It was only a few days ago that the Guardian published an editorial in praise of gasometers. This was followed in a later edition of the paper by a letter pointing out that the name is a misnomer because these great, expandable storage tanks are not for measuring. Apparently this objection was raised as long ago as 1805 by John Southern who was an engineer for the Boulton and Watt Company. He is reported to have written: "I do not like the name, for it is not a meter. You may as well call a pool a hydrometer".
Two gas holders in Haggerston
Walking along the canal today I passed the frameworks surrounding the 'gasometers' left over from the Haggerston Imperial Gas Company. I am old enough to have visited a working coal-gas plant when I was at school in Rugby. The smell all around the plant was particularly foul with a mixture of tarry and sulfurous fumes.
A BBC news article dated 1999 describes how 'gasometers' work and explains why they are no longer needed because equivalent amounts of gas can now be stored in pipelines under pressure. Apparently Transco was planning to dismantle pretty well all gas holders in the ten following years, but clearly this has not happened. This article suggested that the name 'gasometer' is based on the fact that the more gas they hold, the bigger they are. In other words, the height of the storage tanks is a measure of the volume of gas stored.