'Retort House of the Imperial Gas-works, King's Cros, London', 19th century.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
The use of coal gas for lighting, heating and cooking dates back to 1792, when William Murdoch installed gas lighting in his cottage and office in Redruth, Cornwall. Coal gas was produced by heating coal inside airtight retorts using a coke furnace. After purification, the gas was collected and stored in large gas holders until required. The development of gas lighting enabled factories to operate for longer hours, particularly in the winter months, and gas street lighting led to a significant reduction in crime. The Imperial Gasworks first began producing gas in 1824, and continued to do so until 1902. Coal gas continued to be produced in Britain for domestic use until the 1950s.