02 November 2017

Hove Gas Works

Judy Middleton 2002 (revised 2017) 

 copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove 
This unusual photograph provides an aerial view of the gas works site.


Gas lighting at Hove arrived on 12 February 1825 when the east wing of Brunswick Terrace was first lit up. The gas supply originated from Brighton and the success of the new lighting led to the idea of gas-making taking place at Hove.

Brighton and Hove Gas Company was formed in 1825 and the gas works was built in around 1832 on a site just west of St Andrew’s Old Church. If this might seem an odd place to present day sensibilities on which to build an industrial concern, in those days the site was fairly isolated. The old village of Hove was based around present day Hove Street while the new development of Brunswick Town was far away to the east. The old church was in a state of disrepair and was not rebuilt until several years after the gas works was built.

John Grafton, the company’s engineer, designed the gas works and he later became chairman of the board of directors. An etching of the church dating to the 1840s depicts the gas works chimney as a four-sided structure.

In 1841 Alfred Young was the superintendent of gas lights.

In 1851 William Barnett and Thomas Barnett, father and son, both gas engineers lived on site at the Gas House.

George Croft, aged 40, was deputy superintendent of the gas works and in 1861 lived at 6 Ventnor Villas.

Joseph B. Paddon

In 1860 Joseph Paddon became engineer and general manager. Paddon had been born in Ilfracombe, Dorset; the 1861 census records him at the age of 35 living in the Gas House, Hove, with his 30-year old wife Julia, who was born in the parish of St James, London. Presumably, Paddon had moved to London for work where he met Julia and their son William was born in the parish of St James. By the time the family was established at Hove it included three-month old Gertrude who was born at Hove. There were two servants in the household.

The Gas House was such an elegant residence that in later times people often mistook it for the vicarage. But the house is a reminder of how engineers were esteemed in Victorian times. This substantial villa had an imposing entrance and the exterior was embellished with insets of knapped flint. There were two large chimney-stacks on the roof with six semi-circular pieces at the top. The boundary wall was not of the same quality as the tall flint wall bounding the gas works. Instead it was composed of whole pebbles. (By the 1980s the garden was home to some cherry trees whose froth of pink blossom in the spring was much appreciated by passers-by).

copyright © J.Middleton
It was a shame that this elegant villa was not considered worth listed building status.

In 1881 the Paddon household living in the Gas House consisted of Paddon, his wife, sons William, 21, and John 19, plus four servants (a parlour maid, a house maid, a needlewoman and a cook)

It was Paddon who came up with the idea of building a new gas works on a strip of land at Portslade situated between the sea and the canal. The site had the added advantage that sea-borne coal could be delivered right to the doorstep, so to speak. The Portslade Gas Works were built in 1870 / 1871.

It is interesting to note that by 1891 the Gas House had acquired a more elegant name and was by then known as Stanmer House. But it was still in the occupation of a gas engineer. He was 44-year old Joseph Cash who lived there with his wife, three daughters, one son, two female servants and a page-boy.

Gas Prices

The Brighton & Hove Gas Act of 1873 required the company to increase gas quality and in consequence the price of gas rose by two pennies per 1,000 cubic feet from 1 January 1894.

The charge for gas supplied to street lamps was 2/11d per 1,000 cubic feet. 

Holder Station

  copyright © G. Osborne 
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph. 

Once the gas works at Portslade was up and running, there was no need to continue with gas-making at Hove and so the site was used as a holder station. No doubt this move was welcomed locally because Hove had experienced an extraordinary growth in population since the 1830s. Whereas in 1831 Hove’s population had stood at 1,360, by 1871 it had ballooned to 11, 277. Moreover the area around the old gas works was no longer semi-rural and housing was spreading apace.

The holder station was connected to Portslade Gas Works by a cast-iron trunk main that had been laid underneath the towing path (later Basin Road) along Kingsway, and up Hove Street.

However, the demand for gas was so great that the four small holders at Hove were soon inadequate for the purpose. In 1875 the Board of Trade issued a Provisional Order under the Gas and Waterworks Act 1870 empowering the local company to raise additional capital to enlarge storage capacity.

