Gas leak at Breakwater Quarry

April 22, 2010 | By | 7 Replies More

Does anyone remember when the Breakwater Quarry (where the Royal Mail is now) was a liquid petrol/gas conversion plant?  There was a pipe link to where the oil tanks were at Turnchapel, and there was an accident circa 1970/80 involving a leak of gas somewhere.

Any info would be welcome to aid research about this incident which caused some concern at the time.

Thanks David Tomalin.


Category: History

Comments (7)

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  1. Ann Parchot says:

    Talking to daughter recently about time we lived in Hooe, very near to the gas tank and were evacuated to Plymstock school. Interesting to find out the cause of this after such a long time. I am now 87! My daughter tells me how Hooe has changed. It was a scary experience at the time as, having to cope with 5 children and a husband away was challenging. Still nobody was harmed just displaced for a while.

  2. Dave says:

    I seem to remember being told that one of the boats coming up the river dropped anchor and caught the Naphtha line and caused a leak.

  3. Mike says:

    Thank you Mike for contributing and helping to complete the picture.

  4. mike simpkins says:

    I worked at breakwater works from 1968 until 1972 when natural gas arrived in Plymouth. South West Gas had two plants producing town gas from light distillate or naphtha as it was known, it was a bye product of the oil refining industry. The other site seabank works was between Avonmouth and Severn Beach near Bristol, and between them they replaced 38 old coal gas plants in the South West.
    The light distillate arrived by tanker at Cattedown Wharf it was pumped under the river to the Hooe lake quarry storage tanks and from there via underground pipe to Breakwater works. There were six gas producing plants on the site run in pairs from 3 control rooms, I was an instrument technician there and one of my jobs was to sniff the gas!, there was two of us, trained to smell the gas to determine the amount of odourant to be added ( I am not joking ) another of my jobs was giving visitors a conducted tour explaining how it all worked.
    I can recall a fire but do not remember any of the details and it did not interrupt the gas production

  5. Dennis says:

    As far as I know this gas plant was never linked to the tanks at Turnchapel.

    The tanks at Turnchapel were I beleive linked to the tank depot that was at Radford dip the pipe line went up around South Hill then down to a pumping station that was behind the Hooe Barn at Hooe Lake, there was a fenced off area with underground pumping equipment and tanks here.
    There are now houses here this then went on to Turnchapel

  6. Stuart Brown says:

    I do recall this incident,although not sure how much help my recollection will be.
    I recall a very loud bang during the night,it must have been around 1971/2,the prevailant thought at the time in our house(St.Johns Drive) was that it was a lightening strike on the works.
    Similar to Robin,I wasnt aware of a pipeline to Turnchapel,but then,I was 11 or 12,so such things had no relevance unless I could play on them…

    Interesting to note however,that there has emerged an alternative to the explosion in the MOD tanks.I have been under the impression that the fire was caused by local kids for 40 years now,although I was in the clear since I was in the Lake District at the time on holiday.The cause at the time was attributed to local boys having lit a fire at the doorway to one of the underground storage tanks.I wonder how my youthful exploits would have turned out,had this new truth been known then…

  7. Robin says:

    Re: Gas works, Breakwater quarry.
    Attached is a low res photo of the Gas works taken from 50° 21′ 48.16″N 4°06′ 16.72″ W. That was taken in 1972. I can be that exact because I took it as a young man waving his new Nikon 35mm around one sunny weekend. I’ve got four shots of it.

    Gas Tanks Oreston 1972

    I Don’t know about a pipeline to Turnchapel, likely to be undersea I would have thought and Turnchapel tanks were all MOD for aviation and ship’s fuel. Though they did let out one to Conoco that caught fire on 9th April 1970 when a lorry driver lit a fag and set light to a petrol spillage caused by overfilling the main tank. Ooops. Much evacuation and consternation.

    I was under the impression that the Gas plant was pretty much self contained with its own oil storage tanks (see pic), but I could be wrong.


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