13 December 2015

Portslade Gas Works


Judy Middleton 2003 (revised 2016)

copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
The vertical plant of the Gas Works was photographed on 5 April 1954. The collier Seaford can be seen in the foreground.

Beginnings

In the early days Brighton, Hove and surrounding districts received their gas supply from two separate companies; they were Brighton Gas Light and Coke Company (formed in 1818) with works at Black Rock, and Brighton & Hove General Gas Company (formed in 1825) with works on the west side of St Andrew’s Old Church, Hove. By the 1860s it was obvious there could be no further expansion on the latter site and so a new site was sought.

On 1 December 1865 Brighton & Hove General Gas Company notified interested parties that they proposed to build a Gas Works on a seven-acre site on the foreshore at Aldrington, south of the canal. Portslade formed the boundary on the west side, on the east side the boundary was a small road running from north to south on the east side of the harbour basin, on the south side the boundary was the high-water mark and on the north side the boundary was formed partly by the South Wharf and partly by the towing path plus the road already mentioned.

Mary Ingram, Revd Henry Manning Ingram, Robert Bethune Ingram and Frederick Ellman (trustees of the will of the late Hugh Ingram) were the landowners.

In February 1866 the Bill was presented to Parliament and stirred up something of a hornet’s nest. Almost everyone with land adjacent to the site objected on the grounds that the value of their property would decline while two parties engaged in a lengthy legal wrangle over who actually owned the land.

Legal Dispute over Land Ownership

The final decision on the case was not pronounced until 25 May 1871. The Times printed long columns on the two six-day trials that preceded the decision.

Colonel Carr Lloyd claimed the proposed site as his own but the Ingram trustees hotly disputed it. Colonel Lloyd was Lord of Lancing Manor, having succeeded to the title upon his aunt’s death in 1858. His ancestors had purchased the lordship in 1777. Although the limits of Lancing Manor ended some three or four miles from the disputed land, the Colonel lodged the extraordinary claim that the disputed land was his by accretion. In other words, because the River Adur flowed through his land and had gradually built up a shingle bank on its south side, he argued that it must be his too. (The disputed land covered more than the seven-acre proposed Gas Works site, and was in fact some 60 acres opposite Portslade and Aldrington).

What was even more interesting was that Colonel Lloyd’s attorney was none other than Robert Upperton. It was the same Upperton who forty years previously had drawn up a deed of conveyance for Hugh Fuller (Ingram’s predecessor as owner of the Aldrington Estate) and had frequently declared, once upon oath, that the disputed land was undoubtedly Mr Fuller’s. Mr Fuller had used the land since 1834, pasturing his sheep and cattle there besides digging out soil and shingle. Even the learned judge was moved to comment on Upperton’s strange inconsistency. Colonel Lloyd lost his case.

Building the Gas Works

Once the land dispute was settled, work could proceed on constructing the Gas Works, which consisted of a retort house, coal stores, engine and meter house, scrubber house, boiler house, purifying shed, offices, stores and residuals shed. The whole works cost £72,000.

Wages

When the Gas Works was up and running, the wages bill came to around £184 a week. An old Wages Book has been preserved and it makes interesting reading. The amount earned depended on the skill, experience and number of hours worked but it does seem that skilled men earned a decent wage. By comparison, in 1881 unskilled workers living in the vicinity of St Barnabas Church, Hove, were said to only earn 16/- or 18/- a week.

Wages Book 1872-1873

Fireman £1-7-8d
Engine Driver £1-8s or £1-4-6d
Stoker £1-1-1d
Carpenter £1-10s
Bricklayer £2 or £1-8-2d
Engine Fitter £2-2-6d
Gas Fitter £1-5-11d
Blacksmith £1-5-11d
General Labourer about £1

Flooding

It was unfortunate that in 1875 there was a strong north-west wind blowing at the same time as there was a flood tide. The result was the sea came over the beach and joined with the canal, flooding the Gas Works to a depth of eighteen inches.

Further Land Acquisition

In 1879 further land was acquired to the east and west of the works and sea defences extended.

Gas Mains

In the 1870s a 16-inch gas main was sufficient to carry gas from the works to the gasholder station but in 1880 a 24-inch main was added.

In 1925 a new 24-inch main was laid along the same line as the previous two. It was not carried right up to the Hove gasholder station but instead was connected to the 20-inch main that carried gas from the Hove holders to Black Rock.

Amalgamation and Enlargement

In 1882 the two local gas companies amalgamated and in the same year construction work on number two section at Portslade was completed. This included a purifier house constructed of brickwork and eight water-lute purifiers were provided. The exhausters in the engine house were of the two-blade rotary type of 100,000 cubic feet per hour capacity.

