• Dear Guest, and welcome to RailUK Forums. Our non-railway discussion forums are currently restricted until members have five or more posts, and you will not be able to make a new thread or reply to an existing one in this section until you have made five or more posts elsewhere on the forum.

Memories of the changeover from town to natural gas

AY1975

Member
Joined
14 Dec 2016
Messages
1,046
Does anyone have any memories of the conversion of every home in the country from town gas to natural gas?

I believe that it was done sometime in about the late 1960s or early '70s, so just before my time. I would guess that it must have been a massive undertaking, having to enter every home in the country to do the changeover although presumably if your home was all-electric you weren't affected.

I presume they sent or hand-delivered letters to every home in the country telling them when it was going to happen, and if you weren't going to be at home at that time you were expected to arrange for a friend or neighbour to let them in.
 
Sponsor Post - registered members do not see these adverts; click here to register, or click here to log in
R

RailUK Forums

Gloster

Established Member
Joined
4 Sep 2020
Messages
2,681
Location
Up the creek
I was a bit young to remember much except that there was a change, but I can remember is that some people were worried that the ‘new’ gas would be dangerous or that they would have to buy new equipment. On one of our family visits to my grandmother my father, a civil engineer, had to explain to her that it was all quite safe once the fitters had done whatever they had to do. Not an easy job to do, as my grandmother was stubborn and self-opinionated, so it took most of the visit.
 

Ediswan

Member
Joined
15 Nov 2012
Messages
1,119
Location
Stevenage
From what I recall, it all went smoothly in our area. New jets in the gas cooker and boiler. The company was Docwra.

but I can remember is that some people were worried that the ‘new’ gas would be dangerous
Whereas it is consderably less dangerous. You can still blow the house up, but you can't poison anybody, no carbon monoxide. Coal gas had a natural smell. The smell of natural gas in an additive.
 
Last edited:

simonw

Member
Joined
7 Dec 2009
Messages
344
Would have been somewhat easier to do, as more households had someone in most of the day, compared with how and fewer houses has central heating. North sea gas has a much higher caloric value than town's gas, so The conversion created addition space in the network.

When we moved into our house in the 90s there were still a number of gas fires in situ that had been condemned by the conversion team.
 

birchesgreen

Established Member
Joined
16 Jun 2020
Messages
2,281
Location
Birmingham
There are a couple of small town gas heaters in my house, disconnected now i assume. Never turned them on to check in the 21 years i've been here though they are behind bookcases these days anyway.
 

yorksrob

Veteran Member
Joined
6 Aug 2009
Messages
30,356
Location
Yorks
I can remember in the early nineties my dad attempting to light the gas fire and blaming "natural gas" for his difficulties !
 

eMeS

Member
Joined
12 Jun 2011
Messages
863
Location
Milton Keynes, UK
Yes, I remember it.
We hadn't been married for long, were living in Harpenden, and were still enjoying our New World 95A Gas Cooker. (4 ring hob, two ovens & rising solar grill.)

On the day of the changeover we had to be at home, so that the gas board guys could do the necessary changes and adjustments. I remember a vertical pipe in the road with a flame at its top, and that our cooker had its pressure regulator disabled. This stopped the thermostatically controlled hob from working - one of our reasons for buying this expensive cooker - but otherwise, we weren't affected too much. However, it wasn't long before local Gas Board shops disappeared, and then I couldn't buy the special flame failure devices for our cooker - they seemed to have a short life. Now, I use one or two of the hobs, but both ovens and solar grill are dead because they need working flame failure devices. The solar grill make a base for my combi oven, and that's now my main cooker.
 

AndrewE

On Moderation
Joined
9 Nov 2015
Messages
3,800
From what I recall, it all went smoothly in our area. New jets in the gas cooker and boiler. The company was Docwra.


