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  • James Drury

life's a gas

A rather unique project came about via a friend of a friend. Northern Gas are in the process of demolishing their UK wide network of Gas Holders, some if which date from the Victorian era.

The company are looking for images to grace hoardings which will surround each site during the demolition process.

With an agreed date in the diary I was of course watching the weather forecast like a hawk in the run up to the shoot. My metrological concerns (as nearly always) were misplaced as it turned out to be an ideal mix of deep blue mackerel skies & fast moving clouds.

We decided to start at Redheugh No. 5 in Gateshead before moving on to Oyston Street in nearby South Shields. I met the guys bright & early (well, early for me...) and after introductions donned my safety gear; hard hat, hi-viz and proper boots.

The gas holders had been decommissioned a while ago, so only the framework remains plus the 'crown'; the very top of the holder which moved up and down the framework depending on the volume of gas inside. Think of an inverted Russian Doll, each section separated by an oil seal and you get the idea how these things work. Simple, clever Victorian engineering.

Walking on the heavily rivetted Crown was at first disconcerting as surprisingly the metal has a fair bit of 'give'. Movement on one far side would ripple right accross the dome.

We then moved onto South Shields, a more ornate design, festooned with Gulls and the bony remnants of KFC, no doubt dropped by said Gulls after being pilfered from the nearby shops. I can't complain though, the gulls added something extra to many of the shots.

I was surprised to see several repair patches on the Crown, apparently these were from the war when the Luftwaffe regularly dropped incendiary bombs on South Shields docks. During bombing raids, a look out was stationed next to the gas holder; it was their job to sweep off the incendiaries before they burnt through the crown.

Here's a few faves from both sites:

Huge thanks to the staff at Northern Gas for looking after me and facilitating a rather unique shoot.


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