It is interesting to note that the small Cornish boilers were still in operation in 1935.

In 1885 the manufacture of gas at Black Rock ceased and everything was transferred to the Portslade site. This included one of the exhausters and engines, which were installed in number one engine house and lasted until 1934 when an electric generating set was installed.

In 1886 the three original gasholders at Black Rock were demolished leaving holders 4, 5 and 6 extant. This meant the Black Rock site had a total storage capacity of just over 800,000 cubic feet, less than half of that which was available at the Hove holder station.

A new number seven holder was designed for Black Rock; Charles Herbert Rutter who joined the Company in 1886 and was still in his teens, assisted with the drawings.

A Second Wharf

copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
The second wharf was photographed on 5 September 1889. It is quite unusual for the canal to be still enough for reflections.

Because the capacity of the Gas Works had increased there was a need for more wharf space. Originally, a single timber wharf had been sufficient but in 1889 a second one was added. The new wharf was constructed of concrete on a timber pitch-pine frame of piles. Progress was slow because work could only take place for a two-hour period at low tide.

Another Extension

By 1890 the Gas Works needed to be extended again and a new number three section was built on the west side on land then consisting of shingle. In 1895 number three section was completed; in the same year two Humphreys & Glasgow’s water gas sets were erected west of number three retort house, the Company being one of the first half-dozen in England to install a plant of this description with each having a nominal capacity of 750,000 cubic feet of gas per day.

Engineer’s Residence

A new gantry was built at the west end of number two retort, which necessitated the demolition of the old white cottage that had been used as the foreman’s residence from 1871 to 1889.

The Gas Works were by then so large that it warranted a resident engineer and consequently Beach House was built at the east end of the Company’s property. Harry Pullen was the first occupant, followed by J.B. Paddon and then C.H. Rutter and the property stood right on parish boundaries. In 1906 when an east wing was added the boundary passed right through the bedroom and so the Chief Engineer was able to joke that he and his wife slept in different parishes.  

The Great War

During this time the Gas Works produced items for the war effort such as the Stokes trench mortar and benzol, which was used for the manufacture of high explosives.

  A notice that appeared in Brighton Graphic newspaper on the 18 May 1916

So many men went off to serve in the armed forces that the Gas Works became seriously short of labour. It was stated that between 90% and 100% of employees of military age joined up. The Company was obliged to employ 150 women and boys plus a few willing pensioners. Although the work was tough and physical the women expected no favours and were hard workers. One duty involved pushing a bogey cart full of coal from the dockside to the works.

When Fred Lucas, the Gas Works ferryman, got married his bride’s occupation was described on the marriage certificate as ‘gas labourer’ and she was proud of it too.

Fred Hill (of Hill’s Radio) remembered the sight of these women trudging home from work up Church Road, Portslade, clad in bulky overalls and their skin was an unhealthy shade of yellow caused by sulphur fumes.

Later on, the management of the Gas Works appealed to the Government to allot them some prisoners of war for labouring purposes. Although local workers opposed such a scheme a party of German prisoners duly arrived in town and lodged at Brooker Hall, now Hove Museum, which excited some wry comments from local people. There were fears of possible sabotage and so the authorities announced that no German would be allowed anywhere near the gas-making plant. The German prisoners were marched under armed guard daily to the Gas Works where they began to clear a vast accumulation of clinker.

 copyright © J.Middleton
Hove Museum once housed German prisoners of war.

At 11 a.m. on 11 November 1918 the hooter at the Gas Works went off to signal the end of the Great War. Youngster Charles Ward heard the commotion from his sick bed at his home in Southwick where he was recovering from Spanish flu. He wrote ‘I stood up on my bed to see what it was all about but was so weak I just fell back on my bed.’

Hard Work and Hard Times

Ernest Charles Moore was employed at the Gas Works for 26 years, starting at the age of thirteen in November 1915. He was following in the footsteps of his father who worked there too. One of the children used to take his dinner over to him on the ferry boat. The food was on a plate tied up in a red-spotted cloth called a Tommy handkerchief – Tommy being the nickname for food.

The Moores lived at 2 East Street, Portslade and because there were ten children but only three bedrooms, the children slept three to a bed.

When Ernest Charles Moore started work in 1915 he earned 10/- a week for a 12-hour day. He was given a shovel so huge that the handle stood at chest level. A regular chore with this shovel was to turn over the bog ore (oxide) in order to give it a good airing. It was the oxide that was mostly responsible for the notorious Portslade Pong.

