Fakenham Gas Works :: Shared Description

Before natural gas the power for your lamps, cooker and heating came from town gas (or coal gas). This gas comes from bituminous coal when is put through the works process.
The first use of gas was by Scottish engineer William Murdoch, lighting his house in Cornwall with it in 1792.
Murdoch's employers, the Birmingham steam engine manufacturers Boulton and Watt, started to build small gas works for large users like factories. The first of these was installed Salford cotton mill, in 1806. This started another wave of industrial revolutions with the invention of the night shift.
In 1807 the German Frederick Winsor demonstrated the use of gas to light streets, in London's Pall Mall. He was the entrepreneur behind the first public gas works, which opened in Westminster in 1813.
With the popularity of coal gas increasing works started to spring up all over the place. In Norfolk some smaller places to have them included Alysham, LinkExternal link Melton Constable, Loddon and North Walsham LinkExternal link.
Fakenham LinkExternal link LinkExternal link LinkExternal link dates from 1846 although most of the complex/machinery dates from 1910 at its peak it employed 8 men and served 500-600 houses and businesses.
For the first few years before the arrival of the railways to Fakenham coal was bought in by sea. However after the arrival of the Norfolk Railway/Eastern Counties Railway in March 1849 it was brought in by rail (although I donít think it was ever actually connected).
The coal came mostly from Yorkshire, good gas seams being Silkstone Fourfoot and Fenton, although Iím not sure if any of them were used here.
Coal is loaded into the retorts LinkExternal link LinkExternal link of which there are 14, over two furnaces.
Furnaces LinkExternal link were filled with spare coke from the retorts, creating a very very hot fire. The spare from the firing was crushed LinkExternal link and sold locally for smokeless fuel. The ash was also removed from pits in the floor LinkExternal link. These retorts are basically air tight ovens, anaerobically baking the coal to remove the gas. The thick black smoke rises up to the hydraulic main LinkExternal link. A large pipe half filled with water, the gas bubbles into the water, creating a seal. Thus meaning retorts can be opened and refilled without gas escaping. The water also removes some tar and ammonia which ends up in the tar tower LinkExternal link.
Firstly the Tar and ammonia as well as other impurities drain out into the underground tar tank LinkExternal link
The liquids were left to settle out before being pumped out and sold. The Tar was used for wood preservative and road production. At larger works it was sent to distilleries to make into petrol, creosote and other chemicals.
The ammonia was sent off for processing into ammonia sulphate fertiliser.
The gas however entered the condenser, a tall tower of pipes to increase the surface area exposed to a cool air or water. This example of 1953 date has removable sides for easy cleaning.
The gas cooled with more tar and ammonia as well as other fractions liquidised, then drained to the tar tank. From here it was piped to the exhauster house next door LinkExternal link. The engines inside ran off gas as well as petrol and electric for backup LinkExternal link LinkExternal link and pumped the through the rest of the process. Firstly back outside to the washer LinkExternal link. Passing through plates with small holes it made small bubbles to dissolve the ammonia out. Again the ammonia liquor drained to the tar tank. The gas has still had a hydrogen sulphide content, to remove the sulphur it is reacted with iron oxide (or rust) in an airtight container. It is piped into the purifier LinkExternal link where this happens. The iron oxide coming from wood shaving impregnated with it. The chemical reaction produces iron sulphate and water, the water was drained off. When the wood chippings are used up the gantry is used to remove the top. The wood shavings were then placed in the oxidising area LinkExternal link. Here the iron sulphate in the wood chippings goes though another stage of change, the iron oxidises again to become iron oxide. The sulphur crystallises out for easy removal. When the wood chippings (when used over and over again) became saturated with sulphur crystals they were removed completely for processing elsewhere. New chippings were added to the purifier LinkExternal link. There was a set of valves and pipes to isolate a box that needed changing. The gas after leaving the purifier was ready for drying out then storage.
At some gas works a brusher machine was used to scrub out more ammonia, there is an example at Biggar.

After drying the gas entered the gas holder LinkExternal link this is the last of the three built, this one completed in 1888. It could hold 400 cubic metres of Gas.
The holder was sealed by water and the pressure from the exhauster forced the tank to fill with gas and rise, then the weight gave pressure to feed the gas to customers when needed. A small boiler was used to prevent the water freezing LinkExternal link.
The other gas holder, to a simpler design was situated in front, the remains are here LinkExternal link a picture of it can be seen here LinkExternal link
Another larger and more modern holder was situated behind the preserved example where the birch trees are now, a picture of it can be seen here LinkExternal link
The whole of the gas flow was controlled from the valve room LinkExternal link entering in the works meter LinkExternal link. This measured the works output and could be compared to the amount of coal used to see profitability.

The gas pressure could be boosted at peak demand from the booster room LinkExternal link LinkExternal link

The works employed 8 men, including stokers/firemen, engineers and the foreman. He (the foreman) lived in the cottage LinkExternal link which now houses local history displays. Several worked in the workshops LinkExternal link making everything and anything to fix any problems and maintain the site. Now it houses meters (which came into use in 1817).
Fakenham also had a gas showroom, windows were added to the two front buildings to produce a shop. It now houses old gas curiosities like the gas fridge. LinkExternal link. In 1949 the Labour government nationalised the gas industry (British Gas, since privatised).
After the first exploitation of natural gas the gasworks in the UK started to be demolished. Natural gas was cheaper to process, didn't require dirty coal and had a higher calorific value. Fakenham closed in 1965 and became a museum in 1987 now being a scheduled ancient monument due to the fact it is the last left in England and Wales.

The museum is free to all and is open Thursdays and Saturdays
3 June to 30 Sept inclusive
and Bank Holiday Mondays
5 April, 3 and 31 May, 30 August
10.30am to 15.30pm
LinkExternal link
by Ashley Dace
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TF9129 : Furnace at Fakenham Gas Works by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : Fakenham Gas Holder by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : Purifier Box by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : The Tar Tank by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : The Washer/Purifier by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : Norwich Gas Light Co. Ltd. War Memorial by Adrian S Pye
TF9129 : Remains of the Boiler House by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : Fakenham Retort House by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : Coke Crusher by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : Old Showroom by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : Coal Retort (Oven) by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : Fakenham Gas Works by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : Inside the Exhauster House by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : The Gas Meter by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : Gas Holders at Fakenham by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : The Purifier - Fakenham by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : Fakenham Gas Works by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : Booster Pump by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : Fakenham Gasworks Museum by Chris Allen
TF9129 : Old Gas Holder Base by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : The Governor - The Exhauster House by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : Exhauster House by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : Norwich Gas Works WW1 War Memorial by Adrian S Pye
TF9129 : Ascot Boiler by Ashley Dace
TF9129 : Gas Meter Dial by Ashley Dace

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Created: Mon, 7 Jun 2010, Updated: Tue, 8 Jun 2010

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