Nostalgia: When Market Drayton led Shropshire's gas revolution

Fifty years ago Market Drayton was at the forefront of a revolution in the home as the town became the Shropshire pioneer in the switch to natural gas.

Mrs Diane Clayton (or Claydon, spellings varied) with her converted cooker in June 1969
Mrs Diane Clayton (or Claydon, spellings varied) with her converted cooker in June 1969

It was a mammoth undertaking, but one which spelt the beginning of the end of town gas, alternatively called coal gas, which had been in use since pre-Victorian days.

Yet the first natural gas which arrived in the town in June 1969 did not come from the North Sea through pipes. It came from Algeria and arrived in tankers.

The Newport & Market Drayton Advertiser reported on Friday, June 20, 1969, that although half the gas appliances in Market Drayton were now burning natural gas since their conversion by West Midlands Gas the previous Tuesday – June 17 – North Sea gas had still not arrived.

The Market Drayton gas plant which handled the arrival of natural gas

"The gas which is being burned in that sector has been transported to Market Drayton, via Canvey Island, from Algeria, and it is liquid gas," it reported.

"A plant near Salisbury Hill View is deliquifying the gas from a tanker and pumping it into the mains. North Sea gas cannot be used until next Thursday when the whole of the town will have been converted."

The arrival of natural gas, also known as high speed gas, was a big deal. There was a public meeting held at the Corbet Arms on June 5 at which gas board officials explained the benefits and answered questions.

There was a cooking demonstration, with identical meals cooked on cookers using natural gas, and coal gas. It showed the new fuel was cleaner and also cheaper.

A full-page advert in the Newport and Market Drayton Advertiser of May 30, 1969

The reason that gas appliances needed to be converted, Drayton folk were told, was that the old fashioned town gas produced about 500 British Thermal Units while North Sea gas produced just over twice that, and unconverted gas appliances could not cope with all those BTUs being pumped through their burners.

The conversion cost householders nothing, but the type of flame was different.

A 200-man engineering team descended on the town to alter appliances in 2,000 homes and begin pumping natural gas through the mains.

Drayton folk were invited to a public meeting to have it all explained

A West Midlands Gas spokesman said the natural fuel would revolutionise power sources.

Like coal in the early Industrial Revolution, natural gas opened up a cheap and reliable power source which would last years and do the country a lot of good, he said.

Natural gas was non-toxic and had about twice the burning power of the gas people were used to.

It was also without smell, so the gas board had introduced an unpleasant smell to it so that a warning would be given of leaks or gas taps left on. The precaution was necessary as, although the gas was no longer poisonous, it could still cause an explosion.

Featuring in the press reports of the time was "Market Drayton housewife" Mrs Diane Clayton, or Claydon (spellings varied), of Elm Drive, who was pictured using her converted gas cooker – although at the time the photographs were taken the gas to her cooker was still switched off.

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