In those days town gas was far more toxic than North Sea gas is today, and sometimes a worker would become overcome from the fumes. When this happened he would be taken outside and laid out in the fresh air. When he revived he was given milk to drink to absorb the poison. He returned to work when he was able because if he went home, his wages were docked.

It is possible that some workers suffered personality changes after years of toxic exposure. There were certainly some volatile men who were prone to violence, which could be set off by any excuse or none. On one occasion a man recovering from being overcome with fumes, suddenly got up and began to punch an unfortunate horse that happened to be standing nearby until he was pulled off.

Coal was unloaded from colliers into carts that were pushed along the tram road by waggoners to where the track divided into separate routes to the two retorts. On arrival, a special catch was knocked up and the coal dropped onto a grating. The men shovelling the coal down through that grating were known as ‘Knockers Down’. If a colleague were thought to be slacking, his mates would sing out ‘Waggons up, my hearties’.

Another old-time chore was known as ‘head stoking’ and meant the coal was shot into the furnace by a deft thrust of the shoulders. The worker filled a scoop, called a fiddle-stick, with coal, placed it on his shoulder, approached the furnace at a run and with a quick flick of the fiddle-stick shot the coal into the flames. When this task was mechanised, the hydraulic wheel was nicknamed ‘Iron Man’.   

The steam hooter at the Gas Works went off at 6 a.m., 8 a.m., 1 p.m. and at 5 p.m. (in winter) and 5.30 p.m. (in summer). Local people used to set their clocks by it and of course it was especially useful for those households without clock or watch. After the Great War the hooter would also sound at 11 a.m. on Armistice Day so that people would know when to observe the two minutes’ silence.

The layout of the Gas Works was as follows: at the east end there was the carpenter’s shop, then came the offices and administrative part, followed by the old blacksmith’s shop. Opposite there was a piece of waste ground, which was turned into a recreation ground. Number one engine house was next to the field and by the middle road there stood three retorts. Then came the water plant followed by a screen nicknamed the Dolly Gray after a famous song of the Great War entitled Goodbye, Dolly Gray; the screen was where ashes and waste were sieved out. After that there was the new blacksmith’s shop and the fitter’s shop.

By 1926 the Company had made additional purchases of land and thus the whole site spread over some 40 acres.   

Horses

copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
This was one of the horses belonging to the Gas Works. His name was Bobby and he was photographed in 1888. He was obviously a great favourite because the day before he was put down on 30 August 1891, a photographer was summoned to take a head and shoulders portrait of Bobby to include in the Company’s archive.

Horses were used to pull the tip-carts and there also some powerful shire horses. The Company owned some of the horses in use there and they were very well cared for and often won competitions because of their overall excellent appearance and glossy coats. Other horses were hired from local owners such as Mr Field, Mr Trigwell and Mr Penfold and were stabled in East Street and George Street in Portslade. These horses soon came to know their work routine and when the hooter sounded in late afternoon, they would start heading off for their home stables of their own accord, which meant going back around Aldrington Basin.

Statistics

The rise in gas production can be gauged from the following figures:

1880 – 400 million cubic feet a year
1885 – 756 million cubic feet a year
1890 – Over 900 million cubic feet a year
1914 – 1,500 million cubic feet a year

Water Consumption

1892 – 3,877,000 gallons
1945 – 4,253,000 gallons

At first Shoreham & District Water Company supplied the water.

As a comparison of expenditure – in the quarter ending December 1892 the water bill came to £105-17-10d while in the quarter ending December 1945 the water bill was £221-10-3d.

Innovation and Growth

In 1927 an important innovation was made by the introduction of waste heat recovery. Within two years all carbonising plant and water gas sets were thus equipped with the result that 50% of the steam for the works was derived from waste heat at a low cost.

In around 1928 it was decided to build a new holder at Black Rock in the existing disused number 4 gasholder at a cost of £7,000.

In 1930 arrangements were completed to take over Worthing Gas Light and Coke Company and the new title became Brighton, Hove and Worthing Gas Company.

Additional plant was installed at the Gas Works and a 24-inch diameter trunk main was built from Portslade to Worthing Gasholders.

 copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
This photograph was taken on 12 August 1931 and shows the ground being excavated for number three retort house.

Second World War

In September 1940 four bombs were dropped on the Gas Works. The coal stores were wrecked but the retorts were not hit and production was able to continue. The only casualty was a horse killed in the wreckage. Coal lorry drivers at the site, like Eric Masters, had nowhere to shelter and so they dived under their lorries as the bombs fell.

