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Powering the City

Why were power stations and gasworks built in East London?
Producing gas
East Greenwich Gasworks
Beckton Gasworks
Electricity generation
Greenwich Power Station
Deptford Power Station
Gasworks and power station workers
Pollution
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Beckton Gasworks

Europe's largest gasworks

Beckton Gasworks
View full size imageLighters next to the jetty of Beckton gasworks. © NMM
During most of its history much of Beckton was flat, low-lying marshland. In the 19th century, when the east of London was used to serve the needs of the west, the Gas Light and Coke Company bought 218 hectares (540 acres) in the area. In 1868 they started work on what eventually became Europe's largest gasworks.

Workers and the partially completed Beckton Gas Works.
View full size imageBeckton gasworks under construction in 1869. © NMM

The works were built to serve the whole of London. This picture shows the part-built works during a visit by members of the Society of Engineers in September 1869. The construction of the gasworks was one of London's largest engineering projects.

Beck's vision

Civil engineers for Beckton Gasworks.
View full size imageThe civil engineers who designed and built Beckton gasworks. © NMM

To celebrate the building of the works, the whole area around the site was named after Simon Adams Beck, the Governor of the Company.

The actual construction project was under the direction of the civil engineers F. J. Evans, J. Orwell Phillips and V. Wyatt. They are shown here from left to right.

Beckton Gas works.
View full size imageBeckton gasworks. © NMM
The company decided to build the works just to the west of Barking Creek because it was close to the new docks. The Victoria Dock had opened in 1855 and the Albert Dock in 1880. The huge scale of the plant is evident from this photograph.

Huge plant

Royal visit of King George V and Queen Mary.
View full size imageThe visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1926. © NMM
Over the years, the Beckton works continued to grow, with new plant and machinery being added all the time. When fully developed, the works covered an area greater than the City of London!

This photograph shows a carriage carrying King George V and Queen Mary, arriving at the gasworks in 1926. They were opening a new coal handling plant.

Decline and closure

Beckton Gasworks.
View full size imageThe derelict remains of Beckton gasworks, c. 1984. © NMM

Beckton stopped making coal gas in the late 1960s after the discovery of natural reserves in the North Sea.

This meant that manufactured gas became uneconomical. The Beckton works finally closed in 1967.

Beckton Alps.
View full size imageBeckton Alps in the summer of 2002. © NMM
Although British Gas had an operational office on the site until the early 1990s, all that remains of the Beckton works today is a grass-covered mound of industrial waste known as the 'Beckton Alps' and one of the old gasometers.

 


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Glossary
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Dock
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Find out more
StoriesThe 19th-century port
Docks and industry transform the Thames
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StoriesThe 20th-century port
The changing fortunes of Docklands and the port
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