A group of early to late 19th century gasworks buildings, set within an enclosed former gasworks site comprising the altered remains of processing and store buildings, a retort house and gasometer houses, and office buildings. The surviving buildings are arranged as a series of ranges along the edges of the site with one structure remaining in the central area. The northeast ranges date from around 1825; the west and northwest ranges date to before 1853; the central and office building to the east date from the later 19th century. The surviving ranges have been altered and some have been reduced in height. The buildings in the group are now of single and two to three storeys and form a central area, now appearing as a courtyard, enclosed by tall boundary wall that has been altered at various dates. The site operated as a gas works until around 1906, and was latterly used and adpated primarily as a saw mill and timber merchants. Predominant construction materials include coursed and squared cream and grey sandstone and coursed rubble with brick infill, some droved dressings.
The northeast range contains the remains of the earliest gas processing buildings and includes the former retort and gasometer house dating from1825. The buildings are mostly built of cream and grey coursed sandstone with dressed quoins and window and door margins. The west elevation has four tall round arched openings, partially blocked with stone and with rectangular openings at ground level. The former retort house is covered by five modern metal doors and a lean-to structure on its west elevation. There are six blocked window openings above the lean-to. The east elevation contains four large rectangular shuttered openings. The south elevation has two tall round-arched (bricked-up) openings to upper level and one to ground level. The interior of the retort house is a large open space with exposed and probably later roof trusses. The upper level of the interior is divided by a wall, running southwest-northeast, supported on pairs of metal columns. Adjoining the retort house, on the south is a three storey building (the former gasometer house) of the same date (around 1825) with several irregular openings to the west and with doorways to the east. Adjoining the retort house, on the north is a two storey building (former exhauster house) of later date with several irregular openings on north and west.
The northwest range is a three storey rectangular plan former purifying house, coal store and processing plant which is built primarily of coursed and dressed cream and grey sandstone. It was later altered to become stables for the saw mill. On its south elevation there are three segmental-arched openings at the ground floor (two now blocked); two tall segmental-arched openings on first floor (now blocked), the western arch sits on a stone forestair; irregularly distributed windows, mostly bricked-up. The east elevation a gable ended with a sandstone capped wallhead and has blocked window and door openings. The west elevation is a featureless and massive sandstone gable, which formed the gable of the demolished granary to the west. The north elevation can be viewed from outside the site. The ground floor of the north is enclosed by a modern, wrap-around single storey, lean-to brick extension. The first storey is lined with around a dozen regularly spaced windows, some still partly glazed.
The west range is a long and prominent former gasometer house (reduced in height from four storeys to approximately two). It is mostly constructed from sandstone rubble and dressed stone with a brick wallhead and brick infills in places. The north gable has the remains of a stone segmental-arched opening and a taller brick arched opening at ground floor. The first storey level has traces of openings. The eastern elevation has traces of stone segmental-arched openings (now blocked) with several later openings with metal lintels (some now blocked) along the elevation and relatively recent window and door openings still in use. There are nine metal ties fixed to the northern part of the east elevation at first floor level. The west elevation can be partly viewed from outside the site and displays less evidence of alterations and changes to openings. The west elevation has at least four blocked windows with remains of decorative cast iron lattice grilles. The southern elevation, of neatly coursed and dressed sandstone, is the street frontage of two storeys. The ground floor has a large opening with a metal lintel to the right of centre; doorway with projecting lintel on stylised corbels to the left of centre and four single windows (some blocked). The first floor has six single windows (some blocked). The wallhead is capped by a later, plain projecting cornice. The interior is a mixture of relatively recently fitted and subdivided commercial and industrial units, some operating as retail units and others as stores, warehousing or workshops.
The south or central building is the remains of approximately half of a retort house and coal shed. Constructed mostly of sandstone with some brick infills and wallheads and rectangular on plan. East and west elevations have numerous rectangular and segmental arched openings (now mostly blocked). The north elevation is a gable end with large openings with metal lintels and stone segmental arched openings on ground floor. The first floor of the north elevation has tall narrow round-arched opening to centre flanked by smaller but wider round-arched windows (all partially blocked). The north elevation has a sandstone capping to the wallhead. The southern elevation, the opposing gable end is later and partly obscured by a more recent single story extension but blocked openings on first floor level are visible. There is one central arched window flanked by matching windows and the south gable wallhead is also capped in sandstone. The interior is a large open space, now used as a store or warehouse, with roof trusses visible.