Hove Commissioners were not happy at the prospect. But they were informed that the Hove land was the only land the company owned; should the company be obliged to purchase land in Portslade, the cost plus the necessary extra piping would mean the price of gas would soar.

The old retort house at Hove was demolished and a large gas-holder built. It was one of the largest gas-holders in the county at the time, having a capacity of nearly one and a half million cubit feet. The tank was 154 feet in diameter and 40 feet in depth; the large concrete blocks weighing around one ton each were used to construct the sides and they were bedded in cement to form a perfect circle. Mr Paddon personally supervised the work and it was the first tank to be constructed in such a manner. It was also one of the first to employ the lattice-girder form of construction for the vertical standards of the guide framing. Up until that time, tubular cast-iron standards had been practically universal. There were little finials at the top of the vertical shafts and these were still to be seen in old photographs until around 1909.

Messrs Thomas Piggott built the gas-holder in 1877 and it was later known as number 8. Sidney Pullen was assistant to the clerk of the works when the gas-holder number 8 was built. In 1933 he retired after 55 years of service to the company.

copyright © J.Middleton  
The gas-holder was a familiar sight to residents for many years.

In September 1988 workmen were in the final stages of demolishing three reserve gas-holders on the site. Not surprisingly, there were complaints about dust, fumes and noxious smells particularly at nearby St Andrew’s School. British Gas then agreed to wait until 3.30 p.m. when the children had gone home before proceeding with the demolition.

Number 8 remained in use until the 1990s. In September 1994 it was no longer used for its original purpose because of the storage facilities at Worthing and Black Rock. Instead, it was to be used to regulate gas pressure. But first surplus gas in the cylinder had to be burned off and residents were warned to expect flames erupting up to five feet in height.

Disposal of the Gas Works Site

In September 1998 Abbey Manor Developments and Beeleigh Developments came up with a scheme to build six shops and a car park for 316 vehicles linked to George Street by a tree-lined walkway. The car park off Malvern Street would have to go but the main one would remain. Access for cars would be from Church Road. St Andrew’s School would be demolished but not until a new school was built further to the north. School governors were happy with the plans because their school was designed for 250 children whereas now they had to accommodate 430 pupils.

These plans were thrown into confusion when it emerged the owners of the site knew nothing about them and were amazed to read the news in the Evening Argus. Moreover, BG plc (formerly British Gas) stated they were unlikely to sell the land to the developers since they had plans of their own that they intended to submit to the council before Christmas. BG wanted retail use on the gas works site only and planned to sell the rest of the site to suitable developers. But Beeleigh insisted the Local Plan stipulated the site could not be developed in isolation.

By January 1999 it appeared that BG had submitted two different plans to the council. One featured a food store while the other had retail warehousing with space for up to three large stores. Both plans included 200 car parking spaces but did not provide a direct link to George Street and the school remained where it was.

Ivor Caplin, Hove’s MP, said he was not impressed with either option. In fact he said the plans were inexcusable because there was no pedestrian link to George Street and BG must have been aware of the long-standing plan to revitalise Hove town centre.

Abbey Manor Developments and Beeleigh Developments submitted new plans the following month and they included a taxi rank and pedestrian access to George Street. But the fine old flint wall would have to be demolished because the developers maintained it was contaminated and could not be saved. Was that a ploy? Many residents who would have liked the wall retained, believed so. When BG submitted their new plans later in 1999, they allowed part of the wall to be retained.

Meanwhile in April 1999 there was a stormy debate at the planning committee of Brighton & Hove City Council that lasted for ninety minutes before approval was given to Abbey Manor Developments for a two-storey 5,110 square metre store with 373 parking spaces. Councillor Simon Battle approved of the plans but Councillor Maggie Adams said it would lead to the closure of local food shops.

copyright © J.Middleton 
This wonderful flint and brick wall at Hove is practically identical to the wall fronting the Fulham Gas Works, which was built in 1830. Whereas the Hove wall has been demolished, the one at Fulham is part of a listed building site that holds the world’s oldest gas-holder.

