Gas Manufacturing

The Sherburn and South Milford Gas Company

Producing gas from coal for factory, domestic and street lighting grew steadily in the first half of the 19th century until by 1850 all cities and most large towns had a gasworks offering a public supply. 

In 1840 Milford Junction railway station was opened and became an important interchange (see page on Local Railways). The station was open 24 hours a day and the only way to provide lighting was for the Railway company to set up its own gas works on the station. A retort house, gas holder and house for the manager was built at the end of what is now Meadow Lane and the gasworks continued production until 1940.

The gas industry at that time was entirely run by local companies which were highly profitable in urban areas where factories needed to operate 24 hours a day. It was much more difficult in rural areas where the customers would be restricted to farmers and local workshops. Perhaps being able to see the station and freight yards lit up encouraged a group of local men to set up the Sherburn and South Milford Gas Company in 1865.

The Company was registered as a limited liability company with a share capital of £2000 with 1000 shares of £2 each. The original shareholders were 3 farmers in South Milford, Benjamin Crosland, William Hey and Robert Gibson as well as the vicar of Monk Fryston, Henry Jackson; a plumber from Sherburn, William Simpson; a chemist from Newthorpe, Thomas Robinson and, perhaps most remarkably James Batters, a Railway Pointsman from South Milford, who invested £100.

The rest of the shares were then put out for public subscription and by February 1866 the entire issue of 1000 shares were taken up by a total of 50 local people. Although the largest shareholders were still the two local landowners, Benjamin Crosland and William Hey, the other 48 shareholders were ordinary local people, many with a few shares, some with just one. There was a wide range of people including railway workers, labourers, shopkeepers and spinsters. A remarkable example of early ‘crowd funding’. 

It soon became apparent that £2000 was not going to be enough and additional shares were issued to take the total up to £3500. 

The works were built alongside the railway bridge at South Milford. It was fortunate that the railway bridges on the Leeds to Selby line had been built wide enough for 4 tracks and so there was room for the gasworks to have its own siding from which the coal could be off loaded. The plant went into production in late 1866 providing gas for lighting to a small group of customers. At that time there was no alternative to gas for lighting so these small companies generally provided a reasonable return to their investors.

Improving lamp technology and the introduction of coin slot gas meters further improved the popularity of gas for lighting and by 1902 the company supplied 202 customers which grew to 520 by 1922. By 1932 the number of customers had further grown to 620, of which 492 were using coin slot meters. Annual production was 8.5 million cubic feet which required 600 tons of coal to make. In the Sherburn and South Milford area there were 63 gas cookers, 41 gas fires and 46 other gas appliances. There were 111 public street lamps.

Electricity was becoming more available but Sherburn and South Milford had to wait until the 1930s for the arrival of mains electricity. This competition made it increasingly difficult for the company to make a profit and by 1936 the company was running at a loss. In 1937 it was sold to the United Kingdom Gas Corporation and became part of a supply grid with more efficient larger centres of production. A large new gas production plant was built at Hemsworth and by 1940 production ceased at South Milford with local needs being supplied through the grid.

The gas manufacturing plant at South Milford was gradually dismantled between 1941 and 1946.

The gas engine that had been used to drive the plant was sold to Fred Sunderland who used it to drive woodworking machinery at his workshop in The Nook, South Milford until the 1970s.

The industry was nationalised in 1949 and the company became part of the North Eastern Gas Board. A new gas holder was built on the site in 1957 in order to handle increasing demand as the use of gas appliances continued to grow. Gas lighting however was becoming increasingly rare with South Milford station being one of the last places to replace its gas lights in the late 1960s.

The works continued to operate as a gas storage facility, maintaining the local mains network, buying in coke for resale and as a supplier of domestic appliances until 1971 when gas appliances in Sherburn and South Milford were converted to natural gas. 

The Manager’s house was one of the last buildings to remain and was sold in 1973. The house was extended and became the Milford Squash Club, which continued to operate until 2003. In 2006 it was demolished and replaced by the apartment blocks currently on the site.

The last remaining equipment which can still be seen on the site adjacent to the railway line is a governor station operated by British Gas.

Gas production in South Milford restarted

In 2016 gas production in South Milford restarted after 76 years on two separate sites.

AB-Agri Ltd opened an anaerobic digestion plant on a site adjacent to the former Maltings. This plant uses food waste processed by MYGroup at the former Maltings site to produce biogas which is transformed into biomethane which is fed directly into the national gas network.

At much the same time two local farming families, Bramley and Batty, built a similar plant close to the by-pass producing gas from agricultural waste. This gas is then used to drive turbines to produce electricity to the national grid.

Posted by Kevin Sibson with acknowledgement to “The Sherburn and South Milford Gas Company” by Christopher Rule.