Hiding behind an inconspicuous facade close to the centre of Carrickfergus lies a wealth of history and memories of a way of life not long past.
From 1855–1987 this was the site of Carrickfergus Gasworks, and the complete Victorian gas plant has been preserved, one of only half a dozen or so known surviving gasworks across the world today.
Preserved also on this two-acre site are cookers, Irish griddles (some made from the portholes of Belfast built ships), old irons, heaters, street lights, washing machines and even a glass washboard.
Upstairs in the museum library are housed collections of books, records and architects’ drawings dating back to the 19th century; I was able to look up Enniskillen, my own hometown’s records, and was amazed to see the details of the various managing directors and owners of Enniskillen gasworks down through the years.
There’s something of interest for everyone here; for my nine-year-old son it was the workings of the gasworks itself; for me it was the fabulous range of cookers spanning the century past, and in particular two pieces of cooking equipment which I would love to own myself.
The first old piece I fell in love with was a standalone gas griddle. One could just imagine the soda farls, potato bread and potato apple and treacle scones that would have been made on this.
Historian, author, (A History of Carrickfergus Gasworks) and chairman of the gasworks museum, Brian McKee, told me how griddles were often made from the portholes of ships built in nearby Belfast—nothing was ever wasted.
He brought to life the stories of the old Belfast two-up two-down houses, where people would often open up the sash window of their front room to sell cones of chips for a penny in the 1940s and 1950s. Money was scarce and any way of supplementing small incomes was welcome. The old gas chip fryer fascinated me as I hungrily listened to Brian McKee sharing from his wealth of knowledge on local history.
Were traditional Belfast chipshop pasties ever made in this old fryer? I wonder. . .
The secret recipe for Belfast chipshop pasties is in The Belfast Cookbook Volume 1, along with lots of other lovely local recipes too.
My first contact with the Gasworks Museum had been Sharon Mushtaq, back in 2013 when I was researching Dreams & Recipes 1904 – 1914. Her wealth of knowledge and great love for the gasworks museum can be traced back to her father, Sam Gault, who arrived in Carrickfergus back in 1967 to take over the management of the gasworks from Marshall Waddell. Sam managed the gasworks right up until it closed in 1987, and is still available for guided tours.
What makes a visit to Carrickfergus gasworks museum, or FLAME, so special is the richness and warmth of those who have played such an important part in it’s preservation.
Sharon gave me the rundown on the fabulous collection of cookers housed in the museum. I loved the 1920s Black Prince—available to households in the area for a yearly rental of 6d.
Things had turned a shade of grey by the 1930s with this Eureka New World Cooker . . .
Then the leading man in Fifty Shades of Grey, Northern Irish actor Jamie Dornan, cooked up an Ulster Fry on the museum’s 1980s gas cooker for The Fall. I’m sure it was mouth-watering…
I could post a thousand more pictures, but there’s one last story I’ll leave with you—the mystery of the locked ledger.
Housed upstairs in Flame’s library is one very mysterious ledger that Sharon is dying to open. It’s been determinedly locked with heavy bolts for some unknown reason back in the 1920s. I have specially requested an invite to be there when it’s opened, it was closed nearly 100 years ago in Belfast – whatever secrets could it hold???
When I was leaving Sharon and Brian wrapped my souvenirs in one of the remaining bags printed in those last days of the working gasworks.
‘Saying Goodbye to an Old Flame’ it read, with the writing below advising ‘ To find out about the closure of Belfast Gas telephone Belfast 230520’.
Luckily it wasn’t really goodbye, because this fascinating place still stands in the same spot today, and is well worth a visit if you’re in Northern Ireland looking for something different to do.