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PROJECT : History of the Electricity Supply Industry in NE England

Jan 19 2017 News >> Latest News

Introduction. 

The North East of England led the Country in the application of electricity to motive power in industry in the early years of the 20th Century.  Many important features in large-scale electricity production and distribution were conceived and introduced by, what is now regarded as, the most innovative of all the power companies extant in the UK at that time.  Aided by far-sighted and technically gifted engineers, inventors and entrepreneurs, such as Merz, Parsons, Reyrolle and their close associates, the North Eastern Electric Supply Company (NESCo) grew from small beginnings in 1889 on Tyneside into a Company which led the field right up to Nationalisation and integration of UK-wide electricity supply in 1947.

Innovations such as the application of the steam turbine to electricity generation, the use of 3-phase supply systems, unitised boiler and turbine-generator arrangements, reheat in the steam cycle, centralised control of the transmission and distribution network, electrical protective systems for plant and transmission lines and metalclad switchgear are just some of the innovations that were first applied in the NESCo area of supply – which ultimately stretched from the Scottish border down through the industrial area of Teesside and into North Yorkshire.

There is no official history of NESCo, although some books have been written on the work of a few of the participants in the Company’s activities.  Much material is now lost due to the passage of time and the disappearance of many of the organisations involved in the work of NESCo pre-nationalisation.  A not-inconsiderable amount of remaining archive material is dispersed amongst former employees of NESCo and its post-nationalisation successor company NEEB, and a considerable amount of relevant industrial material is held by Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums.  Some further information on the many important personalities involved with the work of NESCo is held in the libraries of Newcastle and Durham Universities, the Archives of the Institution of Engineering and Technology in London and the National Archives at Kew.

The Project.

FODMs will work in conjunction with the Tyne & Wear Heritage Forum as part of their HeritageACT! projects.

It is envisaged that this will comprise 2 main phases:

PHASE-1:  Scope Definition.

·        Securing the services of a professional Archivist.

·        Identification of archive material in the north east community and elsewhere.

·        Preparation of a report.

PHASE-2:  Project Development.

·        Scanning and electronic storage of important material such as records, correspondence, drawings, photographs and ephemera relating to NESCo and the Companies (including its suppliers of plant and equipment, its legal advisors and its consulting engineers) and individuals with which it had a business relationship or was associated.

·        Identification of important change points in the industry e.g. nationalisation, privatisation.

·        Classification and cataloguing of that material and the preparation of a source book.

Outputs from this stage of the project shall include:

·        An oral history of the industry.

·        A fully-referenced written account of the history of the industry in book form.

·        A possible interpretive museum gallery.

·        A website.

·        A DVD giving a summary of the material collected.

·        An imaginative look-forward envisaging what the future may hold for the industry.

For the purposes of this project, the NE Region shall include that part of England from the Scottish Border southwards to North Yorkshire.

Given the national importance of the Company in a region of the UK which was a major supplier of manufactured goods, armaments, fuels, ships and railways through 2 world wars, relevant Government records would be included in the catalogue also.

It is hoped that the search, collation and preparation of the catalogue would lead to the publication of a history of NESCo, this being particularly appropriate at the present time as next year will be the 125th anniversary of the Company’s foundation.

Ian Burdon

Last changed: Jan 19 2017

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