Home Page

Eighty Years

by Brian Pears

Electric Lighting reached Rowlands Gill in 1902. This is the story of its development in and around the village over the succeeding eight decades.

Please note that this was written in 1982, and thus reflects the situation at that time.

Whinfield Power Station - Click to enlarge



Before embarking on the story of Rowlands Gill's electricity supply, let us look briefly at the Rowlands Gill of the early 1890s. The centre of the village was the junction of Station Road, the A694, (then called the Shotley Bridge Turnpike) and Burnopfield Road (then called, confusingly, Station Road). Close at hand were the station, the Towneley Arms and the tollgate (on the corner beside Alderson's shop). Down towards the river was Ladysmith with its grid-like pattern of terraced houses on the land now called Derwent Park and overlooking these was a handful of shops on Burnopfield Road. Along the A694 towards Newcastle was the Lilley Drift Colliery sunk in the late 1870s by Joseph Cowen & Company. Cowen Terrace, a single row of white-brick colliery dwelling, housed the miners.

Further along the road where Lockhaugh now stands we would find only woods; the only man-made feature here was a railway track which crossed the road at its junction with Thornley Lane. This line, which ran from High Spen to Derwenthaugh, was re-routed in 1895 to cross the A694 further north and was extended from High Spen to Chopwell. On the A694 heading south west from the station we would have seen fields and woods, little else, until we reached Lintzford with its farm, cottages and paper mill (now the factory of Richardson Printing Ink Company). Smailes Lane, the road from High Spen, crossed the A694 near where the Coop now stands and, as Stirling Lane, continued its way down to join Burnopfield Road near the Derwent Bridge. Highfield did not exist but further west the colliery village of Victoria Garesfield was well established. The colliery coke ovens occupied the site of the present Whinfield Industrial Estate.

Return to top of page

Colliery Electricity Supply

It is at Victoria Garesfield and Whinfield that our story begins. The colliery and its coke ovens date from the 1860s (1). A narrow-gauge railway or waggonway linked the colliery and coke ovens with the Newcastle to Consett railway near Rowlands Gill station. This waggonway followed the contours of the countryside and was horse-drawn. It was re-laid in 1875 as a standard-gauge railway with locomotive haulage and this continued in operation until 1962.

The coke ovens were of the beehive type (5 of the original 193 are preserved on site) and although they produced excellent coke they were rather wasteful; none of the many useful by-products of coke production could be recovered. (2) However they produced heat in considerable quantities. Collieries needed motive power for many purposes - hauling coal tubs and operating ventilation fans for example. Producing steam and converting it directly to motive power was not very satisfactory as the power was rarely required near to the coke ovens. The answer was to use steam to produce electricity and the electricity to produce motive power where it was required. The electricity could also be used to provide lighting around the works.

This was the scheme adopted by the Owners of Victoria Garesfield Colliery. Electricity was generated using the waste heat from the coke ovens and this was transmitted by overhead line to the colliery itself. The plan involved considerable modification to the coke ovens. Previously each oven vented directly into the atmosphere, to the considerable discomfort of the operators. Now flues linked the ovens to boilers and the fumes then escaped through tall chimneys. There were eventually fourteen boilers linked to four blocks of ovens, each block having its own chimney. It seems probable that Lancashire Boilers were used at first and were superseded by Stirling Water-Tube Boilers in 1907 following comparative tests at the cokeyard. For every pound of coal coked the latter boilers gave 1.7 pounds of steam compared with 1.3 pounds from the former type. The fumes leaving the ovens were at a temperature of 2000°F but because of radiation losses in the flues, the temperature at the boiler inlets was 1700°F. Little is known of the original generating plant at Victoria Garesfield cokeyard but it was installed in 1896 or shortly thereafter and probably gave three-phase alternating current at 550 V, 40 Hz (3).

In addition to the uses already mentioned, Victoria Garesfield Colliery used electricity to provide a water supply for the works. There was no public supply at this time and even when it arrived at the turn of the century it could not provide the vast quantities of water needed in the coke-making process and indeed to provide the steam for electricity generation. The water was obtained from the River Derwent near Lintzford and an electrically driven pump then sent it up through Chopwell Woods, on a route roughly parallel to Lintzford Lane, to a reservoir at the colliery (4). It was then fed by gravity to the cokeyard. The water was not suitable for drinking and had to be chemically treated (softened) for use in the boilers. The electricity to drive the pump was sent by overhead line from the colliery following the same route as the water pipe.

Return to top of page

Lighting the Streets

Blaydon Urban District Council (BUDC) (5) were responsible for street lighting throughout their district. In Winlaton and Blaydon gas lighting was employed, but elsewhere there was only oil with its many drawbacks. There had been a request in May 1891 from the residents of the nearby village of High Spen for street lighting at High Spen and Victoria Garesfield, but whether or not oil lighting was actually installed in these places I have been unable to ascertain. It was definitely employed at Rowlands Gill, Lintzford, Hookergate and Blackhall Mill.

