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Lane leading to Retort House

West elevation

East elevation

Windows

Window detail

Location

Gasferry Road, Bristol, BS1 5UJ

Dates

Completed c. 1840. Planning permission given for conversion of East Retort House to flats in 2011.

Architect

Unknown

Style

Victorian industrial buildings

Listed Status

Grade II

Materials

Coursed pennant rubble with rock faced dressings

Original Function

Gas works

Building type

Industrial

Visitor Access

There is no public access to either House. The exteriors can be viewed from Anchor Road or the harbourside.

Links

English Heritage

Know Your Place

Key Facts

  • Important survivors of the Bristol ‘Byzantine’ style
  • Part of an atmospheric Victorian streetscape
  • Interesting link with the history of Britain’s gas supply

These two ‘retort’ houses stand either side of the short stretch of Gasferry Road located across the water from the ss Great Britain, at the western end of Canon’s Marsh (or ‘Harbourside’). They were part of a complex that was in use up to the 1960s producing gas for Bristol made from coal, before natural gas became established in Britain from the 1970s. (A retort is an airtight container/structure where chemical reactions occur.)

 

The two houses probably date from the mid-1800s and are made of pennant stone rubble with rock-faced dressings (surrounds etc), in a Bristol Byzantine style. They are rectangular, open-plan, two-storey buildings, with semicircular arched openings, large doorways in the side walls and gabled ends featuring large, round windows. The complex also contains an engine house with a brick chimney. The retorts remained long-derelict and roofless but part of one of Bristol’s few remaining glimpses of a typically Victorian streetscape – a narrow lane, cobbled paving, distinctively Bristolian cast-iron kerbs and high stone walls. They are now included in the Canons Marsh redevelopment scheme.

These retort buildings, and the whole complex, belonged to the Bristol and Clifton Oil Gas Company, which was established on this site in 1823. They were used to bake coal in the absence of air in order to drive off gas that was a mixture of methane, hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The two structures were listed in 1985 and were also placed on the English Heritage ‘at risk’ register. Other early gas retort buildings survive in other parts of Britain.

 

Redevelopment plans for this part of Bristol’s docks have a long and much argued-over history. Regeneration began in 1990 with the development of the Lloyd’s TSB ‘amphitheatre’ headquarters building and continued with a Harbourside scheme incorporating commercial and leisure facilities and housing.

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