Arcane: coal gas, town gas

When I did my degree course, I spent one of my periods of six-month’s of work related function at the South Eastern Gas Board, on the Old Kent Road .

I spent my Summer sitting on a dusty floor converting various gas appliances from Town Gas to North Sea Gas and testing them for safety in terms of their flue gases.

I doubt if many know what Town Gas was and how it was produced.

Essentially, Coal was cooked in the absence of air and various fractions were produced as is now done with the “cracking” of Oil.

It produced tar and coke, with many other useful materials, which could be converted into the new (at the time) aniline dyes, pharmaceuticals and plastics.

The coke was mainly Carbon and became the first smokeles fuel. However coke could also be used to make Town gas (

This is mainly Hydrogen but with other gases included. Maggie Thatcher’s closure of the coal mines could mean that Britain will be able to rely on this resource in a more distressed future. It might even find favour with the ECO-minded, as it would be possible to clean out the carbon gases and end up with pure Hydrogen as a fuel.


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