The gasometer, next to the Free Church Cemetery in Canada Lane, previously Gashouse Lane was still there in 1966 when these photos were taken. It had stopped being used for the storage of coal gas back in the 1940s after a company in Swindon had taken over.
Until the discovery of large resources of ‘natural gas’, which was extracted from deep below the ground in the later half of the 20th Century, a flammable gas had been extracted mainly by heating coal. When produced on an industrial scale, this ‘coal gas’ was then stored in a large structure called a gasometer and pumped through pipes into homes. Gas lighting in homes was first experimented with in England in 1786 and the Gas Light & Coke Co. was established in London in 1812. It was however some time before this totally replaced oil lamps and wax candles, which were very smelly and a serious fire risk; cooking and heating relied on solid fuels such as coal or wood. A gas stove factory was established in England in 1836 but the stoves only became widely available much later in the century. The first district to be illuminated by gas street lamps in Great Britain was St. Margaret, Westminster in 1814, but it was over 20 years before that luxury came to Faringdon. Many homes, especially those further from the centre of Faringdon were not supplied with gas even one hundred years later, and no electricity either. Electricity didn’t start arriving in Faringdon until around 1911-12.
Faringdon was converted to natural gas in April 1972. This involved a gas engineer visiting every home in order to replace the jets in all gas appliances – gas fires, cookers, and central-heating boilers, the latter not so common in those days.
Extract from a childhood memoir of the 1930s in Faringdon: “Dark winter evenings were lit by the warm glow from paraffin lamps and candles, which were also used to light our way to bed. Special care had to be taken with candles and matches because of the risk of fire from the naked flames but we learnt at an early age how to spit on our fingers and pinch out the fames.” More memoires…
The Establishment of Faringdon Gas Works
At a committee meeting in Faringdon on 1st December 1835 it was resolved that each shareholder would subscribe 5s per share towards the cost of street lamps and their erection. There were to be seven gas lamps in Gloucester Street, four in Marlborough Street, five in Corn Market and Market Place, five in Church Street and five in Bull Street, now London Street. A lamplighter had to manually light the lamps each evening and turn them off at 10 pm until an automatic system was installed. It was also proposed that the main gas pipe would be extended up to Dr. Bowles’ house, now known as Sudbury House. The coal came via the Berks and Wilts Canal and was landed at Longcot Wharf to be transported to Faringdon. ]ohn Hunt, William Noad, and Eaden Caddy, were company clerks in the latter part of the 19th C. and early 20th C. Some of the workmen in the early part of the 20th C. were Jack Page, Jack Davies, George Hall, and Harry Hancock. In the 1930’s the Faringdon Gas, Light and Coke Company was taken over by a Swindon concern and actual production of gas in Faringdon stopped in the 1940’s.
Some text extracted from: The Changing Faces of Faringdon and Surrounding Villages – Book 2 p31-32. By Rosemary Church, Jim Brown, Millie Bryan and Beryl Newman. Robert Boyd Publications.
Researched by Ian Lee, April 2020.