In any case, in December 1896 the Council considered setting up some electricity generating plant themselves "in view of the poor state of lighting". They decided against this and in April 1897 they asked the Owners of Victoria Garesfield Colliery if they would light High Spen and Victoria Garesfield by electricity. The colliery owners agreed to light Victoria Garesfield only using eleven 50 candle-power lamps (6) to be lit every night from September 1st to April 30th (the "lighting season"), except for four nights at full moon when lighting was not considered to be necessary. The colliery were to supply all the poles and fittings and the colliery workmen were to do the installation work. The contract between the Owners of Victoria Garesfield Colliery and the Council was signed on December 2nd 1897. High Spen and Chopwell both had collieries operated by the Consett Iron Company (CIC) and the Council entered into an agreement with this company for the lighting of the two villages by electricity (7).

Francis Priestman (1855-1936) Chairman and Managing Director of Priestman Collieries

On January 1st 1899, the owners of Victoria Garesfield, Lilley Drift, Blaydon Burn and Waldridge collieries (8), who had been collaborating for some time, amalgamated to form the "Owners of the Priestman Collieries" (OPC). One result of this amalgamation was the decision to establish electricity generating plant at both Blaydon Burn and Lilley Drift Collieries using waste heat from coke ovens. Both had beehive ovens as at Victoria Garesfield. Following a request from the Council, OPC agreed in November 1900 to provide and light six electric lamps at Blaydon Burn and in February 1901 the Council asked the Company if they would also light Rowlands Gill when the plant at Lilley Drift was installed. OPC agreed in principle, but when the plant was ready early in 1902 they reconsidered the whole question of their electricity supplies for public lighting. They decided to ask the Council for one agreement covering their existing supplies to Victoria Garesfield and Blaydon Burn as well as the proposed supply to Rowlands Gill. BUDC agreed to this and also asked the Company to light the village of Barlow. OPC offered the Council fifteen lamps at Rowlands Gill and nine at Barlow for £90 and £60 respectively but, as they had no authority to supply these areas, they asked for an indemnity if stopped during the next five years.

A short explanation of this request would be useful at this point. Under the Electric Lighting Acts of 1882 and 1888 the right (effectively the exclusive right) to supply electricity for lighting within a given area and to break up streets for the purpose of laying cables could be given to a council or company by a Provisional Order granted under these Acts by the Board of Trade (BOT). In practice no company could expect to have such an order granted without support from the local authority. The first application to supply electricity within the area of the Blaydon Local Board, the forerunner of the BUDC, came from the Gulcher Electric Light and Power Company in 1882 but got nowhere. Then, in 1899, the Tyneside Electric Power Company applied to the BOT but this application also failed following opposition from the Council. In 1901 applications were made by the Newcastle and District Electric Lighting Company (DISCO) and the County of Durham Electric Power Distribution Company Ltd (CDEPDC).

The Council were interested in the latter company which was already supplying electricity to Gateshead. However, in 1902, the Council applied to the BOT to become the supply undertakers themselves. They had no intentions of carrying out any electrical work but this move prevented any other body applying for the Provisional Order and saved the Council the trouble and expense of opposing other applications. Some councils 'sat' on Provisional Orders for years, often to remove possible competition from local authority gas undertakings. This Provisional Order, The Blaydon Electric Lighting Order 1902, received the Royal Assent on July 31st 1902. There was a clause in this order permitting the Council to transfer the undertaking to the CDEPDC within one year if they so decided. It was this clause which worried OPC. They had nothing to fear so long as the BUDC were the body responsible for electricity supplies - they would have a contract with the Council - but what would their position be if the CDEPDC took over?

Street Lights 1902 - Click to enlarge

The Council agreed to the colliery company's terms, including the indemnity, and on July 3rd 1902 their seal was placed on a contract with OPC for the lighting of the streets at Victoria Garesfield, Rowlands Gill, Blaydon Burn and Barlow. This contract was to remain in force for thirty-seven years. The fifteen lights at Rowlands Gill were quickly erected. There were eleven lamps along the A694 between Lilley Drift and the junction with Strathmore Road, three on Burnopfield Road (two near the shops and one at the junction with Stirling Lane) and two at Ladysmith.

Return to top of page

Arrangements at Lilley Drift

Switchboard at Lilley Drift - Click to enlarge

The electric plant at Lilley Drift was housed in a small building beside the coke ovens. A pair of horizontal steam engines stood side by side (cylinders 161/2 inches in diameter, stroke 16 inches) and drove a 96 inch diameter rope pulley on a shaft between the engines. The engines used steam at 45 pounds per square inch and a governor controlled the speed at 150 revolutions per minute. Six 11/2 inch diameter ropes transmitted the power to a 37 inch diameter pulley on the generator shaft. The generator gave about 100 kW of three-phase alternating current at 550 V, 40 Hz. The exciting current (9) for the generator was obtained from a small shuntwound generator driven from the main generator shaft. The generator had a stationary armature and revolving fields (12 pole) and had self-oiling ring type bearings.

The main purpose of the plant was to power a ventilation fan located about one mile away from the colliery at High Thornley (10). The fan was of the Capell double-inlet type, 7 feet diameter by eight feet, and ran at 275 revolutions per minute. It moved about 140,000 cubic feet of air per minute at a pressure of 1½ inch water-gauge. The fan was driven by a 60 horse-power (11) three-phase induction motor operating at 600 revolutions per minute. A 'double orange tan' endless belt connected the motor and fan. All the bearings on the two units were of the self-oiling ring type. An underground electric pump was also used in the colliery. This was of the three-throw type, having rams 4 inches in diameter and 6 inch stroke running at 450 revolutions per minute. A 5 horse-power electric motor powered the pump through rawhide gearing.