To the southeast of the site is the later 19th century offices with some early 20th century additions and early 20th century interior. It comprises a two storey range of dressed and neatly coursed sandstone with some harling to the south and a pitched slated roof. The Baltic Street elevation has four single windows (now blocked) at ground floor, and two single windows plus a quadripartite canted timber oriel at first floor level. A shouldered wallhead chimney stack stands on the left of the Baltic Street elevation. The side, east, elevation has a door, three single windows and pend to ground floor with six single windows to the first floor. The windows of this elevation are timber sash and pend to north has remains of boarded doors with decorative iron grilles. The west elevation faces into the central area of the site with timber sash single windows and door to ground and single windows first floor levels. The west elevation has later flat roofed and harled, single and two storey extensions into the central area of the site.
The interior of the offices was not viewed at the time of assessment (2019). Recent images, show the interior of the office block retains features from the early 20th century (from 1913 when in use as timber yard). The board room with oriel window contains decorative architectural details including decorative plasterwork on the ceiling, wooden coving, wooden panelling to walls and window rebates, wooden skirtings and door architraves and unusual panelled doors with heavy art nouveau style handles and hinges. Images of the office staircase show a decorative timber banister, newel post and spindles with wood panelling to dado height on walls and wood detailing on ceiling. Elsewhere in the office wood panelling to window rebates and wooden skirting and door architraves still survive.
In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: the interior of all structures (except the office block), flat roofed and harled extensions to west of office block, modern metal extension and roller doors to west of northeast range and single storey brick building adjoining the east and north of northwest range.
The Leith Gaslight Company, founded in 1822, opened the Baltic Street gasworks around 1825. The gasworks were subsequently operated by the Edinburgh and Leith Gas Company, founded in 1840. Baltic Street gasworks was located at the northern end of Leith, then a separate town from Edinburgh. Charles Thomson's Plan of the Town of Leith from 1822 shows the site to be occupied by four feus including part of the naval yard, residences and gardens and light industry. The gasworks site was positioned immediately south of the new railway line laid in 1835 with sidings providing convenient and efficient transport of coal, processed and burned to create gas fuel, into the site. The south side of the gasworks was bounded by Baltic Street. In the early years of the gasworks, a coal depot was located to the west of the gasworks and Edinburgh and Leith Glass works operated form the site to the east. The southern edge of the gasworks was bounded by Baltic Street.
The Ordnance Survey Town Plan of Edinburgh surveyed 1849-51 provides a detailed plan of the gasworks. The southeast of the site had a substantial manager's house and weighing machine. The east of the site had a gasometer house with Smith and Wright's Shop adjacent and a large retort house adjoin the north of those buildings. The northeast of the site had condensers, a purifying house, lime house and meter house. The northwest of the site had further processing houses. The west of the site was dominated by the vast gasometer house with a further gasometer house and stores within the central area of the site.
The Ordnance Survey Town Plan of Edinburgh surveyed 1876-7 indicates the general layout of the site was largely unchanged with some additions and alterations. The largest change was the creation of a substantial retort house in the central area. The west gasometer house had the northeast corner altered to become coal stores. The central area gasometer house was also converted a coal shed. Smaller structures were added to the west side of the manager's house and a chimney was erected just behind the Baltic Street elevation of the site.
The 19th century detailed Ordnance Survey Town Plan of Edinburgh surveyed 1893-4 depicts the boundaries of the gasworks to be similar in plan to what still remains on the ground today. One of the most significant changes from 1876-7 has been the removal of the manager's house and the creation of the office block and other structures to the southeast of the site. The associated pend is also shown on this map. The office block does not fully extend to the edge of Baltic Street which provides further evidence that the current street facade with the oriel window was a later addition from circa 1913 when the site was a timber yard and merchants. The 1893-4 mapping also confirms the extent of the later 20th century downtakings within the site – notably within the central area of the site where several buildings have been demolished and others reduced in plan layout.
Baltic Street Gasworks was superseded by the Granton Gasworks (opened in 1903) and ceased operating by 1906. The site was sold and then operated as a timber yard until around 1980. During the 20th century, the site underwent major changes with several structures, mainly within the central area and to the northeast, being demolished. The vast gasometer house to the west was reduced from four to two storeys (around 1975). During the later 20th century, the site was home to various yards and building supply depots. Further structures were altered and removed during this period and is how it survives today. By the 21st century, the site housed commercial retail units, storage and building supply depots with around half the structures on site unused.
Statement of Special Interest
Statement of Special Interest:
The former Edinburgh and Leith Gasworks meets the criteria of special architectural or historic interest for the following reasons:
- The plan form of the surviving buildings on this site, although altered through loss and later alteration, inform the former function of the historic gasworks.
- There is architectural design interest in the surviving Edwardian boardroom and related interiors to the office block which is associated with the site's later use as a timber merchants.
- The buildings in their current form and in their arrangement form an important group of historic industrial buildings within an area of Edinburgh (Leith) that was traditionally highly industrialised.
