Practical use of gas was first demonstrated by William Murdock 1792. He developed production techniques, which made commercial use practicable by 1802. In 1814 coal gas was first used for street lighting in Westminster to help prevent crime. The first gas street lamps used a simple (non-aerated) jet, which gave a poor light and were very smoky. Aerated Burners, which were brighter, were introduced in the 1840s. But it was only in 1885 that Auer's incandescent gas-mantle was patented which produced a brighter light. (Welsbach, Frederick Carl Auer, Baron von Welsbach [1858-1929] had discovered that a finely woven mesh, impregnated with the two rare earth elements when heated in a gas flame would glow white hot so giving a very much brighter whiter light than just using a gas jet alone.)
There were gasworks at Nine Elms near to the Battersea Power Station site. In 1837 the coal yard at the gas works was one of the first structures in the world to make use of use H.R. Palmer's corrugated iron sheet roofing. The coal yard was probably an open-sided with a barrel-vaulted roof of curved corrugated iron sheets riveted together with additional tie rods for lateral stability.
On the last day of October 1865 there was a major disaster at the London Gaslight Company works at Nine Elms. The site had two gasholders each holding about a million cubic feet of gas. One of these exploded and was completely destroyed sending large chunks of ironwork and masonry far and wide. The other holder caught fire sending a huge jet of flame into the sky but did not explode.
Several nearby buildings, including residential houses, were badly damaged by the blast and about thirty casualties were taken from these buildings. Seven men were killed outright with three more dying in St Thomas' Hospital. Many of the survivors were very badly burned and had received servere blast injuries.
The exact cause of the explosion is not known but most of the fatalities were from maintenance staff working in the nearby 'Meter House'. This building contained equipment that controlled the gas supply going through parts of the plant. Part of this equipment consisted of cone shaped gasholders that were sealed by immersion with water. One likely scenario is that one of the maintenance workers stood on one of these regulating gasholders so displacing the water and breaking the seal which allowed a large quantity of gas to escape and be ignited either by a stray spark or more likely by someone illegally smoking (the only survivor of the maintenance gang had left the building to get a pipe of tobacco!). This blast then triggered the explosion in the connected gasholder.
Other local gas companies quickly stepped in to help maintain gas pressure and the second gasholder was repaired and was operational within two days! A new gasholder on the site was already under construction at the time of the explosion and this was completed ahead of schedule.The names of those who died on site were: