(Extracted from a recording made with Mrs Cargill on 26th November 1991 I by John Ruffell)
Mrs Cargill's father was foreman at Alcester Gasworks from the 1920's....
|"I was born in the house at the
gasworks in Gas House Lane1 Alcester. There was one lot of retorts facing our bedroom
window, and the living room window, and we as children could see the men working and hear
all the noise. My father was well known in the town and knew the whereabouts of all the
Of the men, I knew Mr. Hemming best who lived in Malt Mill Lane, and a Mr. Cornish. There was also a Mr. Richards. They were the stokers, and of course that was hard work, because they had to empty the retorts with long metal hooks to bring all the hot coal out which was turned into coke. As soon as it was all brought out it was dowsed with water, and all the steam rose and everywhere was really thick with black soot inches thick!
There were two lots of retorts, and it was very dark and sooty inside the gas works. Either one or the other set of retorts was being cleaned out whilst the other was producing gas. The coal had to be shovelled right to the back of the retorts and I think that they were about eight or ten foot long.
The coal would come from the railway station, and Mr. Shrimpton, who had a horse and cart, travelled all day long up and down to and from the station, with the bags of coal. They all had to be filled and weighed at the station. It was what he did nearly all the time!
People would come and buy the coke. There were big scales and bags, and some people would bring their prams!
I don't know how my mother kept the house as clean as she did because there was grit everywhere, and we must have had a lot come through the windows. The hall and front door was always gritty.
There were two holders, and we used to call them the little holder and the big holder. The little holder was further away and we never went near that one, but as you went near the big holder there was the tar well, and I used to hate that because it looked so horrible inside and messy outside! The holder seemed a great massive thing when you were close to it. Initially there was only the little holder and then they put the big holder in. We never noticed the holders gbing up and down as they do, probably because we were so used to them.
Another building housed all the pipes that supplied the gas to the holders and then there was the Governor House which we were never allowed to go into. They regulated the gas pressure from there. My father was very particular about that, - never allowing us anywhere near that building.
We were not allowed either to go near the offices where Mr. Thomas worked. That faced onto Gas House Lane, near double doors where Mr. Shrimpton used to take the coal in. There was a lovely big wall that faced onto Gas House Lane,' we used to play a lot on that with balls.
The flooding in Alcester caused problems for the gas works, as they were afraid that it could have put the fires out. The floods used to come right into our house. The mark on the wall of the house was about five foot high and whenever my father papered, the mark would come back through again. The water would come right up the lane, across the recreation ground, and along to the Swan when it was very bad. We had to stop in, we couldn't get out of the house and had to stay upstairs sometimes, although the house had been built up a little bit higher than the lane so it wasn't usually too bad, and we could get out the back way and into the High Street.
It was in the 1950's that they ceased to use the gas works. My father died in 1944 but my mother was allowed to stay on in the house, and then Redditch Gas took over!'
Winter 1992 Index
© J.Ruffell 1992