Lilley Drift Network - Click to enlarge

The switchboard in the power house had a wrought steel. framework and marble panels. It was divided into four sections. The first, the generator panel, had a voltmeter, ammeter, three-pole switch and fuse. It also had a multiple-contact rheostat to control the field current (12). The second panel controlled the 550 V outlets and had two three-pole switches, ammeters and fuses. One set controlled the supply to the fan and pump, the other was for additional colliery equipment. The third section-section had three two-pole switches controlling the inputs to single-phase 550/250 V transformers (only two, rated at 10 kW each, were installed at first). The last section had four two-pole switches and fuses controlling the various sections of lighting.

The transmission line to the fan station was carried on creosoted poles with oak arms and porcelain insulators. The wires were of No.2 standard-wire-gauge. In addition to the street lighting already mentioned the plant supplied electricity for lighting the colliery workshops, offices, officials houses, fifty-one workman's houses, the Primitive Methodist chapel and the school. The Barlow street lighting was also supplied from the Lilley generator using the fan station supply. A 550/250 V transformer at the fan station gave the lighting current which was carried on an overhead line over the fields, courtesy of the landowner, Mr Seymour Bell, to Barlow. An electric time-switch at the fan station controlled the lighting as the fan station was not usually manned.

Return to top of page

Ottovale and Blaydon Power Station

In 1902 the Owners of the Priestman Collieries were planning to set up a modern coke-making plant near Blaydon Burn to supplement their beehive ovens. The proposed plant was to comprise eighty ovens manufactured in Germany by the Otto Hilgenstock Company. These were to be sited on the hillside east of the burn between Blaydon Burn colliery and the brickyard - an area which came to be known as Ottovale. These ovens would be far superior to the beehive type as they would allow the by-products of the coke-making process to be retrieved. One of these was coal gas; could the gas be used to make electricity? OPC envisioned themselves, not the CDEPDC, as the statutory electrical undertakers for the whole BUDC area and possibly beyond. In collaboration with the Newcastle Electric Supply Company(NESCO) who, as rival suppliers, also had an interest in keeping CDEPDC out of the area, OPC called in the consulting engineers Merz and McLellan Ltd. Following a favourable report, a power station was designed which would utilize both waste heat and gas (13).

Ottovale Coke Works - Click to enlarge

Production of coke and electricity began in 1904 and the plant was fully commissioned by June 1906. The water supply for the complex was obtained mainly from a reservoir (14) formed by damming the Blaydon Burn but provision was also made to obtain water from the Newcastle and Gateshead Water Company's main (Newburn-Gateshead) at Blaydon and by pumping from the River Tyne. The reservoir supply was later supplemented by pumping from the flooded workings of Blaydon Main Colliery through the nearby Milner Pit (15). Blaydon Power Station was very much an experimental venture and proved very successful, remaining in operation until 1959.

The success of Blaydon Power Station led directly to the formation of the Waste Heat and Gas Electrical Generating Stations Ltd. on January 19th 1907. This company arranged for power stations to be set up at industrial sites mostly in South Durham and Teesside, arranged for the purchase of waste heat and gas and for the local power company to operate the stations and to buy the electricity produced. The power companies also contracted to buy the stations on hire-purchase over 20 or 25 years. The Waste Heat Company was largely a financial concern and as such still exists, though its name was changed to the Carliol Investment Trust in 1948. Most of its stations were closed in the 1930s but the one at Gjers, Mills and Company's Ayresome Ironworks continued to the 1950s. Other power stations were set up on a similar basis to Blaydon Power Station notably at Bankfoot (1909) and Bowden Close (1912) by the Bankfoot Power Company. These used waste heat and gas from Pease and Partners' coke oven plants in the Crook area.

The original plant at Blaydon Power Station consisted of two 6 kV, 750 kW Parsons turbo-alternators, two Babcock & Wilcox water-tube boilers (16), condenser and air pumps by Mirrlees Watson & Company and a cooling tower by Donat & Company.

OPC and NESCO together set up a company, the Priestman Power Company(PPC), to administer the station and this company sought the Provisional Order for lighting the BUDC area (17). The Council could not decide between the CDEPDC and the PPC despite several meetings during the latter half of 1903 with representatives of both companies. Early in 1904 a third company, the Southern District Electric Corporation, entered the negotiations but quickly disappeared from the stage.

When Blaydon Power Station began generating it merely supplied the cokeoven site, little waste heat and gas being available as only a portion of the ovens were then in operation. It was soon supplying Blaydon Burn Colliery and, early in 1905, the power station was connected by underground cable to the NESCO network. The connection was at a substation(18) on the North Eastern Railway sidings at Blaydon from which NESCO supplied the railway workshops. This sub-station, known as Blaydon NER, was connected to Carville Power Station by a cable which ran along the north bank of the Tyne and across the railway bridge at Scotswood. Effectively Blaydon and Carville Power Stations supplied electricity to opposite ends of the same cable, this arrangement is called parallel operation. (As late as 1917, electrical engineers were arguing that the difficulties inherent in the parallel operation of distant stations made it impracticable. If Blaydon and Carville were too close to refute this belief, then the interconnection of Newcastle and Middlesbrough in 1912 should certainly have sufficed). Such operation of the two stations meant that either could shut down its alternators for maintenance during periods of low demand without any interruption whatsoever to the supply. The practice was later adopted very widely.

