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Some relatives of mine live in (part of) what used to be a remote country manor house in the north of England. Even now it's remote enough not to have mains water, sewage or gas.

However, there's evidence that the house used to have gas. There's a key labelled 'gas house' there's an 1880's plan with an out-building called 'the old gas house' (the key fits) there are various old lead tubes running about some of the walls, plus a collection of rusty ironwork in one of the cellars that appear to be old gas lights.

Was small scale domestic gas production common in the that era? (I can't find any references). How would the gas be generated? Would it be 'town gas' i.e. created by heating coal to produce coke and gas. Or would it be acetenyl gas? (made by dripping water onto calcium carbide). I can find a reference to this being used in American homes in the 1900s but not in the UK

Update for clarity - The house is actually relatively small (only six beds), and the outhouse for generating gas is only about the 2 * 3 meters. So it's a lot smaller than the gas-house shown for Culzean Castle in one of the answers. The other interesting thing is that the gas house is obviously designed to be very well ventilated, but there's no sign of there ever being a flu or chimney. There's also no sign of anything that resembles a gasometer so presumably gas was generated in real-time.

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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wood_gas too...
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 12, 2023 at 21:30
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    Fascinating question. Is there anything in the gas house?
    – Ne Mo
    Jan 13, 2023 at 18:04
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    The DIY stack would perhaps be better at investigating that angle. But eg if there was a chimney that would indicate coal or wood gas rather than acetenyl gas. On the other hand maybe plumbing (of water) means the latter
    – Ne Mo
    Jan 13, 2023 at 20:40

3 Answers 3

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I have a copy of The Victorian Country House, Mark Girouard, 1971,1979.

Section 12 of the introduction discusses gas and electric lighting. It mentions a few country houses which had their own gasworks to provide gas, and others which piped in gas from public gasworks in communities sometimes miles away.

"But for most country houses installing gas involve building a gasworks and taking some kind of technician on the payroll; this and other drawbacks meant that many continued to rely on candles or colza lamps."

The main section has articles about individual country house (mansions) which often mention whether they had gas lighting and their own gasworks.

And the catalog section has short entries on many more houses, which often mention if they had gas lighting.

So I guess that during the Victorian eras hundreds of new or older country houses (out of a few thousand total) had gas lighting, and most of them had their own gasworks to produce the gas.

But I don't know what chemical processes were used to produce gas in the gasworks of country houses or cities and towns.

Added Friday the 13th, January 2023. Graham in a comment provided a link to a description of the processes of producing gas.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gasification#Chemical_reactions

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  • See also: Coal/Town gas - Wikipedia Jan 14, 2023 at 8:09
  • Although I doubt this happened in Victorian times, a landfill in Fort Wayne, Indiana, emits methane, which they trap and pipe to a nearby General Motors plant.
    – WGroleau
    Jan 16, 2023 at 8:35
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I recently visited Culzean Castle in Scotland and they had a Gas House there. Incredibly, the owner of the house considered gas to be much safer than electricity for lighting, so the gas house continued to be used even after electricity was available.

The gas house originally generated coal gas, and then later provided acetylene.

As an aside, it's a beautiful place for a day out with lots to see.

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    Incredibly, the owner of the house considered gas to be much safer than electricity for lighting Not surprising at all. Gas is basically no different from any other combustion - candles, fireplaces, etc., so it is a "known". Electricity was an "unknown" when it first came out, plus it could kill people without you smelling or seeing anything - that made it appear far more dangerous. The first electric systems didn't have breakers, let alone GFCI. Jan 13, 2023 at 15:35
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    electricity almost always involves long conductors placed in hidden areas, which in lightning-frequented parts of the world is a major fire risk. this is the reason (one of the reasons?) Amish, for instance, use only gas lighting
    – amara
    Jan 13, 2023 at 19:19
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    Further to @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact 's comment - early electric installs were variable in their quality, and may have lacked basic modern concepts like "insulation", or the insulation might have been paper, cloth, tar, etc. There were also no standard sockets, so people used bayonet/edison screw light fittings for some appliances, and exposed wires were not uncommon. Double insulated was not a thing, and even basic earthing was rare. It was literally a wild-west time and surprise house fires were deadly.
    – Criggie
    Jan 13, 2023 at 19:26
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    @amara The Amish have a couple of reasons for not having electric service, but I don't think safety is one of them. One reason is that using power from the grid would make them reliant on the outside world, which they don't want. Another reason is that having electricity available would tempt them into using worldly luxuries like radio and television. Jan 13, 2023 at 20:21
  • @TannerSwett what i said is correct. also, many of them do use locally generated electricity.
    – amara
    Jan 14, 2023 at 13:41
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I suspect that many of them would have produced acetylene gas by the chemical reaction of Calcium Carbide and Water...

enter image description here

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  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Jan 15, 2023 at 14:29
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    As this is a History site, could you expand your answer with a little historical context such as when this chemical reaction became commonplace to use on an industrial level, and would it have been available to the building in question during the referenced time frame?
    – justCal
    Jan 15, 2023 at 17:18

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