Report - - Southall Gas Holder No. 5, West London, October 2013 | Noteworthy Reports | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - Southall Gas Holder No. 5, West London, October 2013


Mr Muscle
28DL Full Member
Southall Gas Holder No. 5, or Fort f**king Knox as it should be known. In fact, scratch that, I've seen Goldfinger and can assure you that Pussy Galore and her flying circus had to go through far less planning and preparation to get in there than explorers have to this place over the years. It's a big blue MAN style gas holder pretty much the same as No. 7 at Nine Elms Gas Works in Battersea and is visible for absolutely miles around due to being situated in a very flat part of West London. One big difference between the two sites, however, is the level of security this place has. Think power station levels of deterrents utilised around the site with an 8 ft palisade fence sunk into a concrete base, a 12 foot, high voltage, electric fence directly behind this and several motion sensed cameras all over and you get the idea. This may seem odd for a simple gas holder, but when you think this thing is still live, will have 1400 tons of steel, 180 tons of concrete and 100 tons of tar contained within the construction and it lies on a flight path to Heathrow, you can perhaps understand that there may be a slight concern about this thing flying past a British Airways pilot's ear should someone decide to blow it up at an opportune moment. Sounds like a decent challenge to me.. :D

First though, a bit of history/education if you will.

Courtesy of Southall Gas Works - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The gas works was originally constructed by the Brentford Gas Company, opening in 1869. It was required to meet rapidly increasing demand in Middlesex, which outstripped the capacity of the company's original works on the Thames at Brentford.

The gas works was originally established at the western end of the full site, and progressively expanded to the east over sites originally used for brickyards and chemical works. It initially consisted of a retort house and a 480,000 cubic feet (14,000 m3) gas holder. In 1881 a second retort house was built and in 1885 an ammonium sulphate plant.

In 1878 no. 2 holder was built with a capacity of 1,130,000 cubic feet (32,000 m3). In 1885 a Hurd holder was built with a capacity of 2,100,000 cubic feet (59,000 m3). In 1892 holder no. 4 was erected, to take 3,950,000 cubic feet (112,000 m3) of gas. In 1899 a carburetted water gas (CWG) plant was added with a capacity of 3,000,000 cubic feet (85,000 m3) per day, and in 1903 another retort house with 200 retorts.

During World War 1 chemical plants were constructed to produce oil gas tar, coal tar and crude benzole. In 1916 the CWG capacity was increased, and in 1920 Blue Water Gas plant was added.

In 1926 the Brentford Gas Company was taken over by the Gas Light and Coke Company (GLCC). In the early 1930s a 7,500,000 cubic feet (210,000 m3) waterless holder was constructed.[1] This holder, which is over 300 feet high, remains as a major local landmark.

By 1935 the chemical works had closed and had been replaced by a smaller works further east. Whilst not as large as the GLCC's Beckton Products Works, this made a significant contribution to the Company’s production, particularly of creosote and road tar. The works was situated on the opposite side of London to Beckton, which facilitated the company's™ road tar spraying operations on that side of the metropolis. Southall Products Works continued to manufacture ammonium sulphate until 1946.[2]

Following nationalisation of the gas industry in 1949 the plant came under the control of the North Thames Gas Board. Construction of oil gasification plant began and by 1951 up to 300,000 cubic feet (8,500 m3) of gas a day was being produced in this way, primarily at times of peak demand.

In 1953-4 a further 12,000,000 cubic feet (340,000 m3) CWG plant was built on the site of the original retort house from the 1860s, together with tower purifiers.

In the early 1960s coal was replaced as a feedstock by liquid petroleum. The first major oil storage tank, of 544,000 imperial gallons (2,470,000 l), was installed in 1960. In 1963, catalytic reforming plants with a capacity of 60,000,000 cubic feet (1,700,000 m3) per day were installed. Catalytic rich gas plant was installed in 1966 with a capacity of 30,000,000 cubic feet (850,000 m3) per day.

The Products Works ceased distilling tar and was closed down in 1968. With the move to North Sea gas the gas works closed in 1973, leaving gas distribution and storage as the main on site functions.[1] The site passed into the hands of British Gas Plc in 1973 and subsequently to National Grid plc.