PPC could not supply electricity locally without the Provisional Order but it was allowed to sell its electricity to another power company and to the colliery. (Mines, railways and docks were always exempted from Provisional Orders). The tar works of Thomas Ness Ltd. (19),which was on the Ottovale site only yards from the power station, could not be supplied, however, until the provisional order situation was cleared up.

Blaydon Council's dilemma was solved by the Companies themselves who came to a working agreement. By late 1904 NESCO was supplying most of the power used by the CDEPDC in Gateshead by means of a cable across the High Level Bridge, so there was little real rivalry between the companies. The agreement was that the CDEPDC would obtain the Provisional Order and would set up sub-stations, mains and distribution networks - except in the areas already supplied by the colliery companies. The PPC would sell the electricity from Blaydon Power Station to NESCO who would in turn supply the local CDEPDC network. The actual operation of the power station and the sub-stations would be in the hands of NESCO engineers.

The negotiations with the Council were revived in January 1905 and on April 6th the Council seal was affixed to an agreement with the CDEPDC. New approaches were made to Parliament resulting in the Blaydon Electric Lighting Order 1906. CDEPDC were the official electricity undertakers throughout the BUDC area. The relationship between the Council and CDEPDC was somewhat strained at first. The initial task of the Company was the lighting of Blaydon and Winlaton and before the end of 1906 a dispute arose about the use of underground cables as opposed to overhead wires. Overhead wires were cheaper but not as environmentally satisfactory nor as safe. CDEPDC offered the Council reduced rates for electricity if they would permit the use of overhead wires. The Council said they would allow overhead wires but only outside the towns. Of course very few, if any, supplies were required outside the towns. The Council still insisted, however, on the reduced rates. The dispute was not resolved until 1910 when the Company sought and obtained permission from the BOT to use overhead wires wherever they wanted.

The Ottovale complex was further extended around 1911 when a refinery was built to extract benzol, toluol, ammonium sulphate, naptha, etc. from the coal gas (20). This was operated by a Priestman subsidiary company, the Newcastle Benzol Company. The commissioning of this refinery caused the output of Blaydon Power Station to fall slightly as the gas was weaker.

Return to top of page

Axwell Park Colliery

Axwell Park Colliery - Click to enlarge

On December 14th 1903 OPC bought Axwell Park Colliery (21) (also called Axwell Garesfield Colliery) and, on the same date, changed the name of the Company to Priestman Collieries Ltd. (PCL). There was some generating plant at Axwell and it was proposed that PPC should take over this plant and extend it. Merz and McLellan were consulted and thought it not to be worthwhile, so the idea was dropped. Axwell Park Colliery was supplied from the Blaydon Power Station/NESCO network by means of a CDEPDC cable along NER's Newcastle to Consett railway. A 1000 kW substation was installed at the colliery. Axwell Park Colliery became one of the most up to date collieries in the country and, like Victoria Garesfield, it used electricity to provide all its motive power.

Here is a contemporary description of only one of the many installations at Axwell:

"The winder is employed especially for the raising and lowering of workmen at a shaft near the face of the workings, as the bulk of the coal is conveyed by rope-haulage through a drift some distance away. It comprises an Ilgner motor-generator set, consisting of a threephase motor of 33 horsepower at 550 volts, a variable-voltage generator of 23 kilowatts, an exciter of 2 kilowatts, and a flywheel, weighing about 25 cwts. These are all supported on one foundation-bed, connected by rigid and flexible couplings, and they run at 1,200 revolutions per minute. The bearings are arranged for oil-ring lubrication. The momentum of the flywheel would enable a complete wind to be made, after cutting off the current to the motor. The winder works a single cage and a counterbalance weight. The mechanical portion of the plant is fixed vertically over the pit about 55 feet above ground-level, and comprises a rope-drum, 51/2 feet in diameter, and the necessary speed-reducing gear, driven by a motor of 30 horsepower. A brake-wheel is fitted on the second motion shaft; the brake is of the post type, and operated by an electromagnet. An emergency brake, of the post type, working on the drum-shaft, can be operated from the cage by means of a rope suspended in the pit, or by the motorman stationed in the controller-house at the surface, or by the governor-gear if the speed exceeds the normal maximum by, say, 20 per cent. It is also tripped by the cage in case of an overwind. The brakes are capable of supporting the loaded cage, even if the counterbalance weight on the opposite rope were removed. The controller is similar to those generally used with Ilgner winding plants, except that the magnetic brake is also controlled by the speed-regulating handle. It is, therefore, quite impossible for the motorman to apply the operating brake, except when the controller-handle is in the neutral position; and, for the same reason, it is impossible to start the winder before the operating brake is off. The speed can be controlled within 21/2 per cent of the maximum. By a suitable arrangement of cams fixed to the depth-indicator, the speed of the cage may be automatically reduced, and gradually brought to rest at the end of a wind, and thus prevent overwinding. Cams are also fitted to regulate the rate of acceleration at the commencement of each wind. It is further intended to fit a second controller inside the cage, so that the attendance of onsetters and banksmen will be unnecessary during the night shift. For this purpose, it is proposed to use a flexible cable suspended beneath -the cage. By means of an automatic slip-regulator connected to the rotor circuit of the three-phase motor, the speed of the motor, and, consequently, of the flywheel, may be controlled within certain limits. Energy in excess of 33 horsepower is obtained from the flywheel, and is again stored during the intervals between the winds. The maximum speed of winding is 8 feet per second; the depth of the shaft, 255 feet; the period of a wind, 40 seconds; and the interval, 15 seconds."

