The Gas Works stood beside Haltwhistle Burn for over a hundred years, from its construction
in the 1850s until the conversion of the town to natural gas in the 1960s.
“The Haltwhistle Gas Light Company Limited” began with a capital of £1,800 raised
in £5 shares and lit the town for the first time on 2nd January 1852. The works were
enlarged in 1881 by the addition of a new holder. The gas sold at 4s.2d. per 1,000
cubic feet and each lighting jet was said to be equal in illuminating power to 17
½ candles (the incandescent mantle was not yet invented – imagine having a naked
gas jet the equivalent of 17 candle flames in your room!).
This artists impression by Vic Fleming was created from a photograph and maps of
period. It shows the retort house to the right, the gas manager’s house on the left.
with the South Tyne Colliery roley way in the foreground. It represents the likely
appearance of the gasworks circa 1900.
Coal would have been brought from the South Tyne pit and shovelled by hand into the
retorts - iron ovens in which the coal could be heated. The gas which was driven
off by the heat would have been stored in the gasholder, the large gas tank visible
in the picture beside the manager’s house. It rested on water, trapping the gas and
pressurizing it before it was pumped down into the town. Tar, another product of
the process, was run off into barrels and sold for road making. Vic’s picture shows
barrels of tar ready for sale standing beside the retort house. Once all the volatile
materials were driven off, the residue, coke, could be raked out and used to heat
the retorts or sold as a domestic fuel.
By the start of the 20th century the town’s increased need for gas required the construction
of a new retort house and larger storage facilities.
Vic has drawn the new retort house from a contemporary plan which shows a very elaborate
This retort house stood until Haltwhistle’ gas supply was converted to natural
gas in the 1960s.
If you would like to visit the site of the Old Gasworks, go down Mill Lane and walk
up-stream along the path parallel to the Burn. The two surviving buildings are the
manager’s house and, beside it, the small yellow-brick pump house.