The Doric Columns
Fanny by Gaslight
Aberdeen was at 1st illuminated with Gas extracted from oil, by a company established in 1824; but finding it an unprofitable undertaking, they afterwards had recourse to coal-gas, in the production of which the best parrot-coal is used, and the streets are now brilliantly lighted with gas, carefully purified, and conducted by cast-iron pipes, of which the aggregate length exceeds 48 miles: the works are extensive, and conveniently situated in the lower part of the town. Parrot Coal - a term for Gas Coal, often but not always restricted to such as is of inferior quality. This name has probably been derived from the crackling noise made by this type of coal during burning.
Light Co. of Aberdeen
Aberdeen's Gas Industry
dates back to
1824 when the 1st
Gas Works were set up at
Gas Lane, Poynernook. This part of the Harbour allowed ships
with coals to berth near the then Gasworks, the site of which was in the open space on the
the Joint Station.
A public supply came in
1824 when, using oil as
the energy source, the
Aberdeen Gas Light Company produced gas to
light 242 street lamps.
In 1871 Aberdeen Corporation took over the works and ran it until nationalisation in 1949. Final closure of the City's Gasworks came in 1975 when the oil reforming plant built in adjacent Miller Street took over from coal. The Miller Street plant was short lived, closing in 1979 bringing a final end to gas making in Aberdeen after 155 years as North Sea Gas replaced all the local gas works in the UK when the flow of Natural Gas from the offshore fields became available. Gas must have provided a quite stunning improvement to people’s ability to read, write or sew in the evenings with minimal effort following prevalent whale oil lamps and candles. It nevertheless had many drawbacks. There were frequent explosions, and it replaced the oxygen in the air with black and noxious deposits. The aspidistra, a hugely popular plant, became so because it survived well in oxygen-starved conditions due to near hermetically sealed rooms to avoid drafts. Victorian ladies frequently fainted partly because of tight-lacing, but also because of a lack of oxygen in their gas-lit rooms.
Domestic Gas provided light and cooking to supplement the heat and light received by the open coal-fired range which itself was often lit using a a gas 'Poker' - an improvised perforated brass or more often copper tube with a flattened business end. It was simply connected to the gas supply by an oft perishing rubber hose. When ignited it could be plunged in the coals to start the fire without kindling. Unlike the illustration here there was no protection from conducted heat other than by its length for heat dissipation. The nipple on the end of the posh version was for connecting the rubber tube supplying the gas flow.
Lighting was by means of a hinged Bracket Gas Lamp Bracket with a protective glass shade and a plate suspended on a chain to prevent overheating and staining of the ceiling by the heat generated.. It was necessary to fit a preformed asbestos gas mantle to give a brilliant white light which could be controlled like a dimmer by using the volume delivery gas tap. It gave a re-assuring hiss reminiscent of a Tilley lamp. These were consumer items and often were broken due to heat or dismantling and often simply discarded pending another replacement. The all important gas mantle would be inevitably be punctured by matches or by smokers lighting cigarettes which reduced the lights efficiency dramatically; requiring their instant replacement. All was jolly till the gas run out and dimmed dramatically urging a rush into a dark room recessed cupboard to insert the penny in the meter to continue the supply before it finally extinguished with a plopping sound - that is if there were any pennies left for the purpose. Many a bairn had to sit in the fearful darkness of the 2 roomed attic for a parent returning from the pub. With only the coal fire flickering ghostly shadows on the attic walls and rendering fear into total panic due to imagined and ever changing seemingly clutching spectres. With a family of 3 my mother had only a single gas ring to boil water on and cooking was continued on the side of the fire range giving every kettle and pot a liberal coating of coal soot. Downstairs below attic level they had the luxury of electric lighting at the touch of a switch. In good times there would always be a stack of pennies on the Mantlepiece that would suffice both the voracious meter and the hunger of a child enticed by an ice cream man to amortize 3d from the family provision for ongoing gas light and cooking. The meter would be emptied by the Gas Board and any rebate on the tariff per Therm returned to the customer - like a small but welcome savings account.
Street lighting was by a gas lamp standard allowing extended play periods if you were lucky to have one outside your Tenement doorway. It provided a vertical climbing frame and one could hang from the cross bars provided for the maintenance ladder support. These were all auto ignition on a pilot light with a clockwork mechanism and these too had mantles that needed to be changed when they disintegrated due to vibration from enthusiastic climbers, movers and shakers.
John Miller & Co, Sandilands, was taken over by ICI in 1928. Located next to the gas works, the chemical works utilized the waste products of its neighbour. The gasholders contained 500,000 cubic feet each in 1953, at which time the chemical output included 1,550 tons of sulphate of ammonia, 10,000 of tar and three million gallons of Benzole. Miller Street is named after the Owner.
