworks.

Mr Dalby, who has written a book, Gas in Alnwick – A History of Gas Supplies to the Town of Alnwick – 1817 to 1985, takes up the story: As a regular reader of Looking back in the Northumberland Gazette, I realise that 50 years ago on May 13, 1964, I witnessed the last retort being drawn at the Alnwick Gasworks on South Road. This was to mean that after a period of 147 years, town gas would no longer be produced in Alnwick.

Gas was introduced in 1817 by a Mr William Davison, a chemist, at a site (the exact site is not known) in Roxbrough Place, Green Batt. A licence number 1158 was granted by the then Duke of Northumberland to lay pipes from his premises across the streets of the Borough of Alnwick.

Mr Davison’s first gasworks was not a great success and the works were offered for sale. A lease signed on January 27, 1825, between The Most Noble Hugh Duke of Northumberland and eight gentlemen of the town, including Mr Davison, granted these gentlemen a site for 41 years at a yearly rent of six pence. The site in Canongate, shown on the 1827 map by John Wood, is now where Swiss Cottage stands opposite St Michael’s Church Hall.

The site in Canongate was not a popular one and the Duke expressed a wise opinion that the company should build a gasworks elsewhere. After long discussions and searching, a location was found on South Road. Work quickly got underway and a new works was built and put into production in 1882. In order to finance this big undertaking, the Duke agreed to a loan of £6,000 at three per cent per annum.

From the early days of 1882, the works was to have many additions and improvements. The works was to supply gas to Amble, Warkworth and Rothbury. With these increasing demands, an additional plant was installed and finally an eight-inch HP main was laid from Morpeth to meet the requirements.

This HP main enabled the works to shut down and become a manned holder station and gas required was supplied from Newcastle, until the arrival of natural gas in 1972 and the town was converted to his new gas.

Finally, the gas-holders were removed and the areas are now supplied through governors situated in a fine stone building on the old works, which once housed purifiers.

The old gasworks site is now occupied by Alnwick Tyres Ltd, Gordon Wilson Ltd and Ready Mix Cement.