The Rise and Fall of the Beckton - Gas, Light & Coke Company. London, England

Beckton Gas Light and Coke Company
The Gas Light and Coke Company (GLCC) were formed in 1812, the year of Napoleon’s great retreat from Moscow (1812 Overture). In 1868, the GLCC received the Royal Assent to build a gas works along the side of the River Thames between the entrance of the Barking Creek and the Royal Victoria Dock. 

The original 100 acres of marshland was purchased from the Ironmongers Company for £50,000. The site ended up covering over 600 acres, although not all of it was used.

when fully developed; the works covered an area greater than the City of London! The area was to become known as Beckton, (`Becks Town`), after the Governor of the GLCC, Simon Adams Beck.

Goods line 1873
A goods line was opened in 1872 between the Gas works and the Great Eastern Railway’s Custom House station. In 1873 a passenger service was introduced, manly as `Workman’s Specials` from the newly opened Beckton station, which came to be known as the Beckton Branch. 

The most famous member of the Workforce at Beckton was Will Thorne. He became a member of the SDF (Social Democratic Federation), a forerunner of the Labour Party. He formed the National Union of Gas Workers and General Labours. This Union became the General Municipal Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union, and is known today as the GMB. Will Thorn went on to greater things, He represented West Ham in Parliament in 1906, become Mayor of West Ham 1917-18, and represent Plaistow in Parliament from 1918 until he retired at the 1945 General Election. 

Unloading coke at pier number 2 of the Beckton Gas Works. This was one of the two huge jetties built for the unloading of coal and the loading of waste products. Coke was the bulkiest waste product of the gas production process, but was sold to steelworks as it was a vital ingredient for the smelting of iron and steel.

There were by-products from the Gas production, Coke, Coal Tar and Sulphur. Coke was used for Iron Production.Local companies such as Burt, Boulton & Haywood, used Coal Tar to create Disinfectants.Sulphur was turned into Sulphuric Acid used in products such as Fertilizers. Coal Ships from the North East of England (known as Colliers) brought up to 1000 tons of coal a day from the mines in Northumberland & Durham. 

By 1900 Beckton was producing 60,000,000 cu. ft. of Gas per day. In July 1926 King George and Queen Mary visited the works. In 1949, with the formation of the North Thames Gas Board, Beckton became a part of this organisation.The GLCC had been the largest private Gas Company in the world. By the late 1960’s the end was in sight for Beckton. In 1967– Last Retort House was taken out of use. In 1969 the last shipload of coal arrived and the Beckton Gas Works were formally closed down after 100 years of Gas Production. In 1970, the last ever train left Beckton; it was carrying Tar Pitch from the By Products Works.
German bombers over Beckton gasworks, London, the Blitz, World War II, 7 September 1940. 7 September marked the beginning of the Luftwaffe's attacks on British cities, with the docks of the East End of London the first target. Previously the focus of the bombing raids had been the RAF's airfields.
Steam collier s.s.Thurm alongside one of the massive coaling piers of the Beckton Gas Works, the same pier that s.s.Halo was berthed as the floating mine exploded. Read the full story
It’s a Square World
During its dying years in the 1960s, the Products Works had a brief period of fame as a venue for the making of comedy films and TV programmes, such as Michael Bentine’s It’s a Square World. The high mounds of chemical waste that bounded the works on two sides, known as the "Beckton Alps", were used to portray mountaineering scenes. It may perhaps be worth remarking that, after the closure of the works, part of the Alps was turned into an artificial ski slope!

As a consequence of works and plant closures already mentioned, and of the continuing decline in coal carbonisation, it has been decided to cease the processing of crude tar at Products Works Beckton by the end of September 1968, and to transfer the remaining processing of materials to the by-products works of the South Eastern Gas Board.

This 1984 image shows what remained of the crumbling Beckton works after its closure in 1967. The horizontal filter plant can be seen in the foreground and the coke ovens in the background.

Beckton today – Although the Gas works closed, it did not go down without a fight, literally!A large part of the old depot was converted into a Vietcong Village for the film “Full Metal Jacket”. During the filming a lot of the old gas works were blown up.

Today the area is a modern shopping centre, but a few of the old buildings can still be seen.

The gas works are all gone; all that remains is the jetties slowly rotting away.