Remains of World’s Earliest Surviving Gasworks Now Protected
The archaeological remains of what is thought to be the world’s earliest surviving gasworks, used to light an early worsted (woollen yarn) spinning mill at a Lancashire village, have been protected by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the advice of Historic England. The exceptionally rare site at Dolphinholme, near Lancaster, has been added to the National Heritage List for England as a scheduled monument.
This announcement coincides with the Council for British Archaeology’s 29th Festival of Archaeology, which this year will run a digital festival from 11-19 July and on the ground events from 24 October - 1 November 2020.
The gasworks were built in 1811 at Dolphinholme Worsted Spinning Mill. It was one of the first mills to be lit by gas during an experimental and pioneering phase in the gas industry, and is the subject of one of the earliest known drawings of a gas-lit building.
The gasworks were installed by the acclaimed engineer Samuel Clegg during the Industrial Revolution, before public spaces or homes had gas lighting. Clegg went on to build the first public gasworks at Westminster in 1813 before bringing gas lighting to towns and cities across England. Gas would later also be used to heat people’s homes.
The surviving remains of Dolphinholme Worsted Spinning Mill, built in 1795, include the walls of the water wheel house, the wheel pit and the ‘mill race’ (water channel). It was a water-powered mill equipped with two of Richard Arkwright’s water frames to spin worsted yarn.
Gas lighting was installed in 1811 and the surviving gasworks include what is thought to be the earliest ‘gas holder’ remains in the world – consisting of the gas tank, counter-weight, drains, pipes and enclosing wall (but not the metal ‘gas bell’ or cylinder) - as well as remnants of the gas flues, chimney, and the ‘retort house’, which contained ovens where coal was burnt to produce gas. Through gas illumination, mill owners could save the expense of up to 1500 candles per night.
The gasworks also lit the mill owner’s house and the village street. The mill and its adjoining gasworks operated until 1867, after which the mill’s water wheel and buildings were dismantled.
The original, early 19th century drawings held by Lancashire Archives show the layout of the site and the gas lighting. The site is on private land and there is strictly no public access. However, photographs can be viewed on the List entry.
Dolphinholme Worsted Spinning Mill and gasworks are exceptionally rare as one of the earliest surviving sites that connect us to the Industrial Revolution. This pioneering era of our history shaped the modern world. It is vitally important we protect sites like these for generations to come so we understand how engineering, industry and our wider society has developed.
We are delighted to see this new scheduling announced during CBA Festival of Archaeology digital week. It illustrates how archaeological evidence plays an important role in understanding how places change and evolve. Our Festival has a host of ideas on how you can participate and understand sites like this fascinating survival of our industrial past.
The protection of the remains of Dolphinholme Worsted Spinning Mill and gasworks forms part of Historic England's wider work to record, promote and protect the physical heritage of the manufactured gas industry. This work has seen:-
- the upgrading to Grade II* of the oldest known complete gas holder in the world,
- the publication of detailed recording guidance for former gasworks
- and the commissioning of a definitive history of the gas industry, due for publication later this year.