Statement of Special Interest
No. 1 Gasholder and No. 2 Gasholder are the largest ever built gasholders in Scotland and are now a rare survival of their building type. The gasholders, which are of striking scale, are a regional landmark. The gasholders form an important group with the contemporary offices and workshops (separately listed). Provan Gasworks is a highly significant industrial site for the production of gas in Scotland and the surviving historic buildings are an important reminder of an industrial process that is now largely redundant.
Age and Rarity
Glasgow Gasworks and Provan
The Glasgow Gas Light Company (GGLC), created by an Act of Parliament, was founded in 1817 and initially operated gasworks at Townhead, located in the city of Glasgow. The Company subsequently expanded, opening gasworks at Tradeston in 1835 and Partick in 1841. An Act of Parliament in 1843 also granted gas manufacture and supply rights to a new firm known as the Glasgow City and Suburban Gas Company (GCSGC). The GGLC and GCSGC covered the entire city of Glasgow, meeting ever increasing demand for gas supply. In 1869, an Act of Parliament merged the two companies to form the Glasgow Corporation Gas Department.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, Glasgow was a booming industrial city with a world famous iron, steel and shipping industry. There was an ever increasing demand for gas in Glasgow to cater to the city's intensive industrial output as well as its hugely expanding population's need for gas at home. This rapid industrial and domestic growth led to the alteration and expansion of existing gas undertaking sites in the city. The Corporation ran, set-up and acquired numerous gasworks in the Glasgow area over the years and, by the end of the 19th century, operated three gasworks in the city. In order to meet city gas supply demands, the Corporation commissioned the design and build of a new major gasworks at Provan in 1898. An Act of Parliament was obtained in August 1899 with construction works commencing in January 1900. The official opening of the Provan Gasworks of the Glasgow Corporation was on 14 September 1904.
The Engineer for the Glasgow Corporation, William Foulis, was the chief designer of the new works at Provan. Foulis laid the plans for the entire site, including forward planning for subsequent expansion phases. Foulis was effectively the architect of the site and all the initial associated gasworks buildings at Provan. He oversaw the design of No. 1 Gasholder and No. 2 Gasholder, massive iron and steel holders that were to become the largest ever built in Scotland. Foulis was also responsible for the design of gas manufacturing and processing structures, including related offices, workshops and staff recreation rooms and ablutions area. Foulis died in 1903 and his position was taken over by Alexander Wilson who continued with the plans and designs of his predecessor.
At the time of opening, general plans for Provan Gasworks show the two large gasholders at the southwest of the site along with a gatehouse, offices and workshops at the southeast. Opposite these buildings, forming an avenue, were meter and exhauster houses. To the west of the avenue was a chemical laboratory and oil gas apparatus with lime stores and purifier houses beyond. The northeast of the site had coke yards and a large residual products works at the very north. At the centre of the site was the vast retort house, essentially where the gas was produced by burning coal, with coal stores adjacent to the west. The entire site was interconnected by standard and narrow gauge railway lines and the works had external road, rail and canal links for the transport of raw materials and goods.
The autumn of 1922 saw the completion of a major extension of works at Provan. There were a total of 192 vertical retorts on site making Provan one of the largest and most efficient gas production sites in the United Kingdom. A technique of introducing steam to the vertical retort burning process, known as water gas, was now utilised at Provan and added to improved production efficiencies.
Around the mid 20th century, Provan had underwent further modernisation with the addition of carburetted water gas plants increasing efficiency and potential output. An additional gasholder was built at the north of the site between 1969 and 1970 – a substantial steel spiral guided holder increasing storage capacity for gas. Gas produced by burning coal ceased at Provan in 1970 with natural gas brought onto the site for storage and redistribution across the greater Glasgow area. From 2011, No. 1 Gasholder and No. 2 Gasholder at Provan no longer stored gas, with all natural gas stored and transported via the robust mains system.
Brief history of gas manufacturing
The early years of gas manufacturing focused on small-scale private production for lighting. The gasification of coal was first developed by Archibald Cochrane, 9th Earl of Dundonald in 1781. Cochrane came across coal gas while heating coal to obtain tar. This by-product was captured and used to light rooms in his home.
