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Electricity supply in Glasgow - the early years

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Glasgow's electricity supply in 1904

Notes on the early history of Glasgow's electricity supply [1]

1879 British Electric Co Ltd installed Gramme dynamos to light the Glasgow and South Western Railway Company’s St Enoch Street Station.

1879-80 Crompton and Co, Chelmsford, laid down plant to supply the North British Railway Company’s Queen Street Station with electricity at a stated charge; but these attempts did not develop into a general supply, the railway companies ultimately purchasing the plant and lighting the station themselves.

1879-80 The next attempt towards a general supply was made by Messrs. Muir and Mavor who laid down temporary plant in the area later occupied by the Municipal Buildings, afterwards moving it to the basement of the General Post Office.

1882 By the Corporation Gas Bill of 1882 it was proposed to take statutory powers to supply electricity, but the clauses were struck out before the Bill came before any Parliamentary Committee for consideration.

1884 Muir and Mavor installed in Miller Street permanent plant to supply the General Post Office in George Square, the cables from Miller Street being carried over the tops of the intervening buildings. The Glasgow Post Office was the first post office in the UK to be lighted by electricity.

1888 On 6th June the company of Muir, Mavor and Coulson Ltd was incorporated, and purchased from the firm of Muir, Mavor & Coulson the plant in the Miller Street Station belonging to them. The new company also purchased ground in Little Hamilton Street, off John Street (City), and laid down plant for a general supply. The supply from the Miller Street Station was on the low-tension dc system (100 volts), while the Little Hamilton Street supply, which was also conveyed by overhead wires, was on the high-tension ac system (2,400 volts), transformed on the consumers’ premises to 100 volts.

1890 The company applied for a Provisional Order to supply Glasgow generally, as also did the Corporation, but the company withdrew their application in favour of the application by the Corporation, and the latter was duly sanctioned by the Board of Trade under the title of "The Glasgow Corporation Electric Lighting Order, 1890"; the Act of Parliament confirming this Order received the Royal Assent on 14th August, 1890. Subsequently the Corporation agreed to purchase the company’s undertaking for £15,000.

1892 On 1st March, the Corporation took possession of Messrs. Muir, Mavor & Coulson’s undertaking. The supply on the high-tension overhead system having only been sanctioned by the Board of Trade to continue until August, 1893, the Corporation proceeded forthwith to lay down a central generating station for the low-tension supply. The Corporation, acting under the Gas Acts, having been constituted the undertakers of the new department, the Gas Committee were entrusted with carrying out the scheme, and in 1891 active steps were taken for putting the powers obtained by the Corporation into execution.

1892 The Corporation purchased ground in Waterloo Street for £8,000, and started to erect a generating station there in the Spring of 1892. On the advice of Lord Kelvin, they adopted the low-tension dc three-wire system at 200 volts, to save the cost of altering existing consumers’ installations, which could be connected to the new system without exchanging the lamps.

1893 On 25th February, 1893, the lighting of some of the public streets by arc lamps, supplied from high-tension dc Brush dynamos, to which they were connected by long-series circuits, was publicly inaugurated, and on Saturday the 22nd April following, the general supply for private lighting was switched on. In August, 1893, the John Street high-tension alternating plant was shut down, all the consumers being transferred to the new low-tension underground mains supplied from Waterloo Street.

Owing to the rapid growth of the undertaking, it soon became evident that the space occupied by the special and separate lighting plant in the Waterloo Street Generating Station would be required for extensions of plant to meet the demands of private consumers. The committee then decided to remove the Brush dynamos from Waterloo Street to John Street, and there to utilise them for street lighting purposes in connection with the engines originally put down by Muir, Mavor & Coulson, Limited, the high-tension ac dynamos having in the meantime been disposed of. The John Street Works, when re-opened and utilised for the purpose of street electric lighting, only supplied about 100 h.p. Matters continued in this position until 1897, the plant at Waterloo Street being increased from time to time, until during that year the whole available space was fully occupied with boilers, engines, and dynamos to a total of 3,300 h.p., which at that time provided a small margin of reserve power.

The street lighting being so inconsiderable, it was decided to alter the arrangements so that these lights could be run from the same plant as the private supply in Waterloo Street, with a resultant saving in cost. The John Street plant was thus again shut down, and the whole of the electric lighting, both public and private, was carried on from Waterloo Street Works. The committee soon found the necessity for extensions, and in order to meet these and the increasing demand for the supply of current from so wide an area as was comprised between Glasgow Cross on the one hand and Park Circus on the other, two temporary accumulator sub-stations were erected, one in Tontine Lane, Trongate, and the other in Claremont Street. The object of these sub-stations was partly to avoid transmitting heavy loads through the mains during the longest lighting hours, a matter involving considerable loss at the low pressure of 200 volts, or a very large expenditure in extra heavy copper mains, and partly to relieve the maximum load upon the generating plant. The arrangement of working was to charge up the accumulators when both plant and mains were under easy load, and to discharge them during the two or three hours of the afternoon or evening maximum load, the discharge current feeding the local districts around each sub-station.

1897 Sites for entirely new works, one for the north and another for the south side of the river were purchased - about four and a half acres of ground at Port Dundas, adjoining the Forth and Clyde Canal at Speirs’ Wharf, and about two acres of ground close to Eglinton Toll, or St Andrews Cross, in Pollokshaws Road.

1899 The works and whole undertaking of the Kelvinside Electricity Co were purchased and taken over by the Corporation in August 1899.