Coal deliveries had been switched to the railways because of shipping losses.

On 12 November 1940 eight incendiary bombs were dropped on the Gas Works and the Western Lawns, Hove, and electric cables were cut. It was probably on this raid that one of the gas workers was hit in the head by shrapnel but he survived.

Post War

After the war new work was undertaken at the Gas Works. In January 1948 a specification for the proposed installation of continuously working vertical retorts was sent to Mr R. Prince, general manager of the Company. The document for the Woodhall-Duckham Vertical Retort and Oven ran to an astonishing 86 pages.

Difficulties were envisaged because of a serious shortage of silica refractories and the threatened restriction on the allocation of steel to the gas industry.

A letter from Mr Prince to the firm dated 20 July 1950 requested that pre-cast piles of 14-inch square dimension should be driven to depths of 30 feet, 45 feet and 60 feet respectively with a two-and-half inch hammer; after ten days the piles should be re-driven for a further 6 to 12 feet. Ordinary Portland cement was to be used for the piles.

In 1954 a new retort was in the process of being built and in 1965 a high-pressure reforming plant was added.

Improvements were being carried out almost to the end. At its peak some 65 million cubic feet of gas was produced a day but by 1971 the amount had fallen to 10 million cubic feet a day.

In 1967 high-pressure mains for the purpose of transporting North Sea gas were laid across the Downs and it was expected that Sussex would be linked to the national Grid by 1969.

Gas production ceased at the Portslade works on 22 May 1971 and 400 men were made redundant.

School Visit

It is interesting to note an educational school visit, an account of which appeared in Hove County School for Girls Magazine 1961-1962.

‘First we went to the retort house, where the coal-gas is produced in huge fireclay retorts. At this stage in the manufacture, the coal gas contains numerous impurities such as tar, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide and these have to be removed in various ways. The tar is run off into wells, which are also in the retort house, and we were shown these next. Then we were taken to the ‘scrubbers’ where the ammonia is removed. After this we went into the large building, which houses the purifiers. Here hydrogen sulphide is removed by passing the gas over ferric oxide. The hydrogen sulphide reacts with the ferric oxide to form ferric sulphide. The hydrogen sulphise has to be removed from the gas because it is extremely poisonous. Lastly, we were shown the laboratory where numerous tests are carried out at various stages of the manufacture of coal-gas to ensure that the right constituents of the gas are present.’  

Shipping

Colliers carried coal from the north east of England to the wharfs of Portslade Gas Works. No doubt the Company directors thought it was a signal honour to have such vessels named after them; one vessel was called F. E. Webb and another was John Miles. Later on, there was the J.B. Paddon. Then the practice was dropped and vessels were given place names such as the Hove, Steyning, Seaford, Pulborough and Petworth.

The old colliers were relatively small and carried an average of 800 tons of coal. But the old way of unloading a vessel was surprisingly quick and it was reckoned the workers could shift 100 tons of coal an hour. But it was a labour intensive exercise. The method was to have eight men in each hold and then sixteen ‘tippers’ loaded the coal into carts that were pushed to the retort houses. There was no mechanical grab to help until the 1930s when the first mechanical aid was called a donkey crane. Steam cranes could lift 25 tons an hour.

There were two regular pilots who eased the colliers through the canal to their berth; they were Pilot Grant and Pilot Upperton

On 18 March 1906 the Portslade, a Stephenson Clarke owned vessel, was involved in an accident during a time of thick fog when she ran down the SS Swale of London, some seven miles off Beachy Head. The Portslade could not have been badly damaged because she continued in service for some years.

On 22 February 1917 the SS John Miles left Jarrow on Tyne with her holds packed with coal but she never made it to Portslade and sank around 11 miles south-east of Hartlepool. At first it was thought the vessel had struck a mine but it later transpired that German submarine U-21 had sent a torpedo into her port side, causing the ship to sink within two minutes. Nine crewmen drowned while five survivors were left struggling in the water until rescued by a British minesweeper. One of the survivors died on board the minesweeper. He was Second Engineer Robert Slater Wilkinson, aged 54, and he was buried in Portslade Cemetery. Another Portslade victim of the tragedy was Steward Emmanuel Tester, aged 61, who lived in Trafalgar Road. It is interesting to note that in August 2007 the ship’s bell was discovered and brought to the surface by members of a sub-aqua club.

Before 1933 the collier Seaford used to bring coal into the works but her maximum cargo was still only 850 tons. I933 it was stated that the Gas Works needed 160,000 tons of coal a year to keep going.

