HISTELEC NEWS No.12 Aug 1999


Supplement to Histelec News No.12
The Centenary of Plymouth Electricity


Please send information, articles, photographs or letters to Peter Lamb at 35 Station Road, Backwell, Bristol BS48 3NH or telephone on 01275 463160 or

HISTELEC NEWS No.12 Aug 1999


The centenary of the public supply of electricity in Plymouth is celebrated this year on 22nd September. Although one of the last towns in the South West to have a public supply, the story is nevertheless very interesting. Member, Ted Luscombe has researched its history for a few years now for a large article in a magazine produced by the Devon Association. We are pleased to publish a reduced version as a supplement to this newsletter.

Ted is giving a talk on the history at the Museum on 21st September and from 22nd September, he and Alan Hooper are staging a display of photographs from the Archives at Plymouth's Central Library. Ted also hopes to get coverage in the Western Morning News and on Radio Devon.

Members are invited to support Ted and Alan by going to the lunchtime talk at the City Museum on the 21st September and visiting the display at the Central Library.

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At a recent meeting at Aztec West, members of your committee, David Peacock and Peter Lamb were given some indication that building works at Cairns Road would be given the go-ahead, only to be deferred once again due to SWEB's restructuring. However one positive action recently has been the acquisition of the Avonbank Conference Room furniture.

At a recent committee meeting, it was agreed to retitle the "Visitor Centre" to "Education Centre" to give more emphasis on its intended use.

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We are delighted to report that 46 people have now signed up for the weekend away in Shropshire on the 15th& 16th October. Let's hope the weather is kind to us!!

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On 22nd April at 10.45am 35 members and guests met at the Saltford Brass Mill on the River Avon. This scheduled ancient monument is under the care of the Saltford Brass Mill Project an off-shoot of Bristol Industrial Archaeological Society. It is maintained in conjunction with English Heritage and Bath and Noah-East Somerset Council.

Joan and Roy Day, leading members of the Project, gave a short talk on the history of the Mill, the only surviving building from a group of 18th century mills still with a furnace and a working waterwheel. We were then taken on a guided tour of the building and shown the various features and some surviving examples of the products. On conclusion of the tour Mike Williams thanked Joan and Roy for the hospitality and headed for a local hostelry "Bird in Hand" for lunch and a chat.

Later fortified by an excellent lunch, we made our way to Bath - Horstmann Group Ltd., Newbridge Works. We were greeted by our member, Roger Horstmann a former Sales Director of the firm and Mr. Woolner, one of the present Management Team.

Roger treated us to a very interesting talk on the history of the Company from its early beginnings, when his great-grandfather, Gustav Horstmann, set up a clockmaking business in 1854 in Bonnet Street, Bath, through the foundation of the Horstmann Gear Company, to the move to the present premises. He summarised the evolution of the firm and its products from clocks through its famous gas controller and central heating controls to the electronic central heating programmers, meters and teleswitches of the present day.

We then toured the factory in three groups to see the various products from delivery of raw materials to the finished product. The manufacture of the printed circuit boards and the subsequent testing was particular interesting, being highly automated. Everyone was so interested that the tour lasted until 5.00pm, when Mike Williams thanked our hosts.

On behalf of the members, I would like to thank Mike Williams and Chris Buck for organising such an excellent day out.

John Gale

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John Haynes has recently completed 1000 word article entitled "The Early Days of Electricity, in West Cornwall". It is largely based on information compiled over many years by Eric Edmonds, who kindly checked the script for John. The article was for the local "rag" Perran News, August edition. John is hoping that by writing the article under the auspices of SWEHS, a bit of local interest may be generated towards the Society.

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On Sunday 23rd May some 24 members and friends met at the Tea-room and Restaurant at Roadford Lake in Devon. This Lake is the largest of three reservoirs that provide most of the water for Devon and Cornwall. Completed in 1990, Roadford is owned and operated by South West Water.

Unfortunately the steam launch "Elegance" was unavailable as promised due to a refit and the day had to be rescheduled. After coffee we drove to the Pumping Station at the foot of the Dam, where we met Alan Burgess of S.W. Water, Energy Manager for the site. Alan gave a very interesting talk about the Company and how it fits into a larger group following privatisation. He gave details of the reservoir and its place in the total water supplies. Then we were taken on a tour of the station to see the pumps and the hydro-electric generators. Roadford Lake TunnelAn interesting part of the tour took us through an access tunnel under the dam and reservoir to the Valve Tower, where we faced a daunting climb of 140 steps to the top. It was worthwhile to see the magnificent view of the Lake and appreciate the scale of the works. Roger Christy, who organised the day, thanked Alan Burgess for his hospitality and then we adjourned for lunch in the Restaurant.

