Southend Gas Company
The Southend Gas Company started on 27th January 1854, when a small group of the local gentry met at the Hope Tavern, a building that still stands today as the Hope Hotel. The meeting proposed forming a company dedicated to bringing gas lighting to the town’s streets and homes. The town’s population then was around 8000, and growing, Southend was becoming a favourite with holidaymakers, and the recent new railway line was expected to bring even more to the town. These founding members of the company wanted to turn the dark streets of Southend into a dazzling blaze of light like those enjoyed in London. Mr Charles Woosnam proposed the company to be set up, with a £1500 capital investment of 300 shares priced at £5. Along with Mr Woosnam the other founding directors of the fledgling company included: E. W. Madams, H. D. Brook, G. Vandervord, J. B. Brasier, and J. G. Payne, with Mr Payne as chairman and Mr Brasier as secretary. A vote on the proposal was unanimously backed. The new company began a town search for a base, a site was offered by Mr D. Scratton who at the time was Lord of the Manor of Prittlewell, who donated 4 acres of his own land. The company was formed well before the exploitation of the natural gas reserves in the North Sea which happened in the late 1960s. Until then the United Kingdom had relied mostly on what was known as “Coal Gas” also known as “Town Gas” or “Illumination Gas.” The man-made gas was produced by the forcible destructive distillation of coal, coal was brought to the works jetty by barge, then offloaded by conveyor belt which took the cargo along the pier over Eastern Esplanade and into the processing facility. The gas produced contained a number of flammable gasses including hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane and volatile hydrocarbons together with small quantities of non-calorific gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen. The coal gas was used to light street lights before people started using it in home for cooking and heating. By-products of the process included tars and ammonia, these were not waste materials, ammonia was a vital product in the dye industries, and the tar was used for coal tar soap, which since has been outlawed as thought to be carcinogenic. The process involved the intense heating of the coal to very high temperatures this breaks down the coal so that it releases the gasses which could then be siphoned off and put into storage inside a gasometer. In December 1854 permission was granted to the company to begin laying the first stage of the gas lighting network, the initial streets included Royal Terrace, Grove Terrace, and the St John the Baptist church. The first gas began to flow on 8th May 1855, lighting some 120 gas lights, and by March 1856 the network had grown to some 340 gas lights including some in the newly opened railway station. The continued growth of Southend saw its population surge past 28,000 by 1901, the growth of the population was matched by that of the gas company which now had some 5000 gas burning lights throughout the town. The company by now had introduced pre-pay coin meters for those that could not afford the normal quarterly charged bills, this enabled more subscribers to sign up to the pleasure of gas lighting at home. The introduction of cooking with gas in 1902 saw some 616 cookers installed in just two months of going on sale, the cleaner more efficient style soon overtook the traditional method of cooking with coal in the hotels and guest houses in the town. On the 29th November 1897 an extreme high tide flooded much of the town penetrating the gas supply pipes, urgent repairs were immediately undertaken which saw supplies re-commence in just six hours. The Southend Corporation (Council) offered to buy the company in 1899, however, the offer was turned down, the company gained permission to begin to supply gas to Leigh in 1903, with Thorpe Bay getting its first supplies in 1907. In 1901 the company opened its first showroom which included a display of the latest lights & cookers, and advice and paying-in desks, the venture was short lived and burnt down the same year, the company bought a new property in 1909 and reopened the facility in 1927. The popular pre-payment meters were causing problems by the vast amount of coinage that had to be transported by the Gas Company employees, so the company decided to motorise the collection service in 1906. In 1919, the workers in the coal yard called a lightning strike for better pay and conditions, whilst in 1921 they came out in sympathy for the national miner’s strike. The company introduced a profit share scheme in 1922, this was instead of a pay rise, and made the workers part of the company’s success or failure. A new gas holder, capable of storing 250,000 cubic feet of gas was officially put in to service on Tuesday 25th November 1924, it had been built by Messers Samuel Gutter & Sons of Millwall. The General Strike of 1926 saw a unique show of loyalty to the company not one member of the company’s staff joined the strike all remaining at their posts. During 1911 the Leigh Urban District Council agreed to buy gas supplies in bulk from the gas works company, at this time the Council had owned the Leigh gas works and refused to sell it to the gas company when an offer to buy it was submitted in 1913. In November 1918 the gas works siren was sounded to mark