A Secret Garden In Bromley-by-Bow Gas Works
Standing proud (if a little unloved) in Bromley-by-Bow are seven gasometers of the former Gas Works.
You can see them from a good distance away, but I recently stumbled across a nearby secret garden; far less conspicuous, but an absolute delight!
During the national lockdown I’ve been enjoying exploring my local area, venturing off the beaten track in the hope of finding some historic gems.
On nice days a walk along Bow Creek and the Lea Valley is lovely, but last week I decided to have a closer look at the gas holders.
Bromley Gas Works
Built between 1870-73, the Imperial Gas Light and Coke Company occupied a huge area of land on Bow Creek.
All that’s left now are seven gasometers (of the original eight) but from the maps below you can see the scale of their site, previously 65 hectares.
Section of the Charles Booth Poverty Map (1886-1903) from layersoflondon.org. You can see the circles of the gasometers and then the expanse of the plant below.
And the site today, home to a business park.
Current satellite view from Google Maps. You can still see the circular gas holders and the green space where the garden can be found is just below them. The rest of the area is now Prologis Business Park.
But back to the gas holders, the cast-iron framed gas holders were designed by Joseph Clark and engineered by Thomas Kirkham.
A few years later these works were bought by the (confusingly similarly named) Gas Light and Coke Company who absorbed many smaller ones and are the descendants of today’s British Gas.
Gas continued to be produced here until the 1960s and today the gasometers still store natural gas.
The Memorial Garden
Beyond the gasometers is a small section of woodland and if you do go along a short path you’re in for a surprise.
A recreational garden opened in 1897 for the staff of the gas works but in the mid-20th century a memorial garden was erected to remember the workers who had died in two World Wars.
There’s an attractive little columned rotunda with lovely details.
In the centre it contains a stone-backed memorial names of employees who died during The First and Second World War.
Beside it there’s a further memorial listing the “comrades in these works who during the great war laid down their lives”. I thought this might refer to employees who were killed while at work.
Although this memorial refers to the First World War, the gasometers were a key target for the Luftwaffe and suffered a hit on 15 September 1940 during the Second World War. One gas holder was completely destroyed.
On the far right is a large gas lamp. It’s continuously burning which I found quite poignant.
There’s also a statue of Sir Corbet Woodhall (1841-1916). He was an engineer and Governor of the Gas Light and Coke Company. The statue was previously at the Beckton Gasworks and moved here when they closed.
According to Pevsner in London 5: East there were planned improvements in 2004 for Eger Architects with Ove Arup to design a ‘daring’ Woodlands Community Resource Centre. Nothing seems to have happened.
The only other historic reminders can be found a short walk away, one brick building rubbing shoulders with the fulfilment centres and depots.
From the map below it looks like the building reached by paths below;
Section of the OS Map (1893-96) from layersoflondon.org
A helpful Facebook user informed me this was the former control office and used to house the London Gas Museum. The museum closed in the late 1990s, merging its collection with the Leicester Gas Museum.
The building is currently for sale as an office with accommodation above – and a roof terrace! Find out more here.
Outside on the floor is what I assumed to be the Company’s initials, but I may be wrong, any guesses?
Today this little garden can very easily be overlooked. It just goes to show there’s history to be found everywhere, even in the most desolute-looking industrial estates!