The North of England’s gas distributer, Northern Gas Networks, (NGN) said thank you to a special customer in Newcastle last week.
Back in April, Mrs Hilda McCabe, 82, read an article in the Newcastle Chronicle about NGN’s intention to dismantle and remove its gas holder tanks in Howdon.
The 82-year-old grandmother grew up in Howdon, and attended Stevenson Memorial School, which was built in the shadow of the holders.
She wrote a letter to the gas transporter to find out more and in May, NGN’s Major Projects Team Lead Mark Johnson paid Mrs McCabe a visit to thank her for her interest and update her on progress at the site.
On September 8, Mark returned to visit Mrs McCabe, and was also able to show her a set of planning documents detailing the holders’ history and present a unique drawing of the holders by NGN artist-in-residence Mick Hand.
Mrs McCabe explained: “I used to see the gas holders every Wednesday on the Metro going to my luncheon club.
“I was reading the Chronicle at a friend’s house when I saw the story about them being dismantled, and I thought ‘goodness, I grew up seeing them every day, what’s happening to them?”
“They were always there in the background, and when I was at school we’d often say to each other ‘oh, gas is low today’ when you could see the tanks were down.”
For around 100 years gas holders were a vital part of the local gas supply system, responsible for supplying gas to thousands of people across the country. In more recent years, the holders were used to bolster the network’s gas supplies during colder weather, and at peak times in the early evenings.
However, advances in technology and the enhanced capability of the modern-day gas network, mean that gas holders are no longer in use.
NGN is committed to taking down its gas holders in an environmentally responsible way, by recycling as many materials as possible. The company will be using tried and tested techniques to clear the site and after the holders are removed, spoil from local streetworks sites will be used to fill the vast excavation left behind.
The Howdon site supported three gas holder tanks in total, two above ground and one below. All three holders are in the process of being safely taken down by NGN’s demolition partners O’Brien Group, with the project due to complete at the end of September.
A set of archive plans from 1864 shows no tanks but plots the nearby Great North Eastern Railway line, which would later have transported coal to the gas yard at Howdon Lane, where town gas was made and stored in the holders.
A 1916 drawing shows plans for two tanks, and by 1921 two gas holders are shown in place with a third later plotted and then constructed in the 1950s.
Three brick houses for workers and a chief supervisor at the gas yard are also shown, and Mrs McCabe clearly remembers being sent to ‘collect coke’ for two shillings from the gas yard.
Before they could be dismantled, the holders were drained of water, cleaned from the inside out by special environmental teams, with sections of the tank then cut out and removed.
The 32-week project is due to be finished at the end of September, when the sight from the Metro will be forever changed for Mrs McCabe.
“I probably will miss them as they’re something you just get used to seeing. It’s funny to think I’ll be passing on the train and they won’t be there,” she said.
“But it’s fascinating to learn their history – I had no idea there was one underground – and hear about how much has gone into taking them down.”
Anyone that smells gas should call the National Gas Emergency Service immediately on 0800 111 999. This line is in operation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.