In principle, gas was made by heating coal and collecting the gas that the coal gave off. The gas was then purified and supplied to the customers. The process created a number of significant, and lucrative by-products. Coke (the solid residue after the gas had been driven off the coal) was used for heating, ammonia was used in fertilizers and tar was used in road making.
The Gasworks was situated where it is because the coal came into the nearby Salisbury railway station.
On the 8th December 1833, it was announced that Fisherton Street would be lit by gaslight. Fisherton Street was presumably the first road to be lit because it was the closest of Salisbury’s main roads to the gasworks.
Gaslight gradually spread through the city. In 1879 Mr E.F. Kelsey requested a gas main to light his new housing estate.
In 1894, demand for gas in Salisbury was such that a second holder was built on the eastern side of Coldharbour Lane. Salisbury had two gas holders until 1960, when it was demolished.
In 1941, the gas works was attacked by the German Luftwaffe. On the 11th August, 2 planes dropped at least one bomb and fired shells and bullets at the gas holders. The gas holders were punctured  and parts of the works was set alight. The attack occured at 4.30 in the afternoon, but the Salisbury Fire Brigade extinguished the fires by 5.40. The Gas workers managed to plug the holes in the tanks with wood and clay, and, as the Mr Watts SWIAS publication notes, although 350,000 cubic feet of gas was lost, “in best gas industry style, the supply to the town was not interrupted”
During the 1950s and 1960s gas companies across the country converted from coal to oil, and in 1970 a natural gas pipeline, coming from Andover (the pipeline not the gas!) reached Salisbury. In 1989, this was supplemented by another pipeline coming from Braishfield.
The remaining ‘No. 2′ gas holder has a greater volume than the Cathedral. According to SWIAS the holder ‘is not now essential’. At the time the ??? was written it was thought that as soon as much repair work was need the holder would be demolished. I don’t know whether this is still the position – I’d be grateful if anyone can let me know.
Update: I found an article on the British Association for Local History website which says that:
Here in Salisbury the last and largest of three gas holders built in 1933 (and confusingly labelled No 1) survives as an automatically operated holding tank, and towers over a superstore, its tank rising and falling in response to local usage.
It’s not obvious when this was written, but there’s a reference to a publication which seems to be from autumn 2005, so it must be subsequent to that.
- The name of the company is informative – the sole use of gas when the company was formed was lighting. Coke was a significant by-product [↩]
- Most of the information here comes from ‘Salisbury Gasworks: The Salisbury Gas Light and Coke Company’ by John H. Watts, under the auspices of the South Wiltshire Industrial Archaeology Society. This post has very basic information – there’s lots more interesting detail in the SWIAS publication. It’s available on request in Salisbury Reference Library [↩]
- There were 16 holes in the no. 1 holder and 15 in the no.2. The biggest hole measured 7 inches. [↩]