Commonly known as a 'gasometer', though when my father worked in the industry over 35 years ago, it was considered unprofessional to use that (incorrect) slang term.
They're very common in the UK, but for those who have never seen one, this photo shows the frame of an empty gas holder. The vessel itself takes the form of an upturned cup, with telescopic sides. The rim is underwater, so the vessel is airtight. Natural gas is pumped in, 'inflating' the vessel until the cap is as high as the frame. As the gas is expended, the declining volume can no longer support the full weight of the vessel, so the cap drops. Hence, the volume of the vessel decreases, maintaining a constant pressure of gas in the pipes to homes and industry. Elegantly simple, and not a new concept – this gas holder has ben in use since 1890, and Lancaster's gas supply will need a drastic revision when the holder is decommissioned to make way for forthcoming redevelopment of Luneside East.
When I lived a couple of streets from here, this structure was the main landmark, and the gentle hiss of it refilling was a pleasant white noise at night.
[Update: Here's a photo of the vessel half-full.]
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