the end of the hostilities of the First World War. The gas works company made a successful bid to buy the Rochford Gas Company in 1920 and a second offer to buy the Leigh gasworks in 1923, with the offer being accepted. In the 53 years between 1900 & 1953 some 125,000 people signed up to Southend Gas the population increased to some 150,000 people, with Southend and the company rapidly expanding into the districts surrounding popular resort, the gas company decided to better emphasise the area it served and changed its name to the Southend-on-Sea and District Gas Company. The Gas Light and Coke Company bought the Southend company in 1932, by this time the gasworks site on Eastern Esplanade had grown considerably, with borough storage facilities in Rayleigh and Canvey. In 1939 with the dark clouds of war settling over Europe, the Government appointed “Fuel Overseers” across the country. The gas works saw action in the Second World War, it was bombed on Sunday 10th August 1940 thankfully little damage was caused with the majority of the high explosive bombs falling on the mud in front of the site. The gas works were again under threat on Thursday 19th September 1940, when German bombers targeted the seafront between Southend and Southchurch, seven houses were destroyed and the gas network suffered extensive damage and numerous ruptures, repair crews quickly fixed the network as soon as the raid was over, and the area was checked for any unexploded ordinance. During the war years (1940-44) Southend received a higher percentage allocation of the area’s coal as it was serviced by two railway lines and was seen as a strategically important part of the nations home defence. The Ministry of Fuel & Power had established a large coal reserve storage dump within the borough to keep the towns, railways and defences supplied, however during the winter of 1944-45 it was opened up as an emergency supply to the large part of Essex. Another change of name to The Southend District of the North Thames Gas Board occurred during the nationalisation of the local gas boards during 1950-1960.

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The Great East Coast Floods of 1953 again caused disruption to the gas supply, with pipes flooded special pumps were quickly deployed to pump the system out, engineers quickly got to work repairing the gas pumps and valves and re-connected the gas supply. The gas works site slowly wound down the amount of gas it handled until the closure and demolition in 1968 when the local gas boards were nationalised forming British Gas. The 5 hectare gas works site itself laid empty and unused for 36 years. In August 2004 work commenced on the cleansing of the site. It had previously been considered uneconomical to use the land for redevelopment because of the high level of contamination of hydrocarbons and heavy metals on the site, further investigation also found that much of the underground facilities used in gas works were still in- situ including gas tanks & feeder pipes, the original hard standings were also discovered to be heavily contaminated. The clean up project has included, the removal of the tanks and pipes the removal, cleaning and replenishment of contaminated land has also been carried out to remove any pollutants from the site with 75% of the original soil re-used. A total of some 15,000 cubic meters of soil was cleaned and re-used on the site. Once this was completed plans were given the go-ahead for the site to be redeveloped. On 21st January 1974, a planning application by Nore Marina Ltd was submitted to the council, this was to undertake modifications to the gas works jetty, to enable boats to be moored to it. Another application submitted to the council was to create a large scale marina, stretching from the pier to Lifstan Way, however, the application was withdrawn before it could be scrutinised. At the same time as Nore Marina Ltd submitted their planning application, they offered to sell the jetty to the Council. Southend Council bought the jetty on the 29th January 1975 and arranged for the demolition of the decaying structure. Around the same time, the Council hired ByCel Metals to demolish a large steel framed building on the northern end of the gas works site, a deal was arranged where the Council would pay £15 for the company to demolish the building and clear the resulting rubble with the company keeping any metal they could salvage. In August 1982 a contract was issued for a £3375 preliminary investigation into a future suitability development, this led to a more detailed £17,000 investigation into biological and chemical contamination on parts of the site. In March 1984 a planning application was submitted by G. K. Ladeabau Southend Limited, that would have used the part of the gas works site immediately to the right and back of the old gas board offices which were in use as the Pier and Foreshore offices as a car park and for a larger development on the out of use Corporation loading jetty. The proposal for the loading jetty would have seen the old warehouse demolished, and the erection of a part two part three storey building housing, kiosk, fast food restaurant, chandlery, public house, health club, night club and a restaurant. Alongside the redeveloped pier would have been a floating jetty and pier to enable the mooring of boats, it was also proposed to have a 97 space car park on the loading pier itself.