When the lock at Southwick was enlarged, it meant that a new vessel, half as large again, could be commissioned. On 7 August 1933 the Pullborough was launched at the Burntisland shipbuilding yards on the banks of the Forth; Miss Gladys Jones, daughter of one of the Company’s directors, officiated at the launching. The Pulborough could transport 1,400 tons of coal in one voyage. It was not possible to unload during the period of one tide but all the same the cost of unloading per tom was greatly reduced. The Pulborough was especially built for Stephenson Clarke to carry coal from the Tyne ports to Portslade Gas Works and she was the largest vessel to frequent Shoreham Harbour.

  copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
These colliers brought coal from the north east to Portslade. The Pulborough was launched in 1933 while the Petworth’s first trip to the Gas Works took place on 30 August 1934.

On 22 September 1935 the Pulborough came to the rescue of the yacht Plinlimmon whose steering gear broke in Cuckmere Bay. A.P. Herbert. Novelist and M.P. was aboard the yacht, plus his two daughters, a friend and two crewmen. On 26 November 1935 a presentation was made at Portslade Gas Works to the crew of the Pulborough when £109 was divided amongst them, being the salvage money plus some more donated by the Company. In addition there gold watches were given to the crew of the Pulborough’s lifeboat   

In September 1934 Captain William Gilbert Ginty took command of the Pulborough. He was born in 1875 at Rio de Janeiro where his father was the first manager of the Gas Works built there by Sir Gilbert Ginty, Captain Ginty’s grandfather. Captain Ginty first became associated with Portslade Gas Works in 1918 when he joined the Seaford, having had the nerve-wracking experience of being torpedoed twice during the Great War. In 1924 he was promoted to Master. His time in the Pulborough was short-lived because he was obliged to retire in September 1936 because of ill health and he died on 3 October 1936.

Two vessels belonging to Portslade Gas Works were lost during the Second World War, one after the other. On 18 July 1940 the Pulborough was sunk off Dover and on 19 July 1940 German warplanes sank the Portslade, despite the fact she was part of convoy CW8. All the crew of the Portslade were rescued including Bert Ford who was so upset over the loss of his treasured gold watch and his special eiderdown that he gave up the sea for good and earned his living at the Gas Works instead.

Meanwhile, the Seaford continued to bring coal into the harbour and she was still sailing in the 1950s.

Ferry Boats

copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
These ferry boats were photographed on 1 March 1934.

The small ferry boats used to carry workers to and from across the canal were constructed in the carpenter’s workshop at the Gas Works. The boats had a double-bowed construction because this was found to be the most stable design for a stretch of water that was often beset by fierce squalls and none ever foundered. The ferry boat could carry twenty passengers at a time and always carried two pairs of oars.

 copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
Workers squeeze onto the ferry boat to take them across the canal.

James Gray in his Victorian and Edwardian Brighton (1972) has a rare and fascinating photograph c. 1870 showing a group of workers lined up on a landing stage, which is extraordinarily long with at least twelve supports in the water, waiting to be ferried across the short stretch of water to the Gas Works. In those days the navigable part of the canal was quite narrow because the illustration also shows some posts in the water that probably indicated the presence of oyster beds. It was not until later years that dredging of the canal and new lock gates meant the loss of oyster beds and landing stage.

Fred Harlott was the man rowing the ferryboat after the Great War; he died in 1987. Another Fred, this time Fred Lucas, was the ferryman during the 1930s and 1940s.

In 1934 two new boats were constructed. At least until the Second World War there were seven or eight ferry boats tied up at the dock wall.

In the 1950s Mr H. Baker was an apprentice working at the yard of James Taylor at Shoreham beach. In 1956 his mate Bill Parkinson collected the moulds from the Gas Works and between the two of them they built a 22-foot clinker-built double-ended ferry boat for the Gas Works at a cost of £600. It was the last one to be built for the works.

Portslade Gassie

copyright © J.Middleton
An artistic feature on the corner of Wellington Road photographed on 4 December 2015.

 copyright © D.Sharp
A volunteer spent many hours carefully restoring the Portslade Gassie. his boat and the immediate surroundings. 
The project was just nearing completion when unfortunately it was vandalised in April 2016.

On the east corner of Church Road and Wellington Road there is an artistic feature composed of a small rowing boat with a skeletal figure wielding the oars. On the north side stands an information board headed ‘The Portslade Gassie’. The text runs as follows:

During the last century, gas works were constructed across the canal to supply the increasing local population with their demand for gas. By 1926 the site occupied some 40 acres and provided work for local residents. These workers were ferried back and forth over the canal by small boats nick named “gassies”. The “gassies” were the most direct route for the staff and avoided a long walk along the coast to Aldrinton and then back the other side.

