Gas Works

When I first moved to Shotley Bridge in 2004 I sometimes used to walk along Wood Street towards Oley Meadows and think I caught the odd whiff of Gas. When I asked longstanding residents they used to say “Ah! that’ll be the Gas Works”. Hard to imagine when you look now, that they ever existed, but some still remember them, though very few pictures remain.

The Company was formed at a meeting of the promoters held in the Mechanics’ Institute, Shotley Bridge on the 9th June, 1856. At this meeting leading businessmen in Shotley Bridge were elected to the committee.

Thomas Wilson of Shotley Hall and Peter Annandale of Shotley Grove were elected trustees of the Company, and Martin Bell, a teacher of the Shotley Grove School, was appointed Secretary. It was originally registered as the Shotley Bridge Gas Company Limited on the 13th October, 1856, with a capital of £6,000. Meanwhile the erection of a Gasworks next to the River Derwent was commenced under the supervision of Mr. Arnott, Gas Engineer of Newcastle-on-Tyne. The erection of the Gas Works was completed in December, 1856, and gas was first supplied to the district between the 19th and 26th of this month just in time for Christmas!

The price charged for gas was 5/- per 1,000 cu. ft. Coal supplies were obtained from Ebchester and Medomsley, the price being 5/- per ton. In view of the demand for gas, for lighting purposes, rapid expansion of the Company’s interests took place during the next few years, and it became necessary to increase the capital to maintain development. In accordance with the Provisions of the Shotley Bridge and Consett District Gas Act of 1869 the original Company was dissolved and reconstituted with a total capital of £30,000; due to the nature of the business an Act of Parliament was required.

At this period Shotley Bridge was the busiest part of the area, the paper mills and flour mill being in operation. During the years that followed the district gradually changed from mainly rural to a considerable urban area due to the development of industry and the Gas Company extended its affairs accordingly. In 1888 the offices of the Company were moved from Green Street (end of Wood St) to newly erected premises in Front Street.

Two items, of interest occurred in the 1890’s. The year 1896 brought the introduction of the automatic or “penny-in-the-slot” meters, and in 1899 the first incandescent lamp was fixed near Consett Parish Church. The first Showroom was opened in Gibson Street, Consett, in 1913. A further Showroom situated at the offices of the Company in Front Street, Shotley Bridge, was opened in 1924. In 1937 the head office and showrooms of the Company were transferred to modern premises in Consett. On the 1st May, 1949 following the nationalisation of the Gas Industry by the Gas Act of 1948 the Company was transferred to the Northern Gas Board.

The development of Natural Gas production and supply meant that the production of gas in works like Shotley Bridge was destined to end. In 1935  there were 1395 gas works in operation yet by 1958 this had fallen to 536. There are now none in operation in the UK.

The production of gas at the Shotley Bridge Works, which commenced in December, 1856, continued for almost 100 years until the gas making plant was shut down in November, 1954. This was following the completion of a pipeline from the Fell Coke Works of the Consett Steel Works to the Shotley Bridge Works, supplying gas from the Coke Ovens.

There are still a few locals of Shotley Bridge today who can remember working at the Gas Works. The work was very hard and dirty and certainly the works were not pretty to look at. Situated downriver of both the Paper and Flour Mill, the works will have undoubtedly contributed to pollution of the River Derwent and being sited only several hundred yards from the Spa Grounds must have hastened its decline.

After closure in 1969, the site remained derelict for many years until it was reclaimed for new housing development.