Tuesday, 25 October 2011


This pretty boring picture I took some years ago through a wire fence.  It shows one of the platforms at Granton Gas Works. These premises opened in 1902 and my aunt claims hr dad was driving the shunting engine there. This is likely as he was named as a Steam Engine Driver in the 1891 census.  By 1901 he was a 'general labourer,' possibly because of his drink habit.  If only we knew more about him!  This platform was a workers only halt into  the works  I wonder if a special train was in operation to bring them in on time? Certainly they booked in nearby and crossed the line via a bridge to enjoy a day shoveling coal.  The red brick used to such good effect was typical of a building of the day.  These days factories are so boring and functional but the Victorians built such quality even into factories.  Progress has led to plastic buildings and lack of character while in days of your the buildings had bags of character, although long hours and low wages were common. 

Gas was made from the coal, about 200,000 tones a year at Granton and this was heated by furnace underneath the 'retorts' with temperatures of around 1500 degrees. Gas was drawn off and cooled, cleaned of impurities such as oil and tar by ammoniacal solution. Afterwards the gas was washed by water leaving an ammoniacal liquor, this was made into sulphate of ammonia and used as fertiliser.  Further treatment removed lots of stuff I cannot spell and the gas completed the journey into the large gasholders from where it traveled to serve the city.  I well remember the gas sometimes containing an 'air pocket' and having to turn it off and starting again.  Gas taps in the science labs at school (science? aye right!) would cause the teachers to cry out when the air pocket was noticed.  An explosion could have destroyed the school, if only!  The coal waste became coke, and the smaller dross was turned into briquettes.  Nothing was wasted by this business.  The sixties however saw an end to coal gas and a massive transformation of cooking and other appliances as 'Natural Gas' was introduced.  The final end of gas at Granton came in 1987 and the buildings were soon headed for destruction. The rail lines possibly used by granddad have long gone and only the station building, now refurbished remains.  Granddad also went in 1917, he collapsed on his way home from the pub, aged 71.  Offices and housing now fill the redeveloped space once the home of rail, coke and coal, and nothing else remains bar the iron standings of the gas holder.  Even that is threatened.  

Progress takes away memories.  From our window, and much of Edinburgh, the gas holders stood out as we looked north. The sounds of the works, there were other works nearby plus the docks, would float through the dark silent evening air. One other factory nearby, 'The United Wire Works,' for whom my father spent several years slaving away, has also gone.  'Google Maps' show just a bricked up 'Works Entrance' and a large despoiled building and surroundings now.  Even the rough 'Anchor Bar' has gone!  Although there are those that claim that indeed is progress!  How strange that a building that stood for almost ninety years, and which was part of my childhood simply by it existing, has now gone, as indeed has sound 'floating on the night air,' the traffic drowns it out. The new developments may indeed be grand in the long term but it is not my Edinburgh any more.  The world moves on and our 'lives are only in our memory, the no longer exist.

Granton History


red dirt girl said...

I, too, admire the Victorian brick work - such handsome buildings. Long hours and low pay ... well some things never really do change, now, do they?! Interesting reading - the history and such...


Relax Max said...

This post was really interesting. I hate it when they tear down landmarks and when I go home it looks all different. Plus, I like railroads and I like old factory stuff, so this post made up for a lot of your pictures that show the same park benches. (No offense.) Anyway, you mentioned that your uncle worked at the gas works. Don't know if you know what he looks like, but there is a picture of workers on the dock and the "new" shuttle train (with the drivers clearly visible) at this web site. Who knows, maybe your relative is among these workers pictured in 1903 or so. Many more old pictures of North Edinburgh on this site too, btw. I enjoyed this post and also the other research it led me to.

FishHawk said...

This article was indeed interesting, and fairly well written--to boot! Did someone write it for you?

Adullamite said...

RDG, Thanks sweetie.

Max, That is a good site. There is a pic of a shunter but I could not find it. You wish more park pics, sure!

Fish, How could you?