Town Gas on the Canals

Last Traffic: NarrowBoat, Autumn 2022

Andy Tidy

Andy Tidy traces the demise of the town gas industry, one of the last bulk canal cargoes

Gas is very topical at the moment, with world supply issues increasing the prices we are all having to pay. These problems show how natural gas has become an internationally traded commodity, and how much things have changed since each town had its own local gasworks, making and distributing gas to light and heat homes, as well as powering industry. Until the late 1960s most of our gas was manufactured by heating bituminous coal in an oxygen-free retort – the coal often being supplied from local collieries. In the absence of a national supply grid for the finished gas, the raw coal was transported to the local gasworks, generally by boat or train, and the gas was then delivered to consumers via a network of iron pipes. The discovery of natural gas in the North Sea changed all that but, before then, much of the coal was delivered by canal, and narrowboats were used to move many of the by-products created during the gas-manufacturing process. As such, the town gas industry repres…

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