Another connection to Carville was established by 1907, this time by means of a cable on the south bank of the Tyne to Axwell Park. This cable also served Dunston and when Dunston Power Station (22) was opened in 1910 it fed power into this cable. Soon after this, cables were laid to Greenside, Emma and Addison Collieries (23) from Blaydon Power Station and this network also provided lighting supplies to Ryton. A cable from Axwell Park gave a lighting supply to Whickham. The lighting supplies to Winlaton and Blaydon, to which reference has already been made, came from sub-stations at Church Road and Factory Road respectively. The network also included Stargate Colliery, Blaydon Main Colliery, Swalwell Colliery and several factories at Blaydon, Derwenthaugh and Swalwell.

Return to top of page

The Situation on Tyneside

By way of further clarification, a few notes on the state of electricity supply on Tyneside in general would perhaps be fitting at this point. In 1889 both NESCO and DISCO began supplying parts of Newcastle, they were joined in 1901 by the Walker and Wallsend Union Gas Company - yes, a gas company. Across the Tyne, British Electric Traction (BET) bought control of Gateshead Tramways(steam operated) and began electrifying the system. At the same time a BET subsidiary company, the County of Durham Electric Power Supply Company (CDEPSC) established a small power station at South Shore Road in Gateshead and another BET subsidiary, CDEPDC, was granted the Provisional Order for the electric lighting of Gateshead. The CDEPSC thus supplied power for the trams and, via the CDEPDC, for lighting as well. The new Gateshead Tramways system began operations on May 8th 1901. CDEPSC also had small power stations at Jarrow and Durham for which areas its sister company also held the Provisional Orders.

About this time there was a contest at Westminster for the right to supply some parts of Tyneside not already covered by Provisional Orders; the would be suppliers were NESCO, CDEPSC and the Tyneside Power Co. (backed by DISCO). NESCO won the battle, 'they humiliated the CDEPDC by stating that BET might be able to run trams and light the streets as a sideline but they could not rival NESCO with the really heavy work.' A famous witness, Lord Kelvin, backed NESCO' s statement by adding that NESCO could easily cope with the whole north bank of the Tyne and could even handle the south bank as well by means of a cable under the Tyne. BET pulled out of the contest, they knew that they could not compete with NESCO, in fact they could hardly meet the existing demand in Gateshead. NESCO took over the gas company's electricity undertaking in 1903, thus acquiring the Neptune Bank Power Station and, in 1904, opened their huge Carville Power Station on a site adjoining Neptune Bank. Following an agreement with the BET companies, a cable was laid across the High Level Bridge from Carville to Gateshead to give CDEPDC an additional supply. In 1905 NESCO bought CDEPSC and CDEPDC from BET. They remained separate companies but NESCO had complete control and sold them electricity at cost price. The South Shore Road Power Station and that at Jarrow were already connected to Carville and became little more than distribution centres. NESCO later supplied the Cleveland and Durham Electric Power Company and the Northern Counties Electric Supply Company from Carville by means of a 20 kV cable across the Tyne to Hebburn. (58)

Return to top of page

Further Developments at Rowlands Gill

Whinfield Power Station - Click to enlarge

Now back to the Rowlands Gill area, still quite separate from the PPC/NESC0/CDEPDC network. The original lighting was quickly extended using power from both Whinfield and Lilley Drift. During the period 1903 to 1906 lamps were erected as follows:- five on Strathmore Road, two at Victoria Garesfield, seven at Whinfield New Houses, three on the footpath between Victoria Garesfield and Whinfield, three at Ladysmith, two at Cowen Terrace, four on Burnopfield Road and two on Smailes Lane. Additionally three lamps were placed on the road south of the Derwent Bridge, outside the BUDC area. Tanfield Council paid BUDC for this service.

Little mention has been made so far of domestic electric lighting. The first houses in the Rowlands Gill area to have electric lighting were the PCL employee's and official's houses near Lilley Drift and at Victoria Garesfield. These houses were lit as soon as the colliery plants were installed. These supplies were unmetered but, in the workmen's houses, only two lights were allowed , for which a nominal charge was made. An unusual device was installed to prevent the early DIY enthusiast from installing extra lights, the effect of which was to cause the lights to flash on and off if excess current was used. The workmen had their light bulbs supplied and replaced free of charge. The replacements were obtained from the works' stores on production of a burnt-out bulb. To prevent abuse all the bulbs issued had 'PCL' etched onto the glass. In 1904 overhead lines were erected to supply some new private houses on the Smailes Estate (the part of the village west of the Coop), but generally speaking it was not until after the Great War that domestic electric lighting became widespread, and it was just lighting, the use of electricity for other purposes in the home came later still.