However, this nickname was not used for boats but for the men and women who worked at the Gas Works. People were proud to be known as Portslade Gassies. But the piece is still a pleasant reminder of an important part of Portslade’s history.

Shipwrecks

On 11 November 1891 there was an exceptionally violent gale. Around noon it was noised abroad that a schooner had come ashore by the Gas Works. The Ville de Napoleon was stranded around 50 yards offshore and the sailors were frantically signalling for help from the rigging. Fortunately for them, the vessel carried a light cargo of barley and was riding high. A signal was sent to the Coastguard Stations at Hove and Southwick and men soon arrived with rocket life-saving apparatus. The wind was so strong that it took a while to gauge the allowance but at length ‘a line was dropped over the vessel, and amid the cheers of the crowd the seamen were one by one landed.’ The five-man crew were chilled to the marrow and their hands were claw-shaped from clinging to the rigging for such a long time. They were taken at once to the Adur Hotel and placed before a roaring fire to thaw out.

Within a couple of hours on the same day a second schooner was spotted in distress and bearing down on the same spot. It was thought the men in the two vessels saw the masts of vessels safely in Shoreham Harbour and mistook the entrance. Messages were again sent to the coastguards who had already hung out their equipment to dry off and so there was some delay before they could hasten back to the scene. Figures were visible clinging to the rigging and hundreds of onlookers crowded the shore. A line was eventually got to the ship but unhappily the men were by then too weak to save themselves. The lifeboat was sent for but was too late in arriving owing to the difficulty of procuring horses to drag it along the road. At length the mate, Thomas Hills, let go of the jig-boom and was washed ashore where he was seized by helpers, revived, and carried off to the Adur Hotel. But the others were not so fortunate. The John Roberts had a three-man crew plus a boy and was laden with slates from Porthmadog, Wales. The dead seamen were Captain William Williams (the mate’s uncle) who left a widow and eleven children; the twelfth child, also called William Williams, aged 14 drowned alongside his father; then there was 17-year old John Griffith Thomas. They were buried in the churchyard of St Leonard’s, Aldrington.

In 1914 a body washed up on the shore near the Gas Works was believed to come from the wrecked steamer Miown.

According to E.C. Moore in around 1915 a three-masted schooner called the Ludwig Reediman was blown ashore near the Gas Works in a storm but eventually it was possible to float her off.

The Sussex Daily News (7 September 1929) carried a report that it was now nearly two weeks since the yacht Sea Duck bound from Le Havre to the Solent had come ashore on the beach opposite the Gas Works. The boat was keeled over at an angle of 45 degrees and there was a hole in the seaward side. Mr Muller, the American skipper, was camped on the beach with his son sheltering under a dinghy and living on stores from the stricken vessel. Mr Muller wished to sell of the ship’s gear and machinery.       

Fire Brigade

 copyright © Doug Mepham’s family
The Gas Works Fire Brigade was photographed in the 1920s. Herbert Mepham is seated in the front row, third from left and Doug Mepham stands in the back row, second from right.

The Gas Works boasted its own Fire Brigade, which consisted of 21 men in the 1920s. Many of the members were related to each other, which is not surprising when you consider how many men from the same families worked there. For example, Doug Mepham and Herbert Mepham were Fire Brigade members in the 1920s while by 1937 Stan Mepham had joined his relatives. Their early uniform consisted of the usual trousers and a jacket with a row of buttons ascending the chest on either side. But their ordinary headgear was a curious hat resembling and old-time Russian sailor’s hat; the brass helmets were reserved for fire-fighting duties.

In 1935 Portslade Gas Works Fire Brigade won 1st prize for the Motor Pump Wet Drill, 1st prize in the National Hose-cart Drill, 2nd prize in the Motor-pump Turn-out Drill and 2nd prize in the Escape Drill. This was out of 43 entries from twelve brigades. The Portslade men won another three prizes in 1937.

copyright © Doug Mepham’s family
The Gas Works Fire Brigade was photographed in 1937 with the Mepham family well represented. Herbert Mepham is behind the wheel, Doug Mepham stands behind the left-hand shield and Stan Mepham stands at the far left.

