A photographic project inspired by visits to two of the three preserved traditional gas works in the UK: at Biggar in Lanarkshire, Scotland and Fakenham in Norfolk, England. Once a common feature of most towns, gasworks such as these produced coal gas for more than 130 years. There is often an unlikely beauty in industrial heritage, in particular with subjects such as heritage railways. Gasworks might seem a less glamorous subject, however, traditional coal gas works with their retorts, condensers, scrubbers, meters and storage tanks capture the design and detail of what was once an essential industrial process.
The work of German photographers Hilla and Bernd Becher had a huge influence on industrial heritage and its preservation, confirming that what had once been deemed to be aesthetically indifferent, if not downright ugly, could be seen with new eyes. Their work invited us to look a little more closely to pay particular attention to design and detail – or, perhaps for the first time ever, to acknowledge that old and often semi-decrepit industrial structures had design and detail. In photographing these works, my aim has been to focus on those details, looking at the design of the works, and the interplay of light with the ironwork and decades of grime on the various buildings.
Industrial factories are not normally known for their aesthetic qualities, and gasworks are no exception. The buildings, gasholders and open spaces were created with function firmly in mind. However, gasworks do have a certain charm, particularly when one is able to wander around them and into the building interiors, which vary in light quality. At Biggar gasworks, the retort house, the largest and gloomiest building, has a particularly engaging atmosphere in no small part due to the faint whiff of coal-gas which still pervades the works.