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The History of Electricity Supply in North East England - A Project to establish an Archive

Feb 14 2016 News >> Latest News

Many innovations during the Industrial Revolution were pioneered in North East England.  One which is perhaps less-well known to the public at large than railways and iron ships is electricity supply.

One of the projects which the Friends of Discovery are involved with relates to a most important aspect of this Region's industrial development – the economic supply of electricity. Access to cheap and reliable electricity was to have massive effect, not only on the economic development of this part of the Country, but on many other parts of the Empire and its Dominions also. 

A significant number of important features in large-scale electricity production and distribution were conceived and developed here in the North East.  Aided by far-sighted and technically gifted engineers, inventors and entrepreneurs, the North Eastern Electric Supply Company (NESCo) grew from small beginnings in 1899 on Tyneside into a Company which led the field right up to Nationalisation and the integration of UK-wide electricity supply in 1947.

The abundancy of coal in the region, supplemented by 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 Reyrolle’s metalclad switchgear were responsible for the development of the electricity supply industry here in North East England.  These were 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 – well ahead of the rest of the UK.

There is no official history of the Company, 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 pre-nationalisation.  Research work I have undertaken in recent years has discovered that a not-inconsiderable amount of remaining archive material is fragmented and dispersed amongst former employees of NESCo and its post-nationalisation successor company NEEB, not just in the Region but much further afield.

I am increasingly concerned that much of this information, not just on the Company itself, but on the manufacturing companies which supplied plant and equipment, even the Company’s lawyers, might be lost forever unless it is located, identified and catalogued in the near future.

The electricity supply industry can truly be classified as one of which changed the world in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Companies and individuals in North East England were very important players in that industry and I believe that it is important that the major contribution made by NESCo and its associates should not be lost to future generations. 

Please get in touch if you would like to support this project, maybe by donating relevant material or by getting actively involved in the pursuit, recovery and cataloguing of records and artefacts. I shall get back to you when I have a sufficient number of responses. If there is a reasonably positive response, I will organise a meeting where we can discuss how we might take things forward.

Ian Burdon (Ian.burdon@live.co.uk)

Last changed: Feb 15 2016

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