In 1792 William Murdoch, a Scottish engineer and inventor, pioneered the process of manufacturing gas for industry and was the first to use coal gas to light his entire house and office in Redruth in Cornwall. Murdoch soon broadened the practical use of gas for lighting factories and established the first small gasworks for Boulton and Watt in Smethwick, Soho, Birmingham in 1798. Frederick Winsor, a German inventor, was granted a Royal Charter in 1812 creating the world's first public gas company called the Gas Light and Coke Co. which principally supplied gas for street lighting and households in London.
In Scotland, the first towns to receive a public gas supply were Balfron, Dumbartonshire and Deanston, Perthshire in 1813. This was soon followed by the first large-scale gasworks at Townhead in Glasgow, in operation from 1818. By the mid-1820s, all the major towns and cities across Scotland had a ready supply of gas available.
By 1859, there were over 1,000 gasworks across the United Kingdom with most found in urban centres near large concentrations of population. Electric lighting was introduced and offered competition to gas from 1880 but improvements in gas burners enabled gas to compete with electric lighting until the 1950s.
By the start of the 20th century, many gasworks were publically owned with some still operating as private companies. In 1948, the Gas Act nationalised the majority of gasworks that provided a public supply creating 12 local gas boards. The Gas Act of 1948 amalgamated and nationalised the gas producers and suppliers of England, Scotland and Wales. Prior to the Act, there were 1,046 private and municipal gas companies operating in the United Kingdom. A Gas Council with twelve Area Boards were set up across the United Kingdom. The Scottish Gas Board took over the operations with around 200 gasworks in Scotland.
As the industrialisation of the country intensified and as urban populations grew, so did the scale of gas production, its supply and its storage. The method of gasifying coal did not change significantly from the time it was first produced on a large scale for public supply in the early 19th century until coal gas was replaced with natural gas from 1959.
Gasworks were necessarily connected to significant transport networks such as railways and canals to ensure easy access to coal. The works was made up of a number of specialist building types to produce the gas for distribution.
Coal was brought onto the gasworks site and burned in retorts (large iron tubes) in retort houses to produce gases which were captured. The gases were condensed and purified before being stored and/or fed into the mains pipes for its onward supply. Storing gas made its production more efficient and it ensured that the demand for gas could be met especially during peak hours.
Gas was stored in a gasholder consisting of a circular iron container known as a lift, set within a water sealed below ground tank with an inlet from the works on-site and an outlet ultimately leading to the mains pipe. The larger gasholders had telescopic lifts which usually had from two to four sections and were guided by the outer circular frame. The first telescopic holder was built in Leeds in 1824.
Gasholders were further developed from 1890 with the introduction of spiral guided frame holders, first seen at Northwich in Cheshire. These holders were mostly built above ground, saving the effort and expense of excavating a deep, large tank. The holders still retained a telescopic feature where each shell could rise guided by internal rails mounted to the inside of the neighbouring shell. The rails ran at 45 degrees allowing the shells to rise and store additional gas. Such spiral holders were frequently over four tiers in height and allowed greater storage of gas with lower construction costs as no external guide frame was required.
Each regional Gas Board controlled every aspect of gas supply in its region. From the period of nationalisation of the industry in the 1940s leading up to the discovery of North Sea gas in the 1960s, most town gasworks gradually became gas reforming plants and coal was no longer burned onsite to produce gas. By the 1970s, natural gas completely replaced the production of gas by coal and oil gasification. The British Gas Corporation took control of the twelve regional Area Boards under the Gas Act of 1972. Oil price increases in 1973 and 1979 further fuelled the demand for gas as a source of power. The discovery of major gas deposits in the North Sea around this time provided a means to meet the increased demand for natural gas.
Following the privatisation of the industry in 1986, private companies introduced new processes which gradually modernised the supply of gas. The mains system and distribution networks were adapted and the complex of buildings previously needed to produce gas were systematically decommissioned, many of which have since been demolished. Gas was still being stored in gasholders but their number was steadily decreased as natural gas was more compressed and needed less storage space.
Many gasworks sites have since been completely decommissioned with the land cleared or repurposed. From 2011, gas has no longer been stored in holders connected to the mains.
Survival of gasworks structures and buildings
As the technology of storing and distributing gas continually developed since it was first applied to domestic use in the early 19th century, historic structures related to the earliest inception of the industry are now extremely rare in Scotland with one small early site remaining at Biggar (from 1839, altered in 1914 – the site is listed at category A). What does remain of what we recognise as the prototypical gasholder is now very limited and is confined to a small number of sites which retain gasholders and some with a scattering of ancillary buildings dating to the end of the 19th and the early 20th century, a point in time when the industrial output of Scotland was nearing its peak.
