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Dozens turn out after dark to explore history of Fakenham’s gas museum

PUBLISHED: 10:34 22 May 2017 | UPDATED: 10:34 22 May 2017

Fakenham Museum of Gas took part in the Museums at Night event.  Picture: Peter Bird

Fakenham Museum of Gas took part in the Museums at Night event. Picture: Peter Bird

Peter Bird

Young and old took advantage of an invitation to explore the history of Fakenham’s town gasworks as part of a Museums by Night Festival.

The national Arts Council project saw major institutions such as London’s National Gallery, the Liverpool Tate, code-breaking Bletchley Park and the Bank of England Museum involved alongside smaller volunteer-run museums, galleries and heritage groups.

Volunteers at Fakenham Museum of Gas and Local History work to record and keep safe their unique part of England’s history and take part in the annual event to give visitors a unique insight into its heritage.

The works themselves, opened in 1846, are a schedule 1 ancient monument and the last remaining complete town gasworks in England and Wales.

For older visitors it turned into a nostalgic walk down memory lane. But younger visitors learned that town gas, until North Sea gas came on stream in the 1960s, powered many home appliances such as gas fires, cookers and ovens, water-heaters, clothes irons and the gas lamps that lit the home when night came.

The gas came from coal that was baked in air-tight retorts to take out poisonous substances such as sulphur, tars, carbon monoxide as well as the gas itself. Several cleaning processes then separated the gas from the impurities. The gas was piped into people’s homes and the remaining coke was either used to heat the retorts or sold as the first smokeless fuel.

The site’s old workshops and offices are filled with the gas appliances that once filled many homes. Alongside are the coin slot meters and the equipment that tested the purity and quality of the gas before it was pumped into the network of pipes that delivered the gas to the town’s homes and businesses.

The highlight of the evening was the lighting of an old gas street lamp at dusk performed by museum director Harry Yates, and the reading of the poem The Lamplighter, by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Fakenham Community Archive, which has some 12,000 old photographs, organised a display of pictures on the theme of Play.

Mr Yates said the event was well attended. “I’m delighted to see people continue to show an interest not only in the museum itself but in the Arts Council’s Museums at Night,” he said.

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