Steam Steering EngineAfter lunch, it was then on to Dingles Steam Village for a trip back to the days of our youth to see a magnificent collection of steam powered equipment. Besides the usual steam traction engines, there were some imeresting examples of how steam was used on board ships and in the factory. The ladies tried their hand at the power assisted rudder mechanism for a large ship and we all threw rocks into a crushing machine to make chippings. Finally we were able to inspect the "Elegance", which was on a trailer ready to be towed back to Roadford in a few days time.

There was an interesting collection of old road signs, which brought back memories of long car journeys with two impatient children in the back seat. The day ended with an excellent Devon cream tea with fresh baked scones and home-made jam.

John Gale & David Hutton

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Thirty four members and friends joined our visit to Hestercombe Gardens near Taunton on Saturday 3rd July. Our numbers at lunch at the Merry Monk beforehand were less than planned due to delays on the M5. Something to remember for future summer visits. Those who made it in time enjoyed the usual good food and conversation.

Hestercombe Gardens cover some 35 acres flanking a valley and using the natural water resource to good effect. The Gardens comprise of an extensive Georgian landscape, a Victorian Terrace and a formal Edwardian garden overlooking Taunton and the Tone Valley below. With the weather still dry, and sunny, many of us decided to do the hiking first and took the various routes depending upon fitness and energy) to explore the valley. The Landscape was originally created between 1750 and 1786 for the then owner Coplestone Warm Bampflyde and incorporated a series of wooded areas interspersed with follies. Our walk took us past the Pear Pond to the Great Cascade via a brick lined lent. Considerable clearance work bad recently been carried out with piles of cleared timber (much to the consternation of your Secretary!) giving the appearance of a landscape in transition - it would be interesting to go back in 5 years time! After a short climb the walk headed back towards the House passing a number of unusual follies. Until recently the Temple Arthur (c1775) was derelict, but has now been splendidly rebuilt and a Witch House restored, recreating the variety and interest of the original plans.

The Edwardian Garden close to the House was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and planted by Gertrude Jekyll from 1904. It is a magnificent creation within a formal network of paved water channels. The House is now home to the headquarters of Somerset County Fire Brigade. We were unable to explore the House to find out if any parts of the old hydro-electric generating station still exist. For those of us who were unable to join us on this delightful day and wish to visit, the Gardens Tel.No. is 01823 413923.

Barrie Phillips

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The owner of the Jamaica Inn, which incorporates two museums, John Watts, contacted member, Mike Wreford recently to ask him to identify a "machine" he had purchased.

The name P.Cutts, Sutton & Sons, Sheffield appears on its handle and Mike instantly recognised it as a Magneto-Electric machine often known as a "Faradic" machine used for medical purposes. The first practical machine of this type was made by M.Hippolyte of Paris in 1832, Soon after an improvement was made by Clarke of London, which is very similar to the one at Jamaica Inn. However the Clarke's machine had a vertical permanent horseshoe magnet, whereas Mr. Watts machine has a horizontal magnet.Cutts, Sutton Magneto-Electric Machine

When the coils arc rotated on top of the magnet, electric current is produced, which is fed to the two pillars and connected by wires to the brass handhold tubes. These machines were used to give an electric shock, which was supposed to have wide-ranging medical benefits in the 1870's from headaches, rheumatism, piles and muscle problems. This is but a precis of a long list of the supposed benefits.

Mike also included a copy of the advertisement showing two human bodies (back and front) with numbers illustrating parts of the body where one could place the contacts for best effect, If the patients found it disagreeable, then they were advised to use wet sponges between contact and the skin to obviate the pricking sensation!

Mike Wreford

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As working member, I recently paid a rare visit to Cairns Road during one of the Historical Society workdays. For those who don't know it, Cairns Road is a 33/11kV substation in North Bristol. The Historical Society has taken over a disused switch-room as a museum and archive, and members meet there at 10.30am the first Thursday of each month.

