Sopwell industry

The gas works

The gas works were set up more than 30 years before the railway. Four gas holders were in use by 1903. There are now only two left. The works closed in 1971 and the buildings were blown up on November 5th 1975.

Bill Mackenzie’s memory of the gas works in the 1940s

“Where Homebase is now was all part of the gas works. We used to go down there as kids and it was my job on Saturday morning to take two sacks and down there and get coke. You came up Eywood Road from Holywell Hill you had all the retorts. All the coal used to come in from Hatfield and Watford on the train and it was unloaded and then they burnt the coal and they made coke out of burning the coal. In the winter when it was cold we used to walk along with our hands on the wall. It was lovely and warm as all the retorts were the other side. We used to take our gloves off and put our hands on the wall. That was my Saturday morning job to go down and get two bags of coke on a bike. As you come up Eywood road there used to be a sharp right hand turn, that was the main gate and there was a little office and you went in there and paid your money and they would give you a couple of tickets and then you went out there and a bloke put the thing in a big hopper and when he got 28lb he put it in the sacks”.

Kathy Sinfield's memories of the gas works in the 1930s

"The gas works were quite frightening. They had their own sports ground. It had a pavilion and this was at the back of the houses in Doggetts Way, the lower end of the road and off of St Stephen’s and they had their own football team and they had their own cricket team as well. They had a pavilion there and they had a little canteen and it was a wooden trolley bus – the wheels weren’t there obviously and they used to serve tea out of the side of the trolley bus. Mr Ripping who was the St Johns ambulance man used to come round at half time with the footballers' lemons. We thought that was great. Half a lemon, they used to give them. And of course the war came along and under the two existing gasometers that was the area where the sports field was".

"The gas works had formed their own pig club. They had I think about three or four pigs that they reared at the back in Doggetts field where the line of plane trees, is it? There were allotments there, there were always allotments and they used to take it in turn to feed the pigs and would collect swill, oh horrible. When the pigs were slaughtered, then everybody that was in the club got part of the pig, which helped with the rationing".

Betty Terry's memories of the gas works

"We remembered the gasworks because we used to get smells from it if the wind was in the right direction. You had the smell all the time".

Gas works 1939

(c) English Heritage.NMR Aerofilms Collection

The above photo is of the gas works in 1939 - also showing Eywood Road leading tothe bottom end of Wilshere Avenue and Doggetts Way.

The railways

Sopwell used to have two rail links: the one to Watford Junction which is still running and the GNR rail link to Hatfield which ran on the track which is now the Alban Way. The last passenger train on the GNR ran on 28th September 1951 but there were still goods trains until 1964. The single line track was removed two years later in 1966. A signal box stood alongside the last house on the left at the far end for St Julian’s Road. It was dismantled in 1967. This box which was of standard LNWR design, controlled the junction of the two lines.

Mercer's Chronometers

In 1874, no 14 Prospect Road was bought by Thomas Mercer, a Lancashire watchmaker. He moved his business from Clerkenwell in 1858. He built a two storey factory of Luton grey bricks at the end of the garden backing on to Abbey Station. The building still stands set back from the road between nos. 14 and 16, the latter of which dates from the early 1900s and was also occupied by Mercers. (todo: check this!)

Pearce's Recycling