The greenhouse beneath my garden.

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I love to look out upon a lovely garden.
However a lovely garden does not itself make.
So as well as my full-time job, my addiction to all things craft, all the other things that come with running a house, a life, a 12-year-old daughter and not forgetting my partner, I love to garden.
My partner and I chose this house, our first house bought together, about 6 years ago. Amongst all the similar red/orange brick houses for sale on the estate this one stood out because of the comparative size (although still not very large) and the orientation of the garden.

Having worked extensively in contaminated land I was careful to do my research in investigating all the former uses of the land prior to the estate being built 10 years previously.

You would be appalled at the significant number vegetable plots unknowingly tendered on areas of former gasworks sites up and down the country.

In the days before piped natural gas, coal gas was maufactured and used for lighting the factories of the Industrial Revolution(early 1800’s)and other processes requiring gas. The large country houses of our land also used coal gas for light from around 1845. Every city would have had a gasworks and many towns and villages too.

Typical gas works layout

Coal gas (other wise known as town gas) was made (unsurprisingly) from coal. The coal went through several processes culminating in coal gas which was stored in large gasholders or tanks sunk into the ground to maintain pressure in the supply of the gas. Each process resulted in contamination being released into the ground without little knowledge of the carcinogenic properties of the hydrocarbons in the oil-like substances which seeped into the earth beneath.

As the production of coal gas eventually ceased the plants were knocked down and the oily residue filled tanks were backfilled with rubble and soil from the demolition process where it sat for many years.

Many of these coal gas plants had a foreman’s cottage and perhaps a row of workers cottages built adjacent to the plant.

Note the gas holder adjacent to these cottages at Repton
Note the gas holder adjacent to these cottages at Repton
Gasworks cottages at Chew Magna Gasworks, Somerset
Gasworks cottages at Chew Magna Gasworks, Somerset

 Many of these traditional stone or brick cottages are sort after in the pretty towns and villages across England. The demolition of the gas plants meant that many of the cottages now had substantial gardens attached to them. Gardens which in many cases now bore fruit and vegetables from lovingly tendered vegetable plots and orchards. Fruit and vegetables which when tested as part of a campaign to establish all possible contaminated land across the country, contained small but significant amounts of the original contamination from the gas production plants. Fruit and vegetables grown in gardens which then had to be completely ripped up and re established with clean soil. Quite a traumatic experience for some of the owners as you can imagine.

Whole housing estates built as recently as the 1970’s have also been known to be built on unremediated(i.e contaminated) land resulting from gas works and other  industrial process (e.g. dye works and other chemical works) sites.

So I was happy to find that the previous land use of our plot was as a school playing field and previous to that as farmland. (By the way a new school with playing fields had been built across the village. Just so you know.)

You can imagine our surprise that when digging up a former neglected water feature to make way for the vegetable plots we felt the distinct clang of metal beneath our spades. And again, and again over an area of 4ft by 8ft. Further investigation exposed the crumpled aluminium frame of a whole greenhouse. Not just the frame, but seemingly all the glass panes now in small splitters mixed in with the earth that had been piled on top.

We ended up hiring a skip and digging down 4 feet to exhume the greenhouse and try to sift through all the soil to remove every piece of glass. So whilst we had a garden free from carcinogenic contamination we had a vegetable plot full of throat slitting and finger cutting splitters of glass. 5 years later I still come across the odd unrecovered shard.

We asked ourselves why would anyone take the trouble to dig such a large hole and smash a whole greenhouse into it and cover it up with soil? Was it a greenhouse belonging to the school? Even if you wanted rid of a greenhouse, there is always someone who would willing take it away, if only for the scrap value of the aluminium.

I continue to garden in gloves and enjoy the produce of our veg plot.

Produce of the veg plot
Produce of the veg plot

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