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I saw one on the Greenwich Peninsula next to the O2 and another one while leaving Paddington towards Slough.

Courtesy: urban75.org

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    What amazes me is that locals don't seem to see or notice them. I am all omg what is THAT and they are huh? what? oh, a gasometer, as though they were like a mailbox or coffee shop. – Kate Gregory Aug 23 '17 at 10:46
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    @Kate - but if you see something every day, be it a mailbox, coffee shop, or gasometer, you don't notice it, however remarkable it appears to others. – peterG Aug 23 '17 at 13:58
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    @KateGregory: "as though they were like a mailbox or coffee shop" - in a way, they are. They are not quite as numerous, but still, they are present in plenty of European cities and, even to those locals who do not know what they are, perceived as "some typical industrial scenery". – O. R. Mapper Aug 23 '17 at 21:27
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    The popular name is "gasometer" but in the industry it's called a "gas holder". Most of them disappeared when the country moved to North Sea gas in the 1960s. Some of them have preservation orders on them, to the frustration of local people who regard them as an eyesore. – Michael Kay Aug 24 '17 at 14:10
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    I just recently saw this video about them, might be nitresting: youtube.com/watch?v=SopJr0yHt-w – PlasmaHH Aug 24 '17 at 14:45
89

Other posters have correctly answered that these are gasometers. But it's worth noting that they are no longer used at all; they were built when the UK mainly used town gas, which needed to be stored, but since the 1970s we have switched entirely to natural gas, which is piped in directly. Gasometers are now obsolete, and many of them have been demolished. Some are the subject of campaigns to save them, as examples of the UK's industrial heritage.

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    One example of gasholders being turned into modern residential area is the Gasholder Park near King's Cross: google.co.uk/search?tbm=isch&q=gasholder+park – jakubka Aug 23 '17 at 10:19
  • @jakubka what a nice sight. Bet they saved a lot of stadium building costs – Hanky Panky Aug 23 '17 at 10:28
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    Some are already listed buildings and so saved e.g the ones near Oval cricket ground – user151019 Aug 23 '17 at 11:10
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    @HankyPanky The framework was originally on the other side of the canal (along with the actual flexible gas container), and was then dismantled, cleaned up and moved to its current site. It's definitely a pretty monument to Britain's industrial heritage, but it's not the cheap way of doing things kingscross.co.uk/gasholder-park. – origimbo Aug 23 '17 at 11:10
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    whether they were necessary to the system I cannot comment, but the ones near Aylesbury in Bucks used to move up and down in response to demand as recently as the 1990s, I used to enjoy looking out for their position when I went into town as a child. – Joseph Rogers Aug 24 '17 at 9:18
23

The technology is called a Floating Head Tank. The idea is that the tank is sealed around the bottom by two walls with water in between. As gas is pumped in, the tank rises. The weight of the tank keeps a constant gas pressure. Typically, the tanks would gradually fill overnight meaning a large capacity was available locally for daytime use yet with a small pump capacity.

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They're gas holders or gasometers - they're used in several cities around the world for storing gas. See Wikipedia for more information.

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    The gasometer in the picture looks like metal struts - wouldn't the gas simply leak out through the 99% of the structure that has no wall? – user25889 Aug 23 '17 at 14:48
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    @Snowman - The gas they hold these days is a mixture, approx. 80% nitrogen, 18% oxygen and 2% carbon dioxide. Most people aren't too worried about that mixture leaking out, they can always get some more pretty easily. – AndyT Aug 23 '17 at 14:56
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    @Snowman There would be a bit inside the "scaffolding" that would rise and fall as more gas was pumped into the tank below it. They'd rise in the early morning and fall in the evenings as the gas was used throughout the day. – Pyritie Aug 23 '17 at 15:13
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    @Snowman the tank that held the gas was a metal cylinder (not a flexible balloon-type container) and was easy to recycle as scrap metal, so that's what happened to it! What is left is just the outer supports that contained the guide rails for the tank to rise and fall etc, They were too expensive to tear down for the amount of scrap metal in them, so they were left standing. Being mostly holes, they don't have much risk of accidents like blowing down in high winds, collapsing under a thick layer of snow, etc - the solid tank would need regular inspection and maintenance to keep it safe. – alephzero Aug 24 '17 at 4:09
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    @AndyT But it contains 0-4% dihydrogen monooxide. This stuff is dangerous and UK is especially at risk of it due to climate. – Maciej Piechotka Aug 24 '17 at 23:09
17

Tom Scott made an episode of "Things You Might Not Know" about these gasometers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SopJr0yHt-w

5

Gasometers, which store natural or town gas.

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