Belfast Gasworks

Belfast Gasworks provided light and heat for the city for more than 150 years

1810 – The first recorded use of gas in Belfast in the factory of Messrs McCrum, Lepper and Co near the poor house (now Clifton House).

1821 – John and George Barlow of London sign a contract with the police committee to provide gas lighting in the main streets of Belfast. The contract states:

‘Gas light to be equal to that supplied to the public lamps in London and to be three times greater in brightness than the oil light now existing in said town of Belfast.’

1822 – Construction begins on the gasworks in Ormeau Road. The Marquis of Donegall lays the foundation stone on April 15, 1822.

1823 – The Gas Works Bill passes through parliament. As a result the Belfast Gaslight Company obtains statutory powers to produce and distribute coal gas. On Saturday August 30, 1823, large crowds assemble to see the lighting of the streets for the first time:

‘At first gas light was unsuitable for ordinary domestic use, it was best in open areas and large rooms where ventilation was not a problem. The light was pungent, hot and expensive. Improvements in the manufacturing process brought prices down and produced better light, but for a long time gas in the home meant installing ventilation grills in cornices and ceilings.’

1852 – James Stelfox is appointed manager, rescuing the gasworks from financial failure. His son James succeeds him and oversees various expansion programmes. New and bigger gas holders are constructed along with an office block with a splendidly tiled entrance and staircase.

1862 – An accident occurs when a new gas holder is being built. The wall of a tank falls in carrying with it the wall of a neighbouring tank and a gas holder. Supplies of gas are threatened for the whole winter – a catastrophe which is fortunately avoided.

1874 – The site expands, growing ten-fold in size. The Belfast Gaslight Company attracts the attention of Belfast Corporation who purchase the gasworks for £432,083.

1880s – The incandescent mantle makes the use of gas light in homes, shops, offices and factories more widespread.

1893 – Water gas production is introduced. It requires less space, is more economic to make and saves on labour.

1895 – The first electricity generating station opens, introducing serious competition for the gasworks, but for a long time gas holds its own.

1903 – Coin in the slot meters, a cooking ring and a lamp bracket are supplied free to households. For the first time the working classes can enjoy the benefits of gas for cooking and lighting.

1906 – The City Hall is built largely using profits from the gasworks. Gas profits subsidise many other projects, including the building of the Albert Bridge.

1919 – Shipyard, gas and electricity workers go on strike. The windows of shops using gas and electricity are smashed, businesses close down and people are put out of work. Military intervention is demanded and the gasworks occupied by troops. After about four weeks the strike collapses.

1960s – Gas is manufactured at Sydenham using feed stock from the old BP Oil Refinery and piped to the Ormeau Road for distribution. It is cheaper than production from coal.

1970s – Increases in oil prices cause a dramatic escalation in production costs and contribute to the eventual closure of the gasworks.

1988 – Production ceases after more than 160 years. The system is shut down, the mains filled with an inner gas to displace gas in the system and residual gas burned off at the extremities.

Post 1988 – Belfast City Council, in partnership with the Laganside Corporation, undertakes major work to turn the heavily polluted site into a business park. A high quality public realm is created. Roads and walkways reunite the city, community and river. The redevelopment wins an award for the reclamation of contaminated land.

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