The North Thames Gas Board During the 1900s the gas markets of the United Kingdom were mainly run by local council authorities or small private firms. During this time gas was known as inflammable gas or “Town Gas,” this was piped to houses as a fuel for, heating, lighting and cooking, much of the advertising of the gas was via exhibitions and shops on the High Street. The gas supplied during the late 19th and early 20th century was a coal based gas. The use of coal to create gas was slowly phased out as the supplies of Natural Gas was increased with wells in the North Sea, and imports from outside the country. The Clement Attlee Labour government of 1948, undertook the implementation of the Gas Act, this would see the compulsory sale of the 1064 privately owned and council owned gas companies to new Central Government body, that subdivided the amalgamated companies into twelve different regional gas boards, each of these would have its own management structure and be responsible for the up keep of its own network. Regional Gas Boards 1. Scottish Gas Board, Scotland. 2. Northern Gas Board, Durham, Northumberland and parts of Cumberland, Westmorland and the North Riding of Yorkshire. 3. North Western Gas Board, Lancashire and parts of Cheshire, Cumberland, Derbyshire, Shropshire, Westmorland and the West Riding of Yorkshire. 4. North-Eastern Gas Board, The East Riding of Yorkshire and parts of the North and West Ridings of Yorkshire (including York) 5. Wales Gas Board Wales. 6. West Midlands Gas Board, Parts of Cheshire, Herefordshire, Leicestershire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire (including Birmingham) and Worcestershire. 7. East Midlands Gas Board, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Rutland and parts of Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Staffordshire and the West Riding of Yorkshire. 8. South Western Gas Board, Cornwall (including the Isles of Scilly), Gloucestershire and parts of Berkshire, Devon, Herefordshire, Oxfordshire, Somerset, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire. 9. North Thames Gas Board, Parts of the administrative County of London and of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Middlesex and Surrey. 10. Eastern Gas Board, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, the Isle of Ely, Norfolk, the Soke of Peterborough, Suffolk and parts of Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire and Middlesex. 11. Southern Gas Board, Dorset, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and parts of Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Devon, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Somerset, Surrey, Sussex and Wiltshire. 12. South Eastern Gas Board, Kent, and parts of the administrative County of London and of Middlesex, Surrey and Sussex. The Gas Act of 1972 saw the amalgamation of the twelve regional gas boards into one company controlling the whole of the UK’s gas supply, maintenance and upkeep, it would be known as British Gas. In the year 2000 the deregulation of the UK energy market saw the UK energy market opened up to private operators once again, this has seen eight “giants” taking the lions share of the market, however a number of smaller companies do supply power.
The Gas Works Jetty The Southend Gas Works Jetty was built in 1895, despite the fact that Southend Council had refused it planning permission demanding it be redesigned, the gas board built it anyway getting round the refusal by building the pier in Southchurch which at that time had not been absorbed into Southend, this happened two years later in 1897 by which time the pier was already up and operating. At the time of the refusal the Gas Company were richer than the new council which had only been formed in 1882. The Gas Company did take Southend Councils request about a design change in to mind when they built the structure, the newly re-designed pier had a unique feature to its design one that stuck two fingers up at the Council, it was built with a kink in it to represent the boundary kink between Southend & Southchurch! The Gasworks Jetty was an iron and wood pier that straddled the Eastern Esplanade Road in to the gas works site. The pier operated until the closure of the gas works site in 1968 this saw the rapid demolition of the jetty and gas works site. Gasworks Railway The Southend Gas Works had its own dedicated railway network, this consisted of Kerr Stuart & Co “Wren” locomotives. The Wren class was a 2ft gauge 0-4-0 saddle tank railway. The first of these produced numbered 850 was sent to Southend Gas Works arriving on 24th December 1903. The little locos were powerful for their size, at 75% of boiler pressure they would produce 28hp, more than enough for operating on the Southend gas works site. A second loco Kerr Stuart 4154 was delivered to Southend in 1920, a third also joined the railway. The railway ran down to the ground level via a boomerang loop on the western side of the