Chief Officer Packer was in charge for at least ten years. oH

Social Life

Although the nature of the work was hard and to be honest smelly, there was a great sense of camaraderie about the Gas Works, no doubt helped along by the generations of families who worked there. This feeling spilled over into their leisure hours and one of the earliest and well-attended social groups was the Gas Works Cycle Club. By the 1930s the Gas Works could field their own team of players in football, golf and bowls to which tennis was added in 1935.

  copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
This marvellous photograph shows members of the Gas Works Cycle Club when cycling was all the rage.
copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries                                                               copyright © D.Sharp                         
The similarity of these two lapel badges raises a fascinating question - did both cycle clubs use the Stag's Head in Portslade Old Village as their social headquarters? Both these Edwardian badges were manufactured by Vaughtons of Birmingham

In 1910 the Gas Works Football Team was warned with regard to their future conduct after the referee complained that ‘all the Gas Works team were guilty of passing nasty remarks whenever (the referee) gave a decision with which they did not agree’.

There were also concert parties that proved very popular. In 1913 a humorous sketch entitled Wary Willie’s Revenge was produced.

Fred Lucas, ferryman, enjoyed taking part in concert parties. He was of stately girth and once made a memorable impression dressed as a Hawaiian maiden and clad in a voluminous grass skirt.

In the 1930s and 1940s the Gasco Rhythm Makers were a familiar sight at many local functions. The group consisted of piano, drums and at least seven accordionists.

 copyright © Doug Mepham’s family
The Gasco Rhythm Makers making music in the 1940s. At the back Fred Lucas, senior, ferryman, can just be seen seated at the piano. He also enjoyed playing the piano at nearby pubs such as the Clarence and the Windmill.

Then there was the annual Sports Day, inspection and competition held on the Gas Works recreation ground. The event was instituted in 1904 and provided a great day out for all the family, who were ferried over the canal free of charge, courtesy of the Company.

  copyright © Brighton & Hove City Libraries
The Gas Works 12th Annual Sports was photographed on 1 September 1923. The main Gas Works building dominates the background.

The Fire Brigade was always in evidence on such occasions.

Some Personnel

Burtenshaw – Mr Burtenshaw was foreman of the Gas Works doe more than 30 years.

Candy – Albert George Candy was employed at the Gas Works from 1881 until he retired in 1927. He had three sons working there too and in the 1930s the third generation of the family started work.

Dawson – By the time the Gas Works closed down in 1971 Bill Dawson had worked in the industry for 48 years. At Portslade he was a gas engineering assistant and he helped build the new works in 1952.

Greed – Fred Greed was employed at the Gas Works for 26 years but when he was aged 46 he was involved in an accident and died. An inquest was held on 6 August 1938. Fred Greed was working as a winch driver and he lived at Brighton. Albert Herbert Streeter, of Southwick, was the charge-hand directing a party engaged in pile-driving into the beach with a driving winch of which Greed was in charge. James William Stringer of Crown Road, Portslade, was one of the workers at the time and in his opinion Greed had become caught in the slack of the wire and was then drawn onto the drum. Death was caused by a fracture of the neck. Miss Shaw, His Majesty’s Inspector of Factories, attended the inquest and stated she was satisfied the machinery had been properly fenced in. A verdict of accidental death was passed. George Samuel Greed of 93 St Andrews’ Road, Portslade, identified his brother’s body.

Harmes – Andrew Harmes was employed at the Gas Works from the 1890s until he retired in 1934. He had three sons at the works too and in 1935 a member of the third generation joined.

Mepham – In around 1900 George Henry Mepham was foreman engineer at the Gas Works. He and his wife lived in Franklin Road, Portslade with their family of three boys and three girls. His son Doug Mepham was a Portslade Gassie for 51 years. The other two sons also followed in the family tradition; Jack went to Watford Gas Works while Archie worked in the Hove yard where the gasometers were next door to St Andrew’s Old Church. George Henry’s brother, Bert Mepham, also worked at the Portslade site and was Chief Officer of the Gas Works Fire Brigade.

Doug Mepham was educated at St Andrew’s School, Portslade and when he finished his schooldays, his headmaster wrote on his testimonial ‘Of his personal character I cannot speak too highly’.
By the 1920s the Mepham family lived in Beach Bungalows, built in 1921 and situated right on the beach, west of the exclusive Seaside Villas. The location was somewhat draughty when a gale blew and even a little scary when there were bad storms. As the bungalows were technically within the parish of Aldrington, when Doug Mepham decided to get married in 1925 the Banns had to be read in St Leonard’s Church, Aldrington.