1,250 kW sets at Whinfield - Click to enlarge

In 1907 or shortly before PCL and Thermal Syndicate Ltd. began experimental work at Victoria Garesfield cokeyard with the assistance of Merz and McLellan Ltd. This involved the production of Ferro-silicon in an electric furnace using electricity from the colliery generating plant (24). Ferro-silicon is an iron alloy used in steel making. Late in 1909 the two companies formed the Newcastle Alloy Company (NAC). The works were established at the cokeyard and the whole complex became known as the Whinfield Works. The electric furnace needed enormous quantities of electricity; for commercial production they needed far more than the existing waste-heat plant could supply. A power station (25) was built to house some new generating plant which consisted of turbo-alternators (26), probably two of 1,250 kW, 6 kV, three-phase, 40 Hz. Four Babcock and Wilcox underfed boilers were installed to supplement the fourteen boilers on the ovens (27). These used coal and ballast (powdered coal). Cooling ponds were also established nearby (28). NAC ran the station and PCL supplied the waste-heat free of charge. In return PCL received electricity for their own use and for village lighting. It seems likely that the original generating plant was taken out of service at this time and was replaced with 6 kV/550 V transformers to give the voltage used by the cokeyard and colliery machinery and that required by the lighting transformers. The Lilley Drift plant continued to supply parts of the village and was operated by PCL. MAC diversified their production of ferro-alloys to include ferro-molybdenum, ferro-tungsten and ferro-chrome. Ferro-chrome production at Whinfield was soon to assume national importance.

Village entertainment entered the electric era in 1909 with the building of a cinema behind the station. (Where the Vale of Derwent Social Club now stands.) It also served as a dance hall and a skating rink. (29) Little additional lighting was installed at Rowlands Gill between 1906 and 1910 although there had been requests from local residents for the lighting of Lintzford Road (Strathmore Road to Whiskey Jack's) and Smailes Lane (Pipe Bridge to St Patrick's Church). There had also been a request for the lighting of the street lamps in the mornings. In May 1910 a council committee was formed to consider the whole question of street lighting in the district. One of their first considerations was the possibility of all-night lighting throughout the district, but as soon as the cost was determined, the idea was dropped. They also considered using bulbs of greater power, but eventually, in November 1911, they decided to ask PCL and CIC for their suggestions for improvement - without an increase in cost.

Council Plan of Street Lights 1912 - Click to enlarge

No ideas were forthcoming from CIC but PCL suggested the installation of thirty-seven new lamps and the use of metallic-filament bulbs in place of the existing carbon-filament bulbs. If the Council would accept the latter suggestion and pay the cost of the changeover, then PCL would be prepared to reduce the lighting and maintenance charges. The Council were pleased to accept PCL's proposals and these were fully implemented by the 1912/13 lighting season which, incidentally, began two weeks earlier than usual. This was because there had been a miners' strike during the previous winter and a number of street lights, which existed primarily for the benefit of miners travelling to and from work, had not been lit, and money had been saved as a consequence. During this same strike Blaydon Power Station had actually been shut down from March 4th to May 10th. (55)

Return to top of page

The Great War

The beginning of the Great War in 1914 was to have important consequences for Rowlands Gill. NAC were the only company in Great Britain regularly manufacturing ferro-chrome and ferro-chrome was used in the production of armour plating. Other supplies had been available to the steel-makers from Scandinavia (particularly Sweden), but with the outbreak of war these supplies disappeared. During the whole of the war Whinfield Works supplied almost all the ferro-chrome used in steelworks throughout the country. (The only other source was a firm in Lincoln but this was on a very small scale and arrived late in the war). The electric furnaces required carbon electrodes and these were manufactured by PCL at Blaydon Burn using coke breeze (very small and powdered coke - the waste) as the raw material. (30) NAC employed in excess of 1000 workers during the war, many of them women.

Women Workers at "The Alloy" - Click to enlarge

In 1915 NAC made a further contribution to the war effort when they extended their activities to the production of cuprous oxide which was used in anti-fouling paint for ships' hulls. This process used electrolysis and needed direct-current (DC) electricity (31). This was obtained from the existing AC supplies by means of rotary converters housed at the plant itself. The plant also required heat and this was supplied in the form of steam from the waste heat boilers on the coke ovens. Production of cuprous oxide at Whinfield reached 1000 tons per year.

On the evening of 14/15 April 1915 came the first Zeppelin raid on the North-East. As a result, on June 1st, the authorities ordered the Council to cease lighting the street lights throughout the BUDC district. This proved to be a timely move as on June 15/16 came a second, more massive, attack in which eighteen were killed and seventy-two injured. Of course the order had no immediate effect in Rowlands Gill as it was outside the lighting season, but there were parts of the Council's area which were lit all year, for example, Chain Bridge Road between Blaydon and Scotswood.

When the daylight hours grew shorter the residents quickly realised how much they had come to depend on the street lights. In November the Council wrote to the military authorities and drew their attention to the dangers arising from the total absence of street lights. A reply was received in December from Major-General Montgomery C.B. D.S.O.(Commanding Tyne Garrison). He said he had no objection to the Council lighting their electric lamps in outlying districts provided that they were of low power, were shaded so as to make them invisible from above and could be switched off at a moment's notice. The Council would have to devise a reliable means of communicating an 'extinguishing order' to the collieries concerned with electricity supplies. PCL, however, said they were not in a position to light their street lights. The domestic electricity supplies, such as they were, continued as before. The year 1916 saw a further six Zeppelin raids but in 1917 there were none. The Council approached PCL in December 1917 in an effort to have some street lamps lit at Victoria Garesfield and Rowlands Gill but without success.

Alloy Workers - Click to enlarge

Priestmans (or rather NAC who supplied Priestmans) were using all the electricity they could make in the production of ferro-chrome and cuprous oxide as well as for normal colliery operations. Plans to increase the production of ferro-chrome from 2400 tons/year to 7200 tons/year were already well in hand. A new alloy plant (32) had been set up during 1917 on the Whinfield site (near the end of Orchard Road) to supplement the existing works. Additional generators had been installed at the power station bringing the total to six 1,250 kW sets generating at 6 kV, three-phase, 40 Hz , and four more Babcock and Wilcox boilers had been set up in a new boiler house beside the railway track just south of the Victoria Institute. Even this extra generating capacity was insufficient for NAC's needs and, with Government help, an additional supply was brought by cable from Dunston Power Station thus joining Whinfield to the NESCO network.

This cable, which is alongside the A694 for most of its length, was laid for the CDEPDC by the contractors Black and Henley and was completed on May 11th 1918. Surprisingly this cable still normally supplies the whole of Rowlands Gill. The supply from Dunston was at 20 kV so a sub-station (54) was installed at Whinfield to reduce the voltage to 6 kV to match the electricity generated locally.

A 2 kV overhead line was erected between Lilley Drift Colliery and Victoria Garesfield Colliery in July 1918. The purpose of this is not clear. In view of the fact that it went directly between the collieries (not to the Whinfield cokeyard) it was probably erected to enable the Lilley generator to supply both collieries, this would of course reduce the load on the NAC supplies. Why 2 kV ? Perhaps a couple of 2 kV/550 V transformers (one for each end of the line) just happened to be available at the time.

The end of the war in 1918 was universally welcomed but it was a disaster for NAC. The market for their product collapsed overnight. All their new plant was superfluous. In an attempt to avoid financial ruin, NAC decided to try electric steelmaking themselves. 0ne of their electric furnaces (11/2 ton capacity) was suitable for steel production and they purchased two others of 7 tons capacity each. All three were three-phase Héroult furnaces. To oversee this new work they appointed a chemist with experience of electric steel-making at Glasgow, Mr William T. McGavin (33). Ferro-silicon production was also continued.

Return to top of page

Post-WW1 Changes

The old cinema had closed during the war and in 1919 a new one was built (now part of Laws Stores), This continued until 1962. (34) PCL were rather slow in restoring the street lighting; after 31/2 years the equipment was in a poor condition. The Council were impatient and in February 1919 asked CDEPDC for a quotation to take over the street lighting of the whole district. However PCL handed over responsibility for street lighting and domestic supplies at Rowlands Gill and Victoria Garesfield to NAC and during 1920 this company set about a major reorganisation of the network. The 2 kV line mentioned above was uprated to 6 kV and used in the reverse direction, that is to say, power was sent from Whinfield to Lilley Drift Colliery. A sub-station (6 kV/550 V) was installed at Lilley Drift to supply the colliery and a sub-station fixed to the end house of Cowen Terrace provided 250 V for the street and house lights at that end of the village. The 1902 Lilley generator was most likely scrapped but may have been retained as a standby until coke-making at Lilley ceased. The 550 V overhead line from Whinfield to Victoria Garesfield was replaced with one of 6 kV and a 6 kV/550 V sub-station was installed at the colliery.. The existing small sub-stations at Whinfield (beside the coal hopper at the west end of the coke ovens) and at Victoria Garesfield supplying street and house lights were retained. (61)

Beside the railway, part way down the Whinfield to Lilley Drift 6 kV line (behind the present Towneley Fields), a pole-mounted sub-station (6 kV/250 V) was erected for street lighting and domestic supply. The main low-voltage lighting line through the village was reconstructed with new poles as most of the old ones did not conform with the requirements of the BOT. This line ran from the new pole-mounted sub-station, along the A694, up Strathmore Road, along Dene Road, the Dene and Orchard Road to the existing sub-station in the garden of Orchard House, near the new alloy plant. All the street lighting supplies from Whinfield had been at 125 V and this was increased to 250 V except at Victoria Garesfield where the changeover was delayed to use up the remaining 125 V bulbs. The number of lamps in use at this time was 72 at Rowlands Gill, 18 at Whinfield and 17 at Victoria Garesfield. There were roughly equal numbers of 50 and 32 candlepower lamps costing the Council 30s and 20s per season respectively. These were all to be replaced with 40 watt bulbs for which the charge was to be 25s per season. The Council insisted, however on a lower charge as the Summer Time Act had resulted in lighting only being required for seven months each year instead of eight.