In June 1999 BG mounted a two-day exhibition of their plans in a caravan on the site; almost 400 residents and traders visited it and 96% of them thought the site ought to be re-developed. BG’s new plans contained a pedestrian link to George Street but a new St Andrew’s School would not be built. They planned a 40,000 square feet store with 231 parking spaces. Moreover, they claimed to have the most experience in converting contaminated brown-field sites to safe commercial use.

Mike Todd, spokesman of Friends of the Earth, opposed the plans and said they were ‘little more than an out-of-town concept dumped in the middle of Hove’. It wasted a town centre site and encouraged car use. Selma Montford, secretary of the Brighton Society, also opposed the plans saying the development would be of little benefit to George Street ‘particularly as the link between the two was so mean and uninviting’.

Brighton & Hove City Council rejected the plans on 28 September 1999. BG expressed their surprise because the council had given planning permission earlier in the year to another developer for a much larger superstore on the site.

By October 1999 it appeared that the Brighton Society was asking the Government to list the Gas House, the flint wall and the office building dating from the 1930s.

The row continued into 2000 with BG appealing against the council’s decision to refuse planning approval. In May 2000 the council were prepared, if necessary, to proceed with a compulsory purchase order to obtain three and a half acres from BG, the whole development site being seven and a half acres. It was said that a Public Inquiry might be necessary.

In June 2000 Graham Jackson, managing director of Beeleigh, said that Tesco would move into the new store, thus creating 60 new jobs, while St Andrew’s would benefit from a newly-built school.

A consultant’s report identified few hot spots on the site but there was enough contamination to necessitate remedial work. In September 2001 it was claimed that gas contaminated the site and it would take at least a year to clear the site before work could begin.

In May 2001 it looked as though the re-development of the site was moving forward and the policy committee was likely to give approval. Only then could negotiations start with the other landowners of the site, namely the Diocese of Chichester and BG.

However, the news that St Andrew’s School was to be built on the Malvern Street car park provoked fury from traders in Blatchington Road and George Street. They claimed such a move would have a detrimental effect of their businesses. The council replied a new car park would be provided at the back of the new food store.

By January 2002 nothing was happening on the site. But in April 2002 work at last started on removing the gas-holder. Under normal circumstances building work on the £10 million Tesco store and new St Andrew’s School should have started within six months of planning permission being granted. But instead Lattice Developments were given seventeen months in which to remove contaminated soil from the site. It was expected that the building work would provide around 200 jobs.

copyright ©  Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove (apologies for modifying their photograph with overlaid graphics)
An approximate footprint of the Tesco's Supermarket and car park, school playing fields and Church Hall superimposed over the former Hove Gas Works and St Andrew's north churchyard

In August 2003 there was an unexpected halt to progress lasting three weeks because workmen had disturbed human bones on the site. This part of the old churchyard belonging to St Andrew’s Church was de-consecrated in 1966 and the bodies were all supposed to have been buried at a greater depth than was now apparent. Specialist archaeologists were called in to investigate. It was ironic because it had taken so much time to remove contaminated earth from the gas works site and now when work moved onto the graveyard site hard core had to be imported to raise the ground level so that no more graves would be disturbed.

As a nod to the mature cherry trees that once graced the front garden of the Gas House, a line of cherry trees was planted on the west side of the Tesco site. However, at least two trees have since died while the others provide rather pale blossom.

 copyright © J.Middleton 
Tesco’s now occupies the old gas works site.

It was hoped that Tesco would be ready for opening on 1 September 2003. Parking spaces for 321 cars had been provided. But it seemed the car park was seldom filled at first. Indeed, in November 2004 it was claimed it was usually half empty. Tesco wanted to erect a marquee measuring 84 square-foot on the west side of the car park to hold a garden centre. Such a scheme had been successful at other Tesco stores but the plan was never realised at Hove.

In April 2009 Tesco made a surprise gesture by providing free car parking for two hours for people other than those shopping at Tesco’s. At that time other shoppers were only permitted to park for half an hour for free unless they spent £5 at Tesco’s. It was hoped free parking would encourage more people and benefit traders in George Street and Blatchington Road. However, in recent times, this parking concession has been changed.


Census Returns
J.Middleton Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Mr G. Osborne
Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove 

Copyright © J.Middleton 2017
page layout by D.Sharp