Doug was a man of some energy because as well as working at the Gas Works and being a member of its Fire Brigade, he also immersed himself in the work of St John’s Ambulance Brigade; he founded the Portslade Division of which he became Superintendent in 1946. In addition he ran the Unity Yacht Club. Doug eventually became Mechanical Superintendent of the Gas Works. During the Second World War he applied regularly to join the Royal Navy but he was in a reserved occupation and could not be spared. Doug Mepham retired in 1968, having started work at the age of fourteen.

Moore – Ernest Charles Moore started at the Gas Works at the age of thirteen in November 1915. It is his detailed memories that provide a vital part of the text concerning the old days in this article. When Moore began his career the manager was Mr Rutter and he remembered succeeding managers Mr Smallbone and Mr Corfield. Moore worked there for 26 years during which time the 36-inch gas main was adopted and the round retort was altered to a ‘D’ retort. Moore was called up in 1940 but as he was already 39 he was not sent on active service.

Paddon – Joseph Birch Paddon became general manager of the Gas Company in 1860. In 1861 he lived in an elegant flint-faced house on the Gas Works site in Church Road, Hove, next door to St Andrew’s Old Church. Indeed, it was such an imposing building that visitors were inclined to mistake it for the vicarage. It shows how esteemed engineers were in Victorian times. It is greatly to be regretted the house was not thought eligible to become a listed building and instead was demolished in June 2002 – the site now being occupied by Tesco’s.

copyright © J.Middleton
The elegant Gas House was demolished in April 1999. The cherry tree on the right and others in the front garden displayed beautiful pink blossom in the spring.

In 1881 Paddon was still living in the Gas House with his wife Julia, two sons and four servants; a parlour-maid, a house-maid, a cook and a needlewoman. By 1891 Paddon had moved to Beach House at Portslade Gas Works while Joseph Cash occupied the Gas House; Cash worked for the Company as a civil engineer and designed an extension to Beach House in 1906.

Paddon was a native of Ilfracombe, Devon. On one occasion Paddon was asked about the risk of fire at number one purifier house on the Portslade site, which was constructed entirely of wood. He responded that the risk was negligible but that in any case the building could be burned down and rebuilt many times with the money saved from not constructing a more permanent building. Paddon also stated he thought more highly of the Mansard roof on the retort house than of anything else at the works. It was built to withstand a load of 60lbs per square foot of external surface on account of its exposed position.

Paddon died in 1910. On 21 November 1936 a memorial plaque to J.B. Paddon 1826-1910, featuring his head in relief, was unveiled at the works set in the wall of the engine house near the works Fire Station.
J.B. Paddon’s son John Faulkner Paddon became assistant engineer but died in 1902. His younger brother A.M. Paddon was chairman of the Company in the 1930s.

Pullen – The funeral of Henry Pullen took place in August 1913. He lived in Franklin Road, Portslade and was Superintendent of the Gas Works for many years.

Pumfrey – When the Gas Works closed in 1971, Ernie Pumfrey had been employed there for 38 years; he did not expect to be able to find another job.

Slater – Lawrence Slater began his employment at the Gas Works in 1954 as an assistant engineer. He became deputy station manager in 1960 and station manager in 1968. He was still holding the latter position when the works closed in 1971.

Sources

Argus – re the ferryman (16 October 1997 / 17 October 1997 / 21 October 1997 / 29 October 1997)
Brighton, Hove & Worthing Gas Company Magazine number 47 (June 1934) number 57 (December 1935) number 61 (December 1936)
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Gray, James Victorian and Edwardian Brighton (1972)
Hove County School for Girls Magazine 1961-1962; Visit to the Gas Works
Middleton, Judy, Brighton & Hove in Old Photographs; A Second Selection (1994)
Middleton, Judy, Britain in Old Photographs; Portslade (1997)
Personal interview with Fred Hill
Personal interview with relatives of Doug Mepham
Personal interview with Ernest Charles Moore
Various local newspapers on microfilm at Hove Library

The Keep

AMS 6166/1 Portslade Gas Works Wages Book 1872-1873
AMS 6166/2 Portslade Gas Works Water Consumption 1892-1946
AMS 6166/3 Brighton, Hove & Worthing Gas Company; specification for vertical retort 1948 (86 pages)
AMS 6166/4 Brighton, Hove & Worthing Gas Company; specification for pile-driving 1950
SAS 1/214 Brighton, Hove & General Gas Company; notice in Parliament 1865
SAS 1/215 Proposed Gas Works 1866
SAS 1/221 The Times (21 March 1870 / 22 March 1879) re dispute over ownership of the Gas Works site
SAS 1/225 Ingram v Upperton; dispute over ownership of Gas Works site

Copyright © J.Middleton 2016
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