LAST summer we printed some evocative images from the 1950s of the gas works in Fountain Street/Tetnall Street, Dudley. These colour images, brought to us by Andrew Green, show when the remains of one of the old gasometers were uncovered during construction of the Dudley southern bypass in 1993/94.
In 1791 an Act of Parliament was passed entitled “An Act for better paving cleansing lighting watching and otherwise improving the Town of Dudley in the County of Worcester and for better supplying the said Town with water”, but it was not until April 1818 that active measures were taken to set up a company to gas light the town. A committee was formed and on 9th May, 1818, the first engineer, a Mr Clegg, was appointed. The committee then looked into building a gas plant and placed adverts in the Birmingham Gazette and the Wolverhampton Chronicle for tenders to “supply of cast iron pipes, laying down, joining and completing the same and making good the pavement, and also for building a Gasometer 48 feet diameter and 16 feet deep and a Brick Tank 49 feet diameter and 16 feet deep.” The committee then had to find a suitable piece of land on which to build the plant and settled on a plot owned by the Earl of Dudley at a place then known as Pit’s Hole. The land was purchased on 1st April, 1820, and in 1823/24 “An Act for incorporating the Town of Dudley Gaslight Company” was passed by Parliament. By 1851 the address of the gas works was being listed as Fountain Street.
Through the latter part of the 19th century the gas works were extended into Spring Gardens to meet the growing demand as Dudley expanded.
In 1929 the Town of Dudley Gas Light Company changed its name to the Dudley Gas Company.
The following year the company began approaches to take over the Brierley Hill District Gas Light Company, which had been founded in 1865. The amalgamation went through in 1931 and the new company was named the Dudley, Brierley Hill and District Gas Company.
From then on the company supplied gas to Dudley and part of Sedgley, Brierley Hill, Quarry Bank, Himley, Kinver and Wombourne.
By 1958, the supply of gas to Dudley had been taken over by the Dudley District section of the West Midlands Gas Board, with its district offices at Dudley Gas Works. We have not been able to pinpoint the date of closure of the gas works but it seems to have been around 1975.
By the time aerial photograph was taken in 1980, there was little trace of the original works, although a later, large gasometer is still visible.
The remains of one of the gasometers were discovered during preparation work for the building of the bypass in 1993.
Andrew Green was part of the team that was consolidating the many old mine workings in the area when they uncovered the base of the gasometer.
They had no idea it was there as it was completely hidden on derelict land. Andrew believes that it was one of the three tanks shown on the Edwardian map.
In the aerial photograph the location can be seen near the entrance to the railway tunnel.
The brick lined pit was full of an estimated 40,000 litres (8,800 gallons) of water and Andrew recalls its pervasive smell of creosote.
Tests were conducted and the water was found to be highly toxic from the residues of coal-gas production. Workers on the site then had to wear full protective clothing and facemasks. The two pictures show brick and concrete rubble being removed from the tank before the liquid waste was pumped out.
The memory of this toxic waste has stayed with Andrew and he wonders on the effect it must have had on the workers at the gas works.
He heard that the biggest killer of gas workers was testicular cancer and he thinks there may be a connection.
Do any readers know if this was true?