Whereas it is consderably less dangerous. You can still blow the house up, but you can't poison anybody, no carbon monoxide. Coal gas had a natural smell. The smell of natural gas in an additive.
I remember it just happened. I must have been at school during the actual changeoverwork as I would certainly have remembered the town gas being flared off.
One thing that emerged was that natural gas was drier than town gas (which was saturated with water vapour, being bubbled through lots of different liquids or solutions to strip out the nasties (i.e. tar etc) or otherwise saleable bits - like ammonia.)
This led to the fibre seals between old cast-iron mains pipes drying out and leaking, with lots of remedial work needed subsequently.
 

BrianW

Member
Joined
22 Mar 2017
Messages
721
Would have been somewhat easier to do, as more households had someone in most of the day, compared with how and fewer houses has central heating.
and people were more 'accepting'. I find it hard to imagine a national programme like this for eg loft insulation or installation of heat pumps.
Hey, we don't even have a rolling programme for rail electrification ;)
 

yorksrob

Veteran Member
Joined
6 Aug 2009
Messages
30,356
Location
Yorks
and people were more 'accepting'. I find it hard to imagine a national programme like this for eg loft insulation or installation of heat pumps.
Hey, we don't even have a rolling programme for rail electrification ;)

It is trickier now though. The change to natural gas generally involved changing some bits and bobs on existing appliances, whereas for a household today, changing to an air source heat pump for example, would involve a new heat unit in place of the boiler, new radiators as they run at lower temperature than gas systems, all of which will cost several thousand pounds. You'd need the house to be properly insulated, again thousands of pounds if it's an older pre-1930 property.

The economics for the householder will need to change considerably before replacement of gas with great pumps becomes a natural choice (yes, more than the gas price rises envisaged to overcome the substantial capital cost).
 

GusB

Established Member
Associate Staff
Buses & Coaches
Joined
9 Jul 2016
Messages
3,677
Location
Elginshire
I would have been too young to understand the changeover from one to the other at the time, and the fact that my parents lived in all-electric houses meant that I didn't have much exposure to gas appliances. I remember that my maternal grandparents had gas; whether or not they had already changed to natural gas when I first came along, I don't know, but I do remember the disappearance of local gas-holders over the following years.
 

John Webb

Established Member
Joined
5 Jun 2010
Messages
2,272
Location
St Albans
What I recall of the change-over was seeing the disappearance of smoke and steam arising from Beckton gas works - as seen from Woolwich where I was brought up. The derelict works then started featuring in episodes of "The Professionals" and other TV productions.
 

swt_passenger

Veteran Member
Joined
7 Apr 2010
Messages
26,444
I would have been too young to understand the changeover from one to the other at the time, and the fact that my parents lived in all-electric houses meant that I didn't have much exposure to gas appliances. I remember that my maternal grandparents had gas; whether or not they had already changed to natural gas when I first came along, I don't know, but I do remember the disappearance of local gas-holders over the following years.
The gas works disappeared first, but it’s only comparatively recently they decided the holders weren’t necessary. I don’t think the national demolition push started until well into the 2000s?
 
Last edited:

yorksrob

Veteran Member
Joined
6 Aug 2009
Messages
30,356
Location
Yorks
I'm reminded of the episode of 'Only Fools and Horses' where Rodney reminds Del of the time he made him try to sell has natural gas conversion kits around an all electric estate : :lol:
 

Trackman

Established Member
Joined
28 Feb 2013
Messages
1,682
Location
Lewisham
One thing that emerged was that natural gas was drier than town gas (which was saturated with water vapour, being bubbled through lots of different liquids or solutions to strip out the nasties (i.e. tar etc) or otherwise saleable bits - like ammonia.)
This led to the fibre seals between old cast-iron mains pipes drying out and leaking, with lots of remedial work needed subsequently.
This is what happened to my Auntie. She had 2 gas leaks after the conversion then decided to get rid of the gas cooker for an electric one.
I remember her old one and I think had a pilot light wand thingy.
When my grandparents street was being done they brought like a large wooden mobile workshop, I suppose a mobile base for parts etc for the surrounding area and plonked it at the bottom of the street on some grass.
 