pier. The railways on site works depot was located alongside the main building at ground level. As the ageing railway system became more difficult to maintain and more expensive to operate it was later replaced by a conveyor belt system, this would have large hoppers at the end of the pier into which the coal would be deposited, it would drop down on to the conveyor belt, that ran the length of the pier. The conveyor belt was extended on a raised gantry into a building inline with the pier. The Gasworks Offices The original Gasworks offices were housed in a red brick building on the southern side of the site, the building also housed the public front desk for people making inquiry's or paying bills. After the building closed it was left boarded up, sitting empty and with no maintenance being carried out to it the structure begun to decline, the ivy slowly enveloped the building, until it was demolished in the mid 1980's, the site left derelict. Another part of the Gasworks site included the "landmark" for all the wrong reasons Esplanade House, the building was a 1960 carbuncle that was looked upon as a blot of the seafronts townscape. The building was originally used by the North Thames Gas Board as their regional office, those workers lucky enough to work on the South side of the building would benefit from the sea-views, however, a major downside was the draft the would blow in from the window frames an ongoing problem in the entire life of the building. In the 1970s electronics giant Pye announced it was closing it's Ekco Works facility in Priory Crescent, the newly formed Access Card Company moved into the Ekco Works facility, as the business grew, they took out a lease on a part of Esplanade House. With the slow decline in Access it closed both its Southend offices and relocated to Basildon, it was not the end of the banking sector being a resident of the site as RBS moved into the building, they then relocated to Maitland House just off the High Street. This left the Esplanade House site vacant and it soon became a target for vandals and urban explorers, the owners were not pay rates on the building, the Labour Government had changed the law so that business's would not have to pay rates on any building that was uninhabitable so with this in mind they gutted the building, took out all the utilities all the windows and knocked down an entire end. The derelict hulk would remain as a blot on the landscape for many years.
Mr Therm & The Wonderful Character The mascot of the Gas Board was Mr Therm, a giant version of him was fixed to the side of the main plant building on Eastern Esplanade, he would appear in countless adverts over the years. Mr Therm was retired by the Gas Council in 1962 as the use of high speed gas increased and the use of coal based gas decreased. A new mascot was introduced, whilst he was never officially given a name, he was known as the Wonderful Character as he first appeared for the “Wonderful Gas” advertising campaign, he was given the nickname of “Oily Joe” by workers in the company. The character remained in use up until the late 1990s.
The Planning Proposals The gasworks site remained derelict for decades, a major cause for the lack of redevelopment was the cost of decontaminating the land, however a few planning applications were submitted. With the eventual closure of Esplanade House, and its slow and steady fall in to decay and dereliction the site was a real blot on the Southend landscape. A proposal was submitted in 1990, to lay a hard standing across the empty section of the site to create a 130 space car park. Ambassador Hotel In 2003 the Ambassador Hotel was envisioned as a luxury hotel, with 60 bedrooms over 7 stories, three further floors were to house 13 serviced apartments and private Spa for residents and guests. The application also included 206 houses and flats. The application was passed, but with the condition that the fitness centre only be used by residents and guests of the hotel, in 2004 an application was submitted to remove the condition, so that the fitness centre could be open to all, it was given approval and construction started only got as far as the foundations before work stopped and the site abandoned. Jetty Point The Jetty Point proposal by Longly Developments proposed to demolish Esplanade House and decontaminate the land. Once the site had been cleared and cleaned the site would be redeveloped into "Jetty Point" The proposals that were submitted in 2006, would have seen a mixed development, consisting of 199 flats, 168 student rooms, 38 bedroom hotel, restaurant and retail floor space over 3, 4, 5 and a 22 storey tower block. Plans also included piazza, ground and semi-underground car parking and secure cycle parking. The application was withdrawn before it was voted on by the council. Later the same year the proposals were submitted again but with the tower block reduced in height by one floor, again the application was withdrawn. Along with