Portadown Gasworks, which was sited where ASDA now trades, was a major employer and institution in the town for decades.
While gas is making a comeback locally, use of gas declined considerably in the 1980s in favour of oil central heating and the iconic company was sadly doomed.
The Gasworks in Portadown was set up in 1846 - lasting 147 years until it shut in 1993 - and was variously known as Portadown Gas-Light Company, Portadown Gas-Light Company Limited and Portadown Gas-Light and Electricity Company Limited.
The local council used it for street lights and all the linen factories, Wades, the Metal Box, all used gas for their businesses. Plus 90% of the local people would have used town gas. Portadown Gasworks was privately owned and was the only one privately owned in the U.K. It was the last to close in NI as all others closed in the 1980’s.
A group of local historians at Edenderry Cultural and Historical Society have produced a book dedicated to the shareholders, directors, management and employees were associated/employed with the firm.
It was set up in 1846 by John Obins Woodhouse, Thomas Harden Carleton, Thomas Averell Shillington, William Paul, John Overend, all of Portadown, and others.
It was known lovingly by employees and local people as the ‘Gasworks’.
The intention of the author and members of Edenderry Cultural & Historical Society, who helped him research by text and picture the history of the ‘Gasworks’ and its successive shareholders, is to record for posterity the important part the company played in the life of the town.
The ‘Gasworks’ made an invaluable contribution to the growth and prosperity of Portadown during and after the Industrial Revolution and the two World Wars.
It is hoped that the book will give an insight and pleasure to all those who read it, especially ex-employees and their descendants.
Former employee and manager Harold Trouton, who worked at the Gasworks from the mid-1960s, shared one of his early memories of the Gasworks.
“As a fifteen year old, I started as an apprentice fitter in the Portadown Foundry Limited. I served my time in the foundry with fitter Joe Murphy and others, and regularly accompanied Joe to the ‘Gasworks’ to repair coal/coke bunkers and maintain the steam and gas engines. My first impression of the place was that of a different world. The place was dark and dreary and the smell of gas, tar and dust was everywhere. The faces of the stokers were covered in black dust with only the whites of their eyes and teeth visible. No such thing as health and safety in those days! The canteen was in the retort house and the employees sat on planks propped up on concrete blocks. The tea was served in mugs with dust floating on top!
“Edwin May Limited (car repair/showroom) was directly across the road and I remember noticing a car on display in the showrooms as I finished my first day’s work in the ‘Gasworks’. A man from the garage was filling a car with petrol from a prominent Shell petrol pump which was directly opposite the works gates. I eventually got to know the petrol man and we became good friends. His name was Bob McElroy.
“In 1961 the ‘Gasworks’ advertised for a qualified fitter and I applied and was successful. My position became permanent in 1962 and I worked under the manager Mr Tom Scott. He was a hard taskmaster and I learnt a lot from him about the apparatus on site and how it produced gas. When Mr Scott left the company in 1964 John George Stanley became my boss and after his death I was promoted to the position of engineer/manager which I held until the closure of the company. The directors in 1962 were John George Stanley, Robin Thornton, I.H.McCormick, Dr Joe Eldon and William Pettigrew. During my time in the ‘Gasworks’ I remember vividly the existing showroom being refurbished and opened in 1962, the change-over to butane gas in late 1960s early 1970s, the death of the chairman, John George Stanley, in 1975 and the closure of the ‘Gasworks’ in November 1993, overseen by the last two directors, Robin Thornton and Douglas Sloan.
“Edenderry once was one of Portadown’s main employment areas. However, with the decline in the linen industry, Hamilton Robb’s factory closed, Wades Pottery factory closed, Portadown College moved to Killicomaine and the old Victorian railway station was demolished to make way for a new road system that would bypass the town. The population declined when Foundry Street, Bright Street, Florence Court and Watson’s Lane were demolished, the little shops that flourished post-war were forced to close and now only a handful remain. Shops and businesses I remember so well are no longer – Aggie Wilson, McClure’s newsagent, Cairns, Dales, Ivan Abraham, Vance’s bakery, Ellis’s pub, Moffetts Studio, Lily Lyskes, Dermotts, Calverts, Billy Johnston hairdresser, Bob Heathwood builder, Sam Brown auto supplies, Pentland’s hardware, Pentland’s pub and Avery Scales.
“Although the area is a shadow of its past glory the arrival of Asda, hopefully will kick start the regeneration of this once proud area of Portadown. Asda bought the ‘Gasworks’ site, Automart, the petrol station and part of Portadown Rugby Football Club ground. They had the ‘Gasworks’ site cleansed of contaminants and built a large food store, petrol station and created a car park for 600 cars on the land acquired. The ‘Gasworks’ site that once lit the street lamps, factories, shops, commercial premises and residential property in the town is now but a memory.”
The Society would like to invite the public to their book launch, “A History of Portadown Gasworks”, on December 18 at the Millennium Court Arts Centre, 2 William Street from 7pm to 9pm.