- The collection of buildings, contained within the original gasworks site, is a very rare survivor for this industrial building type. Because of its rarity it is a highly significant industrial site for the production of gas in Scotland.
- Ranging in date from the earliest period of the large scale production of town gas in the early 19th century to the peak of its expansion in the late 19th century, the gasworks buildings can still tell us about their former function. They directly illustrate the historical development of the gas industry and are an important reminder of an industrial process that is now largely redundant.
Baltic Street gasworks was built an industrial site with a specific function to produce gas fuel and, as an early example of large scale municipal undertaking, shows that its design was typical for a site of its date and type. The gasworks at Baltic Street was likely designed by a chief architect or engineer for the Leith Gaslight Company but no documentary evidence of its designer has been found (2019).
The surviving buildings at the Baltic Street Gasworks show that its planning was influenced by contemporary strives for efficiency at all production stages and was of a high quality construction. Buildings were set out to allow the raw material of coal to be processed in a logical and efficient manner. In the first years of operation, coal would have likely been delivered to the site by horse and cart. Leith Dockyard was in very close proximity, just to the northwest, of the gasworks. Coal would have been shipped to the docks and then taken by cart into the gasworks. The railway did not arrive in Leith until around 1835 when Leith Station, later named South Leith Station, opened immediately north of the gasworks. This new transport connection offered another means for coal to be transported into the gasworks. Historic mapping indicates that railway sidings and short direct lines served the gasworks and ran into the central area. This new rail link would have offered a more efficient way to transport coal to the site. The railway would also have been an outlet for the removal of by-products and waste produced by the gas making process from Baltic Street gasworks. The railway to the north of the site dictated the arrangement of all of the buildings in the circa 1840 phase of the site to enable efficient processing with materials and resultant by-products and gas fuel passing, building-to-building, through an efficient production chain.
There is only a little evidence for artistic skill and aesthetic architectural details and features which is typical for an industrial building of its type for its date. However, the entrance elevation to Baltic Street retains some noteworthy architectural features such as the plain cornice moulding above the door to the west end and the plain projecting cornice to the wallhead which gives the building a stripped down classical appearance. The plain east end of the street frontage is punctuated by the office oriel window. Within the site, almost all features and details are primarily utilitarian with an industrial purpose. There are many arched openings in the walls which are mostly constructed of neatly dressed, segmented stone. Some wallheads are capped with a plain, flat sandstone for weather protection and giving a clean edge to the skyline of some structures. The west elevation of the western range has several blocked windows with remnants of decorative metal grilles in place. One large wooden door of the pend survives, again with some decorative metal grille in place.
The interior of the office block, adjacent gasometer house and northwest range were not viewed. Recent photographs indicate that the office interior retains a notable Edwardian decorative scheme with good quality timber work which was part of a refurbishment for the site's later use as a timber merchants. The interiors of the other structures were viewed and there are some features such as blocked archways and windows. Some metal ties survive in the western range that may be structural or have supported machinery.
The plan form of the site has changed with primarily the loss of a number of buildings to the centre of the site since original construction, but the overall site boundary is largely unaltered. Many buildings have had their plan form altered. However, the general layout of the site with substantial industrial buildings located around the perimeter still survives and the existing plan form is still able to illustrate the arrangement of a large historic gasworks site. The office block is partly delineated from the main industrial workings of the site with direct and nearby access to the public street. All plan forms are typical and representative of a gasworks site of its date and still inform their former functional relationship. The plan form of the surviving buildings on this site, although altered through loss and later alteration, inform the former function of the historic gasworks.
While the original design of the former gasworks site has been impacted by the level of alteration to individual buildings at the site, the rarity of the building type and the extent of loss have not detracted from their special interest (also see Setting and Age and rarity below).
The gasworks is still contained in its original position and is a prominent feature in the townscape. The east range is from the earliest construction of the site. The northwest and west ranges follow from the next phase of construction. The central building is from one of the later periods of expansion at the site. Finally, the office block is from the final decades of site development as a gasworks. All the buildings relate to the operation of the gasworks and would have all be used contemporaneously and as a group are key elements of this important industrial site.
Their grouping is a key part of their special interest as there are very few examples of early town gasworks with such a wide range of surviving contemporary buildings. Many gasworks sites have been reduced to a single or few buildings from their 19th century operations. The collection surviving at Baltic Street represents a very good example of how a gasworks would have appeared when operational. The grouping of the structures in the form of ranges with some open spaces in the centre for access and deliveries is fairly typical and can still be understood by viewing site today. The site would have been more densely built-up when the gasworks was in operation but the remains at Baltic Street still informs the gasworks process.
