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Birmingham’s Windsor Street gasholders to be dismantled

Work to dismantle the three unused gasholders at Windsor Street in Birmingham will start this month. We are asking for help to solve the mystery of how the gasholders came to be painted in the Aston Villa Football Club colours; and for your stories about life and work in the gas industry at Windsor Street, or growing up near the gasholders that were once the largest in the world.

The three gasholders at our Windsor Street site were last in use in 2012, as improvements to the gas transmission system means gas can now be stored in the pipe system underground.

Dismantling the gasholders is the first step to bringing the site back into beneficial use. The work, by specialist contractor DSM, is expected to be completed in 2022.

Celebrating our industrial heritage

Gas production started at the Windsor Street Gasworks in the 1840s and the site was acquired by the Birmingham Corporation in the 1880s, to enable expansion of the gasworks. The gasworks once housed 11 gasholders and, when the twin gasholders were built in 1885, they were the largest in the world. By 1928 the gasworks had become the largest gasworks owned by the Birmingham Corporation, occupying an area of 26 acres, and it remained in operation until the late 1980s.

We recognise that gasholders are a key part of our industrial heritage, so we’re making a historical recording of all our gasholder sites, including Windsor Street.

As the Windsor Street gasholders are the last in Birmingham, we have commissioned Professor Russell Thomas to produce a booklet on the history of the gas industry in Birmingham. You can download a copy from our dedicated Windsor Street webpage.

We’re also working with local historical education specialists Mrs History, to take groups of children from two local primary schools – St Matthew’s and St Joseph’s – for local history walks and classroom workshops, before presenting their findings to an invited audience.

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Capturing stories of life and work

Heritage is not just about buildings, it’s about people. The gas industry has played a huge role in generations of families’ lives and still does today. This social history is important to pass on to future generations and our Capturing Stories project aims to do just this.

Capturing Stories is National Grid’s commitment to seek out and record the lived experience of the gas industry. These digital recordings will be used to supplement our growing archive of physical and technical heritage information.

Sarah Rea, Land Regeneration Manager at National Grid, says: “We recognise that these gasholders have been a part of the skyline in the area for many years and, as well as trying to solve the painting mystery, we’ll be making sure we undertake detailed heritage recording at the site as the work progresses.

“We’ve set up a website for the project, where people can find out more about the history of Windsor Street and also download a booklet about the history of the gas industry in Birmingham.

“National Grid is creating the world’s largest digital history archive of the gas industry, capturing people’s experiences through video and audio recordings. The completed podcasts and videos supplement the physical archives held at the National Gas Archive in Warrington and the National Gas Museum in Leicester.  We’ll also donate copies to national and local museums, archives and libraries.”

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Why the colours of Aston Villa FC?

The Windsor Street gasholders were painted in the club colours of Aston Villa, whose stadium is just a few miles away, in the 1980s. Exactly how this came to happen is a bit of a mystery, but if you can shed any light on this then please get in touch.

It’s believed that the engineer once in charge of maintenance chose the colours because he was a supporter of the club, but we don’t know this for sure.

Sarah says: “We believe the gasholders were painted in the club colours in the 1980s and there are lots of theories about how this came about, but it would be great if we could solve the mystery once and for all.”

If you can solve the mystery or have a story you’d like to share about life and work at the Windsor Street Gasworks, get in touch:

How the gasholders will be dismantled

Carrying out the dismantling work safely is our priority. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, we’re taking steps to ensure the safety of our workers and neighbours. Following clear guidance from the Government, Public Health England and the construction industry, we’re implementing strict additional controls and measures to ensure safe working. We’re constantly reviewing the situation and will act swiftly to adjust our ways of working if Government advice changes.

Before we dismantle the gasholders, we’ll need to remove any water, oil and sludge from inside them. When we’re removing the water, there may be some noise from the generators used to power the pumping equipment. We’ll try to keep this noise to a minimum.

You may also notice a gas/diesel-like smell when we remove the sludge and other debris from the bottom of the gasholders. This will be temporary and is not harmful to people, animals or the environment.

Once we have emptied the below-ground tanks, we will carefully dismantle the gasholders. This will involve cutting the steel structure using a range of machinery, including cranes. The site will be closely monitored and we will take action to reduce any smells, noise, vibration or dust.

Our working hours will be 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday, with some weekend working if required. We’re an approved Client Partner of the Considerate Constructors Scheme. This means our work at Windsor Street will be registered with the scheme and meet its Code of Considerate Practice requirements.

Work at the site is expected to be completed by spring 2022.