the gasworks site the proposals also included plans to redevelop the old Corporation loading jetty to include the new restaurant. In 2008 another application was submitted, this time the developers were proposing 220 flats, 64 bedroom hotel, retail, restaurant across a development of 5, 5, 6 and 18 stories the application was refused. The Langley Developments Proposals A proposal was submitted to the council by Langley Developments Limited in 2008, it requested planning permission for the demolition of Esplanade House and the development of the site 216 flats in a 12 storey development, this was to be surrounded on three sides with 60 one bedroom houses, 129 two bedroom houses, 27 three bedroom houses, and a 64 bedroom hotel, there would have been 266 car parking spaces provided over the site. The total land area proposed to be used in the development was 3495 square meters and 1.4 Ha respectively. Premier Inn In June 2013, the Premier Inn hotel chain submitted a planning application to construct a part 5 part 4 storey 64 bedroom hotel which including a Brewers Fayre restaurant on the ground floor. The application was passed in that September with work commencing almost immediately. The hotel opened for its first visitors in February 2015. Heritage on site Whilst the site was all but demolished and has been redeveloped for housing a hotel and a car park one small but important piece still survives. One small section of the wall that surrounded the site remains, the listed structure hides a secret. Behind the wall is a WW2 Home Guard Observation Post. The re-enforced concrete structure measures 8ft 5in x 10ft 3in and a height of 7ft 3in (2.6m x 3.15m and a height of 2.24m). At the time of its construction it would have been partly hidden by the gasworks jetty, making if much harder to spot from the air. A firing loop was cut measuring 1.18ft x 0.26ft (36cm x 8cm) into the Gasworks wall, this was to enable the Home Guard to observe and vehicles moving along Marine Parade and Eastern Esplanade. However, the narrowness of the slot and its very limited field of fire would have made it very difficult for the defenders to fire at any invading forces that might have attempted a beach landing. New Car Park The remaining 3.5 acre part of the gasworks site was bought by Southend Council in 2017 after it had lain derelict for a number of years. At the time it was owned by Robert Leonard Estates, which had secured planning permission for a major residential, commercial and hotel development. However, no work was carried out and the planning permission had expired. The site had been granted permission for a five year temporary car park, this will see 338 car parking places available, 30 disabled bays, 27 coach spaces (which can be used to boost the car parking places by 132) making a total of 500 spaces. Gates will prevent the car park being used for anti-social driving at night with a 10:00pm closing time, however this can be extended for special events. Memorabilia The Southend Timeline is always on the look out for anything to do with the Southend. Here are images of a complete Dealers Card Book for the Gas Light & Coke Company, this one dates from the 1940s. Lights Camera Action! In October 2010 the derelict Esplanade House caught the eyes of film producers and they descended upon the site to shoot a film. The film "Screwed" a semi-biographical story based on the experiences of former prison guard Ronnie Thompson, who spent seven years working in some of the UK's most dangerous prisons. The story revolves around former soldier Sam Norwood who takes a job as a prison officer when he returns from Iraq and becomes exposed to the underworld of prison culture - including corrupt guards and drug trafficking. The film starred, James D'Arcy (Master & Commander), Noel Clarke (Kidulthood), Frank Harper (The Football Factory), Jamie Foreman (Layer Cake), Andrew Shim (This Is England) and Kate Magowan (Stardust). The film was released in 2012.
Christmas Quarter 1900, receipt
Another receipt this one dated 12th June 1929, this is for the new office in York Road
The Gasworks site and Gasworks Pier (to the left of the Corporation Loading Jetty) Image Copyright of Britain from Above
The Gasworks site towers over the seafront in this view taken from over the boating lake
Construction progressing on Esplanade House, the Gasworks Jetty is sitting partly dismantled
The Great East Coast Floods of 1953
The Gasworks Jetty showing the coal hoppers that feed a conveyor belt running into the Gas works site
The original Gasworks offices were housed in a red brick building on the southern side of the site
Ivy slowly envelops the building
Esplanade House viewed from Eastern Esplanade, an empty hulk
A different perspective of Esplanade House, viewed from behind
Mr Therm
Oily Joe
The proposed hotel with apartments
The foundations left laying abandoned
The 22 floor tower block that was proposed
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