To the east and west of the gasworks site, historic Ordnance Survey mapping depicts a wide variety of other industrial buildings including glass works and coal merchants. The gasworks was built in the middle of this industrial area, making use of available land that was immediately adjacent to the new railway into Leith. Key transport link by rail served the gasworks but now this area to the north of the site is characterised by industrial units in Tower Street Industrial Estate. North of the industrial estate is unused and probably reclaimed land.
Today, Baltic Street gasworks is still set within a partial industrial area. The expansion of Edinburgh and relatively recent regeneration of Leith has brought further residential and commercial buildings into the vicinity. The land to the west is currently a scrap merchants and to the east is a large building supply depot and related storage. The street frontage of the gasworks and the remains of a massing of substantial industrial buildings within the site are highly prominent in the immediate vicinity. The remains of the gasworks – both individual buildings and as a group of buildings – is an important, rare, tangible reminder of the industrial history of Leith.
The buildings in their current form and in their arrangement continue to form an important group of historic industrial buildings within an area of Edinburgh (Leith) that was traditionally highly industrialised.
Historic interest is in such things as a building's age, rarity, social historical interest and associations with people or events that have had a significant impact on Scotland's cultural heritage. Historic interest is assessed under three headings:
Age and rarity
Today, in Scotland, there are very few examples of early public gasworks with a wide selection of contemporary (early to mid-19th century) buildings surviving. The only example is Biggar Gasworks (Listed Building reference LB22172), listed at Category A and now operated as a museum. Biggar is a very rare survival of an early town gasworks and is almost complete with evidence for all the buildings and processes of a gasworks. Similarly as the only other site with a surviving ensemble of gasworks buildings, Baltic Street represents a very rare survivor of the early gas industry. Baltic Street has undergone many structural and plan form changes over the years but the degree of survival is still exceptional for this building type and age. Biggar Gasworks is the closest comparison to Baltic Street. However, Biggar was opened around 14 years later than Baltic Street. Biggar was also built to serve a much smaller population and industry than Baltic Street. Therefore, Baltic Street is the best preserved and most substantially surviving major town early gasworks (early to mid- 19th century) in Scotland.
The survival of late 19th and early 20th century ancillary buildings at gasworks in Scotland is very limited. Many structures have been cleared over the decades as advances in technology and changes to gas manufacturing and supply processes arrived. It is even rarer to find structures related to the gas production and supply process, from this period, still at least partly within their contemporary built environment. Therefore, the later gasworks offices at Baltic Street are still a rare building type. The office exteriors are later than the most of the gasworks structures on site. They performed a key function when the site produced gas, and later were used for the timber merchants which included a decorative interior dating from 1913 which still survives.
The collection of buildings, contained within the original gasworks site at Baltic Street, are a very rare survivor for this industrial building type. Because of their rarity they are a highly significant industrial site for the production of gas in Scotland.
Social historical interest
Baltic Street former gasworks is a reminder of the industrial past of Leith and the early days of large-scale gas fuel production in Scotland. Although the site has undergone changes throughout its history, the survival of several ranges of key buildings related to the production of gas is a tangible link to the industrialisation and urbanisation of Scotland in the 19th century. As industrialisation of Scotland grew and traditional ways of living such as cottage industries and small scale agricultural subsistence dwindled, urban centres expanded to accommodate the ever more centralised industrial workforce. Places such as Leith experienced a boom in population and urban expansion. The population demanded cheap and plentiful supply of fuel for light, cooking and heating. Gas captured from the burning of coal was the popular choice for towns and cities. Gasworks sites such as Baltic Street increasingly sprung up in urban centres from the 1820s onwards. Almost every town and city in Scotland would have had a gasworks in the 19th century. Gasworks was a key component of the city and fuelled local industry by offering a light source and more to factories, offices, shops and residents. Gasworks would have been large sites, packed with tall buildings and a hive of activity. They were also a key employer and fed the huge demand for coal which partly supported the 19th century economy of Central Scotland. The gasworks would have been a recognisable sight in most towns.
The former gasworks buildings which survive at the site range in date from the earliest period of the large scale production of town gas in the early 19th century to the peak of its expansion in the late 19th century. They can still tell us about their former function and they directly illustrate the historical development of the gas industry and are an important reminder of an industrial process that is now largely redundant. With so few early gasworks site surviving, people in urban centres have little opportunity to see and experience what they may have offered. Baltic Street survives in such a condition that it is still a tangible reminder of the historical and economic importance of such industrial sites.
Association with people or events of national importance
There is no association with a person or event of national importance.
The statutory address and listed building record were revised in 2019. The buildings were previously listed as '1-5 Baltic Street, Former Gas Works'.
Canmore: http://canmore.org.uk/ CANMORE ID 51985
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