At the time of a site survey in connection with the proposed biofuel power station in 2007 three of the site's five gas holders (Nos 3 to 5) remained in use, one (No 1 from the 1860s) was disused and one (No 2 from 1878) had been demolished.
Some archive shots of the place

Under Construction


Some people enjoying the view



How I've dreamed it still had this fence...


I looked for a famous shot of it, and out of all of them I decided on the one with a girl in a sports bra..


So, as someone who loves gas holders, it stands to reason that I've looked at this place on a number occasions over the past few years to try and figure out a weakness in it's impressive defences. I'm really not joking when I say there genuinely is no weak point to go for on this site, so you start to think really outside the box. Those who've been to the site, and there have been a few, will probably have seen the big pipe that runs from the column guided gas holders, 20 odd feet above the Heathrow long stay car park and onto the plot No. 5 sits on, seemingly avoiding the electric fencing due to it's height. Well I've been shouted down from this pipe about 18 months ago whilst crossing very visibly above the car park, so that route is out. Back to getting electrocuted then :rolleyes:

In all honesty, I kind of gave up on this one thinking one day I'll either have a eureka moment or by some twist of fate, the fence will somehow be removed and it will become a walk in. Neither of these things have happened and I left it alone. Recently, however, I've been more motivated to knock off these difficult gas sites, due to exploring with another true gas holder fan in the form of Keitei.
Again, it should be no surprise to anyone who knows her, that Keitei has also looked at this site, and walked away disheartened when faced with the security measures. Putting it simply, this one was on our Christmas list of sites we'll probably never get into so other gas targets were identified and subsequently knocked off instead. It never went away though and we've spoken about it many times so at some point, we had to have a proper attempt at it.

Almost 2 weeks ago I was working in the area and went for another look and, being honest, I wasn't expecting to leave the site with any new ideas. About 10pm I sent a message to Keitei saying "Give me a week or so and we're doing Southall!!". Now I'll apologise in advance for this, but I'm not going to reveal how we got on site to anyone and everyone. This was never going to be a site you simply rock up to and find yourself walking up the stairs to the top, as many have found out, and the way this was done took a hell of a lot of effort. One thing I will tell you though, is that the fence works. Nevertheless, get inside the compound we did, and we set about getting to the stairs undetected by the many cameras. I assume we managed this as nobody came with blue lights flashing, but you never know.

Anyway, we made our way up the stairs to the top of the holder and it became apparent that despite the appearance similarities, there were several subtle differences between this one and No. 7. Mainly this involved the way to get inside the holder. All doors on this one have been totally sealed and the hatches to get inside all had locks on them too. Believe me, we tried to open a hatch but to no avail and were almost resigned to the fact it would be just shots from the outside. But then Keitei had an idea. This idea got us almost inside but with a super sketchy drop on to a narrow beam with 90m of blackness either side of it. Then, of course, there would be the slight issue of getting back out the same way. Still, nothing ventured nothing gained and all that. So in we went. It wasn't pretty but who cares, we were inside. Now, having been inside No. 7 relatively recently, we knew what to expect, or so we thought. Upon descending the concertina stairs and reaching the piston at the bottom, this thing had a brand new floor installed and fresh tar covering the piston roof. It also had relatively modern first aid kits and emergency breathing apparatus still in situ. For all intents and purposes, this is still a working gas holder and the safety equipment is there for any workers who have to conduct their duties inside the holder. Awesome! We tried our best to get good shots, but mine are pretty rubbish to be honest. I don't care though, I'm a massive gas holder fan, just like Keitei and this was about knocking off probably the hardest one in the UK and we've done just that.

So, here's Southall Gas Holder No. 5 done by two of the biggest gas fans you're likely to meet.

Fancy your chances?






The third ranked sketchiest thing I did that night ;)


The very top



Apologies for the haziness on these, but theyre the best you're getting for now





Two happy bats :D


This was an amazing night, and one I'd thought would never happen. Massive props to Keitei for actually trusting me when I gave the dodgiest description on how I thought this could be done, and also for going through with it alongside me. A Top of the Pops night :D

Thanks for indulging me folks and I hope you enjoy it :)



Mr Muscle
28DL Full Member
Crispy duck & pancakes for dinner in a gas holder..


Followed by flapjacks in custard..


Sleeping area..


the picture that spawned a 1000 visits 2 years later ;)



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