A lot of hard work has gone into converting the switch-room and setting up the displays of engineering and domestic equipment which range from classic fault location gear like a Wheatstone Bridge (none of this new-fangled electronic stuff) to electric shock machines, allegedly for medicinal use! (Editor's Note-. see article by Mike Wreford)

When I arrived, I found a hive of industry. Several people were pulling together a display of electrical wiring old and new. Others were restoring appliances or researching in the archives, which contain a wide range of documents from the old private companies, which existed before SWEB.

There is a major collection of photographs going back over many years, which was how I became interested in electrical history initially, long before we had the Archive or had started the Historical Society, helping Peter Lamb to sort out the large quantities of photos we had been sent.

The Society also owns a collection of films, which have been lodged with the South West Film and TV Archive in Plymouth for preservation under proper conditions. Video copies are available for loan to members - do you remember for example the classic film "Power Comes to Widecombe"?

Another good reason to visit Cairns Road was the excellent pub lunch at the nearby Cambridge Arms.

Cambridge Arms

If you have some time to spare, I would recommend that you come along on the first Thursday at 10.30 am and see what's happening for yourself. Just turn up, or if you would like to know more, you can ring Peter Lamb on 01275 463160, or Mike Williams on 0117 9864991.

Paul Hulbert

- Webmasters Note: Poor picture of Peter - Click on picture to see better

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Since April we have had four enquiries, one of which involved the use of excerpts from our film "Electricity Comes to Widecombe" made in 1962. West Country TV interviewed people, who were featured in the original film and still living there! It was quite fascinating and a video cop)' of the programme has been given to us.

Also again we have had donated to us a large archive, this time Electricity magazines (BEA & CEA) by John and Margaret Roberts. Since we only collect items associated with the South West, your Secretary has approached the National Electricity Archive at Manchester and they are very interested.

Somerset Industrial Archaeological Society (SIAS) have approached us to review an article written by one of their members about Thomas Oswald Belshaw an associate of Sir Ambrose Fleming. Since he was not associated with the South West, we have another problem?

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John Haynes has a series of interesting old cigarette cards. Here is the first of the 1927 series no.29 "Wills Engineering Wonders", with the following reverse script :-

Cigarette Card One of the largest winding engines in this country. is situated at the Harworth Main Colliery, Yorkshire. It is driven by two Metropolitan Vickers electric motors, each of 3,000hp. The diameter of the rope-dram, which is of the cylindro-conical type, varies from 14 feet to 26 feet- The shaft is 3,000 feet deep and it is the dut3r of this winding engine to raise 7 1/4 tons of coal at a time from this depth at a speed of 3,150 feet per minute. The necessary power is supplied by a 2,400hp turbo-generator provided with a steel flywheel weighing 22 tons and revolving at the remarkable peripheral speed of 28,000 feet per minute."

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This poem by G.H. Hurrell written in 1891 was found in a bundle of papers in a bookshop in Ashburton. The poet is believed to have been the blind organist of St. Michaels Church, Chagford.

Dear Friends, the Electric Light draws nigh,
I hope you will see it with your natural eye,
Gas is a thing we can well do without,
For in Chagford they tell me it's not much count.
Mr. Reed, McSweeney and Bartlett too,
I am sure they are trying their work well to do,
So I hope dear people, you will do what is right
And take the beautiful Electric Light,
Winter will come, yes, after a time,
My words you will find I have put in rhyme,
No candles, or matches, but turn on the switch,
Enabling the tailor to sew a fine stitch.
So, now I have done, and shall say no more,
These words I do mean to rich and to poor,
So friends pull together, one & all with your might.
And bless good old Chagford and the Electric Light
At Chagford the Gaslight will soon be put out,
There is nothing to fear and nothing to doubt,
The Electric was lit on Wednesday night last,
There's nothing that glorious light can surpass,
Dear people you've seen the light with your eyes,
If you do without Gas, I am sure you'll be wise,
So take my advice which I give one and all,
Very soon in Chagford, you'll have no Gas at all!
It's cool, it's harmless, it's free from tire,
I am sure you can touch the Electric wire,
One thing you can do, and that you' find right,
Just turn on the switch and there's the Light,
Good bye my dear people! God bless you dear folks.
My words I do mean, and I'm sum they're no jokes,
Take heed my dear friends and read what I say,
And Chagford at night will be light as the day!!

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