Sandilands Chemical Works. Storage tanks for Tar / Ammonia distillate pumped from the Gas Works. John Miller and Co. started business in 1848 having the expertise to convert this distillate into various oils and other products. Gas Works had started in 1844. The sections were made of cast iron and were bolted together to form storage tanks. These could be dismantled and re-sited as required.
The new phosphate store (capacity 20,000 tons) at Sandilands Chemical Works, built next to the Garvock Wynd boundary wall. The phosphate rock came into Aberdeen from the Pacific Islands and Russia by ship to be unloaded at International Quay and then transferred to Sandilands by lorry. The lorries then tipped their loads into an underground hopper and conveyor system through a grid opening at ground level. The phosphate was then lifted by an elevator to an overhead conveyor from which it was tipped into the store. The material was then trimmed using a bulldozer. One operator was responsible for the operation of unloading the phosphate including the trimming operation. The phosphate was removed from the store by means of a mechanical shovel and used in the production of phosphoric acid.
Gas making in Aberdeen commenced in 1824 when the Aberdeen Gas Light Company established its works in Poynernook, close to the site of the current Railway Station. However in 1844, the Aberdeen New Gas Light Company was formed in opposition and erected its gas works at Sandilands. The 2 companies merged in 1846 and the Poynernook site was abandoned in favour of Sandilands. The gas company's undertakings were transferred to the Aberdeen Town Council in 1871 by Act of Parliament and gas manufacture on the Sandilands site continued till closure in 1975 when the oil reforming plant built in adjacent Miller Street took over from coal. The Miller Street plant was short lived, closing in 1979 bringing a final end to gas making in Aberdeen after 155 years as North Sea Gas replaced all the local gas works in the UK.
In the early 1820's, gas was manufactured from oil, but the cost was high (£2/1000 cu.ft). However, by 1828, the process of converting coal to gas was well established and the cost of manufacture at £0.75/1000 cu. Ft. made it an affordable fuel. As a result, gas usage rose steadily and the Aberdeen Gas works expanded steadily to meet the ever increasing demand. By 1900, the gas making plant consisted of 27 beds of 16 Horizontal retorts housed in the single 370ft long retort house. Supplemented by the water gas plant. Coal was delivered into the retort house by rail where it was feed into the coal breakers before being feed into the retorts by the charging machines. As soon as the gas was driven off, the drawing machines removed the residual coke and the retorts were recharged with fresh coal on a batch basis. Much of the coke was used in the "producers" to make "producer gas", a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which was then burned to heat the retorts. The gas liberated was drawn off by the steam driven exhausters and passed to the condensers where the coal tar was separated. It was then passed through the scrubbers, which removed the ammonia gas, and through the "purifiers", beds of iron oxide and lime, which removed the sulphur compounds such as hydrogen sulphide. The purified gas was pumped to the gasholders and on to the gas distribution network.
In 1914, the first of the "Vertical" retort houses was built using the Woodall Duckham downward heated continuous vertical retort system. Whilst the fundamental principle of distilling off the coal gas in brick retorts heated by burning producer gas was essentially the same as in the horizontals, the Vertical retorts operated on a continuous basis, with coal being feed in at the top by gravity, and the coke being emptied out at the bottom. Being continuous, the plant was capable of producing more gas per hour, and of a more standard and controllable quality. In 1925, the No. II plant was built, entirely replacing the old horizontal retorts.
The Woodall Duckham Vertical Retort system continued with the expansion of the No.2 retort house in 1941 and the building of the No.3 retort house in 1933,
The building of the No.4 retort house in 1946 and No.5 in the 1950's further expanded the works. The building of the No5 retort house also saw the building of the massive coke screening plant. The coke removed from the No.3-5 retort houses was collected and conveyed to the plant by means of a narrow gauge railway using battery electric bogies. Prior to the building of the screening plant, an overhead Telfer crane system emptied the bogie cars into coke bunkers situated at the east end of the No.3 Retort house. The same system was used in the No.2 retort house but this was never connected to the screening plant.
The early 1960's saw gas sales drop as Electricity took over in the domestic market and street lighting. This resulted in the No.1 and No.2 retort houses becoming surplus and these were mothballed. However, gas sales recovered in the 1970,s and the No.2 retort house was again used to meet the peak demands during the winters of 1971 and 72.
The oil reforming plant built in Miller Street saw the end of coal gas manufacture, in 1975.
Gas Locomotive - Aberdeen Corporation Gas works between 1914 and 1918 used this steam locomotive. They needed an additional engine to cover the extra demands, which occurred during the war. The city paid £1164 and was canny enough to sell her at £800. The shunter's cylinders were 14 inch in diameter and you can see from the maker's nameplate that Andrew Barclay Sons of Kilmarnock built her.
The Bon-Accord Steam Engine
Built by Andrew Barclay & Sons, Kilmarnock
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