There are only a small number of gasholders surviving in Scotland from the turn of the 19th to the 20th centuries including the oldest from 1890 at Paisley, two at Temple Street Gasholder Station, Glasgow (1893 and 1900) and one at Dunfermline Gasholder Station (1893). Two small gasholders are at Biggar Gasworks Museum, which are earlier in date than the one at Paisley, but both were largely rebuilt in the early 20th century. The Granton Gasholder, in Edinburgh, is listed at category B and was designed and constructed between 1898 and 1902 – smaller than yet similar in style, technology and date to Provan.
There is a very small number of early gasworks for public supply remaining with some listed ancillary buildings, but apart from Biggar and Granton, none of these retain gasholders. At Granton, the buildings are dispersed and not closely associated with the gasholders. The Provan and Temple gasworks sites at Glasgow and Dunfermline have ancillary buildings that significantly post-date the gasholders.
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. The former gasworks offices and workshops and small locomotive shed at Provan are still (2017) used as offices and workshops by the gas industry. The offices and workshops are contemporary with No. 1 Gasholder and No. 2 Gasholder and provide a tangible link to, and physical remains of, the historic gas industry while still demonstrating their original purpose and uses.
A greater number of early gasholders have survived in England than in Scotland and a small number of these (17) have been listed. The concentration of population in England in large cities has meant that there were larger, earlier gasworks established in major industrial centres, with London being the most prominent.
When built, Provan Gasworks was the largest and most important industrial gas site in Scotland and remains as such today. No. 1 Gasholder and No. 2 Gasholder are the largest ever built structures of their type in Scotland and were among the largest in the United Kingdom. The pairing of two gasholders of this size and of the same date is now rare with the only comparable site remaining at Temple in the west of Glasgow. Provan Gasworks is among only two sites in Scotland to have late 19th – early 20th century gasholders with remaining associated, contemporary ancillary buildings. This group of structures at Provan are a very rare survival in Scotland, attesting to the storage of gas and the administrative and technical running of a gasworks and are an important reminder of a technology that has become redundant in the 21st century. The addition of surviving ancillary buildings dating to the same period as the gasholders is also significant in listing terms.
Architectural or Historic Interest
The interior of the gasholders was not seen. However, it is likely, based on the construction drawings and decommissioning works of other similar gasholders that it is typical for gasholders of this date. The below ground tank was of brick and clay puddle construction. The holder itself, is a mild-steel shell and was constructed from riveted pieces of cladding to form the three-tiered domed holder. A rounded mound, known as the dumpling, would sit in the centre of the tank and saved unnecessary excavation work. The interior of the gasholders have been repaired and altered in the later 20th century. This part of the gasholders is not included in the listing.
The plan of the gasholders is standardised with the tank and holder and frame being circular on plan.
Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality
By 1903, tiered (or telescopic) steel frame-guided gasholders were not new as these had superseded cast and wrought iron examples from around 1890. While not the first of their type in Scotland, the steel frame-guided gasholders at Provan are among the earliest of their type to survive in Scotland. Their large size is also remarkable in the Scottish context.
The gasholders at Provan are the largest, in terms of storage capacity, ever built in Scotland with the sole purpose of containing huge volumes of gas to help reliably supply the expanding city of Glasgow. Utilitarian in design, the gasholders made use of relatively modern mild-steel as advances in production technology and material strength requirements made cast and wrought iron more obsolete. The guide frame is of Type 32 design with I-profile standards with equal chords to the front and back. The standards are tapered which started to become the conventional design of standards from 1890 onwards. The pair of massive gasholders provided Glasgow with a more reliable supply of gas and allowed greater efficiency of gas production to assist with keeping gas supply costs for consumers to a minimum.
Of contemporary date to the gasholders, the offices and workshops typify the design philosophy and aims of William Foulis (1838-1903), gas engineer and site designer. The buildings are efficiently constructed from bricks made on-site, they provided good quality accommodation and group well with the gasholders within the context of a planned industrial site.
