‘I met my love by the gas works wall
Dreamed a dream by the old canal
I kissed my girl by the factory wall
Dirty old town’
Ewan MacColl wrote ‘Dirty Old Town’ in 1949 about Salford. The gas works wall encloses the gas holders that have stood between Liverpool Street and Regent Road for around 150 years. I can see them from our kitchen window and often find myself humming the tune but not for much longer; these familiar landmarks are in the process of being dismantled. The ‘gas works wall’ will remain and this now has a board that records the memories of local people and the history of the gas works and the area.
On Friday 15 November a small group of us gathered to see the new board, meet some of the people involved and have a chance to get up close and personal with the remaining gas holder. As we walked over to the site from home I said, ‘Surely we will get to sing the song.’ It almost didn’t happen but someone else was keen and standing in the chilly November air we all managed to remember the words to the first verse.
The memories of local people bring the industrial landscape of Salford alive. Today this part of Salford is an odd mixture of recycling plants and car show rooms but once housing, shops, pubs and cinemas crowded around four gasometers and a power station. Built in 1869 and 1879 the gasometers have not been used since the 1960s. We donned hard hats and fluorescent jackets, walked up to the remaining metal gas holder structure and peered into the hole that is gradually being filled before the surrounding structure is removed. Although functional, there is a charm in these gas holder and I admired the detail on the columns and the crisscross pattern of the structure. I will miss them.
From the work of the community artists who recorded the memories of local people I learnt that there is a railway tunnel underneath West Egerton Street and from Les’ story I found out just how close this part of Salford came to being blown sky high:
‘An incendiary bomb landed on top of the gasometers during WW2. It was moved by an auxiliary fireman. He managed to put it out and save the area from being blown up. He was awarded the George Medal.’ Les