Demand increased from year to year, and the rate at which this increase took place was steadily maintained or even increased.

The demand for electric motive power was rapidly growing, and amounted to over 6,000 h.p in motors of all sizes, which were used for many different purposes.

The Port Dundas and Pollokshaws Road Works had both been completed in recent years. The Port Dundas station contained engines and dynamos of both American and British manufacture, and of both high-speed and low-speed types, and in various sizes from 200 h.p. to 2,400 h.p. each unit. The largest engines were built by Messrs. Willans and Robinson, and the dynamos by the Westinghouse Co. The remaining engines were by the Ball and Wood Company, Messrs. Matthew Paul, Messrs. Mirrlees and Watson, Messrs. Belliss and Morcom, and Messrs. Willans and Robinson, and the dynamos by the Walker Co, the Schuckert Co, Crompton and Co, and the British Thomson-Houston Company. The condensing plant was all driven by electric motors, the air pumps were of Edwards’ patent design. The switchboards and recording gauges were specially designed for the purpose; they contained some departures from ordinary practice. They were constructed by Kelvin and James White, the Holland House Manufacturing Co, Messrs. Mechan and Sons, and Messrs. Laing, Wharton and Down - i.e mostly of local production.

The total cost of the electricity works of the Corporation, including mains, up to 31st May, 1904, has been approximately £1,150,000. This expenditure does not, of course, include the cost of the Corporation tramways electrical system, which is an entirely separate undertaking.

1904 Large extensions at Port Dundas including installation of two steam turbines of 3,000 kilowatts capacity each, from Messrs. Willans & Robinson, of Rugby, while the alternators, which will be of the three-phase type, working at 6,500 volts, 25 Hz, are being constructed by Messrs. Dick, Kerr and Co at Preston. The surface-condensing plant will be immediately below them, so as to make the connections as short as possible, and is being constructed by Messrs. W. H. Allen, Son and Co, of Bedford. The switchboard for the control and measurement of high-tension currents is a very extensive affair, as experience has shown the necessity for the utmost care in designing and constructing this part of the electrical equipment. The order for this portion of the work has been placed with Messrs. Witting, Eborall and Co. The boilers for this extension were the Babcock Company’s make, but of the largest size yet constructed, having a grate area of 100 square feet and a heating surface of 6,182 square feet each, the working steam pressure being 200 lbs. per square inch, and each boiler being fitted with superheaters to give about 200 degrees of super heat. Space is provided for economisers, which will be put in in due course.

The high-tension current generated by the new turbo-alternators was to be taken to various sub-stations in the city, initially mainly to the sub-station in Waterloo Street. Motor generators, which are being supplied by the Electrical Company, will be placed in these sub-stations by means of which the high-tension three-phase current will be converted into 500-volt dc on the three-wire system supplied at 250 volts on each side. It is not necessary in the present circumstances of demand to utilise these sub-stations, except in the dark winter months, and then only on the afternoon shifts, to meet the excessive peak load in the city.

As regards St. Andrew's Cross Electricity Works, there was no need to extend the buildings; a steam turbine of 1,400 kilowatts capacity constructed by Messrs. Willans & Robinson would be installed there. The turbine will drive two continuous-current dynamos, giving 500 to 600 volts each, constructed by Messrs. Siemens Brothers & Co at Stafford. The boilers in this generating station were to be of the Babcock & Wilcox type, exactly like those already installed. Each would have a grate area of 76 square feet and a heating surface of 4,020 square feet, the steam pressure being 200lbs per square inch, and the superheaters being constructed to give 200 degrees of superheat. The new boilers would be erected with the special arrangement of boiler setting designed by Mr H. W. Miller, of the Kensington and Knightsbridge Electric Lighting Co, Limited, in London.

Cooling towers were placed in the tanks over the boiler house to cool the water from the condensers of the turbine and the engines. One of these towers was supplied by Messrs. Richardsons, Westgarth and Co, of Hartlepool, this being of the Koppel type, and two smaller ones were supplied by Messrs. Klein and Co, of Manchester.

Up to 1904 the supply and distribution of electricity throughout the city was carried out by means of low-tension 500 volt dc throughout, with feeders radiating from the two separate stations. In winter 1903/4 the old Waterloo Street Generating Station was converted into a sub-station, by taking a temporary supply of high-tension current from the surplus plant of the Tramways Department at Pinkston. Low-tension feeders were run from the Waterloo Street sub-station; before the winter of 1904/5 it was intended to erect a similar sub-station on part of the Dalmarnock Gas-works. Low-tension feeders were also to be laid from this sub-station for the supply of lighting and power in the east end of Glasgow.

Fully half the capital expenditure of the undertaking was for the mains. All the low-tension mains which have been laid by the Electricity Department in the city were of the triple-concentric type, some of them with lead sheathing, but all of them during the last two years or so with vulcanised bitumen sheathing. They were laid in wood troughs of ample size, and run in solid with pitch and asphalt oil. Large manholes, measuring some 6 square feet and 6 feet deep, are placed at the feeding points within the city, and from these the distributing cables or mains radiate in all directions, each main being fitted with positive and negative fuses in the manhole. In districts where it can be arranged, section pillars above ground were used in place of the underground manholes. The whole arrangement has been most carefully systematised and standardised.

9,324 meters were connected to the mains at the time.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Extracted from the 1904 Handbook on the Municipal Enterprises published by the Corporation of the City of Glasgow [1]