Culzean Castle
Small Gas Making Plant

During the 1800's the use of towns gas for lighting was becoming very popular and the aristocracy and landed gentry were keen to ensure that this new method of lighting was used in their own stately homes. Many stately mansions that were refurbished and modernised during Victorian times had their own small gas making plant built on the property.

The Heritage Group has for some time been trying to find a Stately Home in the UK which had managed to retain its original gas making and gas storing plant and equipment. Sadly our research has shown that most of the properties which once had their own gas making plant are now left with just the remains of the buildings, in varying states of dilapidation. The plant and equipment having been completely removed.

All was not lost however. One stately home in Ayrshire, Culzean Castle now owned by the National Trust for Scotland has completely restored the original small gas making plant buildings which had slowly become derilict over the last 50 years.
The gas making plant was still in use up until the 1940's. Then the Castle was connected to the local electricity supply network and the gas supply was no longer used. The two restored buildings have now become a small exhibition centre intending to educate and show people what this now defunct form of gas production was all about.  The Gas Managers House has been converted into a Museum which through a series of information boards tells the story about the life and achievements of William Murdoch 1754 -1839 who is generally regarded as the "Father of Gas Lighting".

Culzean Castle
Originally spelt Cullean in the Victorian period

The Castle which is built at the cliff edge overlooking Culzean Bay was an ideal
location where a small gas making plant could be built, sited adjacent to the beach
where small "puffer" boats could deliver the coal (which was used to make the gas)
right up to the shore, keeping the handling of the fuel to a minimum. The gas plant
sited at beach level was also then out of sight to the owners of the Castle.


This artist's impression on an information board shows how the gas works would have
looked in the 1880's with a small boat offloading the coal into a waiting horse and cart.
The coal was then taken up the beach into the yard to be stored until used. The Retort House
(with the chimney) needed to be worked 24 hours every day to maintain a sufficient quantity
of gas to fill the gas holder and also supply the needs of the Castle.  The Gas Managers
House was the building where the people lived who worked in the retort house.


Inside the Retort House

A full size realistic model has been constructed to show what the working layout would have been like inside the Retort House. The actual conditions for the workers with the intense heat, smell, and dirt when feeding the retorts with coal can only be imagined and therefore never fully appreciated.

A diagrammatic colour layout showing the creation of town gas from coal. Each stage in the manufacturing process is identified before the gas can be stored and prepared ready to be fed up pipes for use in the Castle.

Early gas works were built for lighting individual buildings, rather than for general supply. The idea of commercial production came from a German, Frederick Albrecht Winzer, and both Glasgow and Edinburgh had established undertakings by 1819, Edinburgh's Princes Street was lit by gas in 1822 a year before New York.

Gas works were usually sited near a railway station from where the coal was transported by horse and cart and later by lorry. Each gas works had its retort house, chimney and gas holder, and the foreman always lived nearby. Original retorts were made of cast iron, but this was superseded by moulded fireclay and finally by silica.

In larger gas works the extraction of by-products became economic, for example ammonia sulphate was used as an agricultural fertilizer and benzole was a petrol substitute.

The number of gas works in Scotland grew, reaching a peak in the 1840's; several however, closed in between the two World Wars. The 1948 Gas Act set up twelve Area boards (including the Scottish Gas Board) and by that time there were  195 works producing town gas in Scotland, from Lerwick in the North to Kirkcudbright in the South.

Biggar Gas Works has been preserved and is open to visitors by the National Museums of Scotland.

All that remains of the gas holder is the pit.

To recognise the achievement of the refurbishment of these buildings, this restoration project was awarded the
Europa Nostra
Award in 1992.

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JULY  2006