The gasworks at Provan was designed by William Foulis and was influenced by strives for efficiency at all production stages, solid and reliable build quality and attention to and care of gasworks employees. The terrain at Provan suffered from a relatively steep 10-12 metre drop in levels across the site. Foulis utilised this, usually impractical and challenging, change in ground level to the advantage of the gasworks. Raw materials were brought in at the higher levels and worked their way through the process chain, utilising the natural drop in levels and gravity as they progressed. Major excavations were necessary to accommodate the wide array and vast size of buildings. Foulis arranged for brickworks to be established on the site with the excavated clay soil being used as the raw material for the required building bricks. Foulis also ensured that employees were well cared for with a suite of bathing and washing facilities, recreation rooms to allow employees to relax and rest and an affordable on-site staff canteen.
William Foulis was gas engineer of the Glasgow Corporation from 1869. Prior to that, he served as a superintendant of the erection of gasworks for seven years in Malta, Italy and Greece. Foulis then returned to Glasgow and served as a civil and gas engineer, as a partner with Mr W R Copland, before joining the Glasgow Corporation. Foulis erected new gasworks at Dawsholm and dismantled outdated works at Townhead and Partick. Foulis was distinguished within the gas industry for his ingenuity and resourcefulness. Over his career, Foulis worked in conjunction with the famous Sir William Arrol to construct machinery to improve gas production at the retort burning stage. Foulis adapted plant and processes to improve gas manufacture and reduce costs to cheapen supply to consumers. In 1896, he designed apparatus to produce gas from oil alone which was subsequently used to enrich coal gas. This new efficient apparatus was successfully employed at Temple Farm Works.
The gasholders sit in their original position at the southwest of the site and are a highly prominent feature in the townscape. The offices and workshops are the last remaining structures at Provan that are contemporary with the holders and relate to the original setup of the gasworks. The surviving turn of the 19th and 20th century buildings at the former Provan gasworks are significant for their contemporary association with the gasholders and as a group are key elements of this important industrial site.
To the west of the gasworks site, historic Ordnance Survey mapping depicts a wide variety of other industrial buildings including dye, copper, steel and chemical works, a quarry and even a cooperage. The gasworks was built to the east of this industrial area, making use of available land that close to Glasgow city. Key transport links by rail and canal served this area.
Today, Provan is still set within a partial industrial area with the expansion of Glasgow with residential areas nearby. The M8 motorway connecting the two largest cities in Scotland, Edinburgh and Glasgow, via the Central Belt runs adjacent to the site. This still provides Provan with a setting adjacent to a key transport link and has heightened the prominence and landscape feature recognition of the gasholders.
The paired holders are known to have an iconic landmark status in Glasgow and have appeared in recent local advertising campaigns.
There are no known regional variations.
Close Historical Associations
There are no known associations with a person or event of national importance at present (2017).
Statutory listing address amended in 2018. Previously listed as 'No. 1 Gasholder and No. 2 Gasholder, excluding tank and shells, No. 3 Gasholder, Booster House and all other structures and buildings on the gasworks site (excepting Offices and Workshops LB52457 which are listed at category C), Provan Gasworks, Blochairn Road, Glasgow'.
Canmore: http://canmore.org.uk/ CANMORE IDs 45018, 277691 and 277692.
Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1857, published 1864). Renfrewshire, Sheet VIII. 6 inches to the mile. 1st Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.
Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1858, published 1865). Lanark, Sheet VI.8. 25 inches to the mile. 1st Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.
Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1896, published 1896). Lanarkshire, Sheet VI NE. 6 inches to the mile. 2nd Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.
Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1893, published 1895). Lanarkshire, Sheet VI.8. NW. 25 inches to the mile. 2nd Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.
SGN Archives. Former Scottish Gas Board, site plan, dated 1970:
SGN Archives. Former British Gas Scotland, technical drawings, dated 1991:
SC/NG/E/E/2/65 – Building Layout, Administration Block – Ground Floor.
SC/NG/E/E/2/66 – Building Layout, Administration Block – First Floor.
SC/NG/E/E/2/68 – Building Layout, Booster House – Ground Floor.
SC/NG/E/E/2/69 – Building Layout, Booster House – First Floor.
SC/NG/E/E/2/70 – Building Layout, Main Workshop.
SC/NG/E/E/2/71 – Building Layout, Offices – Ground Floor.
SC/NG/E/E/2/71 – Building Layout, Offices – First Floor.
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