What are these two blue metal structures on the side of the M8 and what do they do? Provan Gas Works explained

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The Provan Gas Works - most Glaswegians will know it well - they’ve stood proud in East End for over 100 years, but the younger among us, or folks from outside Glasgow, might have no idea what they are, or the proud heritage they represent.

Provan Gas Works were an industrial gas site used for the production, storage, and distribution of gas in Glasgow. Built between 1900 and 1904 - it’s an iconic part of Glasgow’s skyline.

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The two towering hollow steel structures are gasometers used for the storage of gas, the towers are amongst the largest of their kind in the UK and are each one is capable of holding 283,000 m3 or 9,994,000 cubic feet of gas (that’s a lot of gas).

They weren’t always hollow of course, back when the gas holders were in use, a large upturned steel bell would rise inside and fall inside the structure, depending on the amount of gas they contained.

For those of us who grew up outside of Glasgow, or were returning home to the city, the two blue towers of Provan Gas Works act as an unofficial gateway into the city for those arriving via the M8 and M80.

The council recognised the prominence of the Gas Works pretty quickly after the motorway was constructed in the 1970’s and 80’s - using the framework of the gasometers to hang slogans of the era - from ‘Glasgow’s Miles Better’ to ‘Everyone’s Glasgowing On’.

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Back in 2000’s and 2010’s, the future of the towers were hotly debate, and the gas works were in danger of being permenantly removed from Glasgow’s skyline - as the council had proposed redeveloping the industrial wasteland for commercial use - with the operator announcing plans to decommission the towers, meaning they would no longer be used to store gas in 2012.

The gasworks were and continue to be a shell of what they used to be, as in the early 70’s the supply of cheaper natural gas from North Sea Oil Fields became more viable to power Glasgow rather than producing Glaswegian gas.

The Provan Gas Works as viewed from the M8The Provan Gas Works as viewed from the M8
The Provan Gas Works as viewed from the M8

By the time Thatcher came about in the 80s, the gasworks were downsized significantly due to the privitisation of the British Gas industry. Since then and up until the decommission of the the plant is mostly unmanned, and is used solely for storing and distributing gas.

In 2018, Glasgow City Council proposed a plan to redevelop the industrial wasteland for commercial use - knocking down the towers in the process.

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It was thanks to Historic Environment Scotland that the two towers were saved, when they got the structures classed as listed buildings (Class C). It was a hard battle to fight due to the high maintenance cost of two towers which were no longer in use, but the Scottish heritage group won out in the end, with support from Labour & Co-op MP, Paul Sweeney.

A third gasometer however did not make the cut for listed status, and was demolished beginning in 2020. In the same year, the Scottish Prison Service announced they intended to buy a sizeable swathe of land adjacent to the ‘brownfield site’ to build a replacement for HM Prison Barlinnie.

In 2023, construction has yet to begin on the replacement Barlinnie, but for now at least the Provan Gas Works are safe for another while - and will stand proud, reminding Glaswegians when they’re home.

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