Careful ringing the bell

We had the pleasure to meet Alan Hart and reminisce about his 20 years at the gasworks and how it was much more than just about supplying gas to homes and businesses.

Alan first started in 1978 on a 3-month contract driving a forklift in the warehouse. He was part of a large cohort of workers who joined from Caters, the failed food store arm of Debenhams, as part of an ongoing recruitment drive at the time. At this time, almost 2,000 people were employed on site, some doing nine hour shifts seven days a week.

The warehouse, where he spent most of his time, was used to store boilers, cookers and other gas appliances to be sold and installed in homes and business across London. On site there was even a street of dummy houses where apprentices could develop the real-world skills needed to fit appliances and deal with call-out emergencies. For instance, never ringing an electric doorbell in case there was a gas leak and that might explode with a spark!

A lot of Alan’s colleagues at that time were ex-military and the day-to-day conduct was accordingly formal. Time keeping and cleanliness was paramount, and pride in your work uniform expected but perks were a plenty; fair pay, discount on gas bills, free dentistry, a good pension, a subsidised canteen with high-quality meals, and for a few, a home in one of the gas board owned cottages.

Alan has now retired to the Essex countryside, a few doors from his friend and former gasworks colleague, Tony. The two of them often reminisce about their time at Bromley-By-Bow, a place they say had a true sense of community that is rarely seen in today’s working world.