Jamiescott1

Member
Joined
22 Feb 2019
Messages
477
This thread reminds me of when channel 5 launched and an engineer visited people's houses to reprogram the vcr
 

westv

Established Member
Joined
29 Mar 2013
Messages
3,350
I remember the "natural gas" label tied to my mum and dad's hot water boiler in the kitchen.
 

STEVIEBOY1

Established Member
Joined
31 Jul 2010
Messages
3,723
I remember that change happening, we had the gasman come round and put new burners in the cooker, we were told that the new gas was more powerful than town gas, but it was fine. It all ran very smoothly. I wonder if it would be the same now?
 

birchesgreen

Established Member
Joined
16 Jun 2020
Messages
2,281
Location
Birmingham
I remember that change happening, we had the gasman come round and put new burners in the cooker, we were told that the new gas was more powerful than town gas, but it was fine. It all ran very smoothly. I wonder if it would be the same now?
No it would be a total mess now due to top down over management and bloody minded people, the tabloids would also start raging about woke gas change fitters.
 
Joined
9 Jul 2011
Messages
632
I was just a kid at the time, but I can vaguely remember the changeover.
It must have been in the late 60's. 1970 or 71 at the latest.
We lived in a new mid 1960's house, which had coal fired central heating, so our only gas appliance was the cooker in the kitchen.
As others have described, the gas fitter changed the burner jets on that cooker and I think that was that.

I also remember passing various gas works on the bus or in the car.
The stink was awful and to think that people lived right alongside these places in streets of tightly packed terraced houses!
 

TheSeeker

Member
Joined
15 Feb 2016
Messages
230
Location
Braine-l'Alleud
This thread has reminded me that we had a gas powered fridge at home. I used to sit on the kitchen step looking at the pilot light through a little hole in the side.
 

BanburyBlue

Member
Joined
18 May 2015
Messages
558
It must have been quite a project to convert 1000's of houses from coal to natural gas. If all appliances required modification, then there must have been a period where lots of people couldn't cook/heat their homes?
 

swt_passenger

Veteran Member
Joined
7 Apr 2010
Messages
26,444
It must have been quite a project to convert 1000's of houses from coal to natural gas. If all appliances required modification, then there must have been a period where lots of people couldn't cook/heat their homes?
I think a converted appliance still worked reasonably ok on town gas.
 

462cd

Member
Joined
30 Dec 2019
Messages
29
Location
Liverpool
It all ran very smoothly. I wonder if it would be the same now?
We may get the chance to find out, as there are tentative plans in place to use the existing gas network to pipe hydrogen to homes. We'd need new meters and applicances, and I wouldn't want to be near any old cast iron pipes when hydrogen is running through them, but they've been running trials of a natural gas & hydrogen blend on Keele University's campus and it's worked without a hitch so far.
 

Gloster

Established Member
Joined
4 Sep 2020
Messages
2,681
Location
Up the creek
I also remember passing various gas works on the bus or in the car.
The stink was awful and to think that people lived right alongside these places in streets of tightly packed terraced houses!
I have a vague memory of reading or hearing that there was a belief that the fumes given off by gasworks were health-giving: they strengthened your lungs or something like that. Or maybe I am getting mixed up with something else.
 

eMeS

Member
Joined
12 Jun 2011
Messages
863
Location
Milton Keynes, UK
It must have been quite a project to convert 1000's of houses from coal to natural gas. If all appliances required modification, then there must have been a period where lots of people couldn't cook/heat their homes?
At the time I was living in a close of 18 houses in Harpenden, and from memory the conversion team arrived in the morning, and was gone by late afternoon. I guess we were without gas for around 2 hours at the most. I don't recall anyone being without gas over night.
 

Devonian

Member
Joined
10 Sep 2019
Messages
92
Location
Totnes
I have a vague memory of reading or hearing that there was a belief that the fumes given off by gasworks were health-giving: they strengthened your lungs or something like that. Or maybe I am getting mixed up with something else.
Throughout my childhood, any bronchial infection would result in the Wright's Vaporizer being brought out to fill my bedroom with the heady whiff of coal tar (the fluid was 90% cresol), so I can well believe that gasworks' fumes were considered good for the lungs.
 

Top