The cable between Whinfield and Dunston was used mainly to send excess power from Whinfield to the CDEPDC/NESCO networks, but on occasion it was used the other way when Whinfield Power Station was out of service. The Whinfield alternators were run in parallel with those of the NESCO stations.

PPC's Blaydon Power Station, the first waste-heat station in the world to be used for other than purely local supply and one of the first pair of distant stations to operate in parallel, had scored two more world firsts. In 1916 a 2950 kW Parsons turbo-alternator had been installed employing, for the first time, regenerative feed heating. This innovation significantly increased the thermal efficiency of the turbine. In 1919 the alternator of the Parsons machine was fitted with totally enclosed air ventilation, greatly simplifying the cooling system. Both of these highly successful experimental installations were largely the work of Merz and McLellan Ltd. This Parsons machine had replaced one of the two existing alternators, both of which had been rewound in 1907 to give, nominally, 1000 kW each following breakdowns in 1906. In fact each had proved capable of 1200 kW.

In April 1921 NAC began lighting the new council housing scheme at Highfield (the Ward Avenue area). Shortly thereafter the Company, hit by recession in the steel industry, ceased all metallurgical work at Whinfield. The cuprous oxide plant continued but NAC was finished. The Company seems to have gone into liquidation around December 1922. PCL took over the power station and the oxide plant and, once again, were responsible for street lighting. The effect of the loss of the alloy/steel plant from Whinfield was to some extent lessened by the establishment there of laboratories for the quality control of all PCL products and those of the Newcastle Benzol Company. (56)

The CDEPDC cable from Dunston to Whinfield was extended by that Company to Consett via Lintz Colliery (35) during 1923, thus giving both Whinfield and Consett alternative cable routes to the main network. Later the same year PCL electrified their Ashtree Drift (1) (near the present Hookergate Comprehensive School). They ran a 6 kV overhead line from Whinfield northwards over the fields to Smailes Lane and an underground cable from there along Smailes Lane and Spen Lane to the drift. The overhead section was later replaced by underground cable. A sub-station at Ashtree Drift was used for local street lights and to supply Hookergate Grammar School when it opened in 1931. (36)

5,000 kW Metropolitan Vickers set at Whinfield - Click to enlarge

In 1924 a new Metropolitan-Vickers 5,000 kW turbo-alternator was installed at Whinfield Power Station. This plant used the existing steam supply and essentially replaced the old machines. The usual method of operation was to use the 5,000 kW set during weekdays and one of the old sets at night and weekends.

Lockhaugh was the scene of housing development around this time and, as it was considered to be outside Rowlands Gill, the CDEPDC were the body responsible for street lighting and domestic supply. Their Dunston to Whinfield 20 kV cable lay beside the road there and they simply diverted this across the road and built a sub-station on the roadside (37). This work and the associated low-voltage distribution network were completed by the end of 1925. CDEPDC also began electricity supply to Lintzford in 1925. For this they utilised the 6 kV supply at their Whinfield Substation. They laid an underground cable (west from the coke-yard then down the side of Lintzford Lane) to a sub-station at the works of Richardson Printing Ink Co. (38). The supply was to the works only; street lighting did not begin at Lintzford until 1932 when five Elsa reflectors were fitted on poles.

The building of the council housing at Highfield continued and the substation beside the coke ovens could not meet the increased demand. Late in 1925 a new sub-station was installed at the point where the Whinfield to Ashtree Drift 6 kV cable reached Smailes Lane (39). Over the next four years public lighting in Rowlands Gill and Highfield was extended to cover the whole area and as the villages later grew, the lighting followed. Nearly all the wooden poles still in use in the area were erected during this period, many of them by PCL workers during the 1926 strike.

Vandalism may seem to be a fairly recent scourge but this is certainly not the case. In the 1920s lighting, supplied from Rowlands Gill, was erected all the way up Burnopfield Bank as far as the fountain. Repeatedly lamps and fittings were wrecked until finally in the early 30s they were abandoned. As early as 1912 similar occurrences had prompted the Council to order that lamps be removed and stored during the summer months. (In Winlaton they were stored in the attic at the rear of Mr Jones' shop in Church Road.)

Return to top of page

Charles Hesterman Merz

Charles Hesterman Merz

NESCO effectively controlled the electricity supply industry throughout the North East. Through majority shareholdings or common directorships it controlled CDEPDC, CDEPSC, The Northern Counties Electricity Supply, The Houghton-le-Spring and District Electric Lighting Company, PPC, The Bankfoot Power Company and The Waste Heat and Gas Electrical Generating Stations Ltd. The early enterprise of NESCO saved the North East from the chaos created by the Provisional Order system throughout the rest of the country. In most places adjacent council areas would have totally different and incompatible systems run from inefficient 'toy' power stations. In London alone in 1917 there were 50 quite separate systems employing 10 different frequencies and 20 different domestic supply voltages. The difficulties involved in their later rationalisation can be scarcely imagined and the problems in manufacturing and retailing electrical equipment to meet the wide variety of systems undoubtedly delayed the development of that side of the industry.

The relative sanity in the North East, already attributed to NESCO, was largely the work of one man who, though virtually unknown today, deserves to rank among the nation's greats. He was Charles Hesterman Merz (1874 to 1940) one of the founders of the firm, Merz and McLellan Ltd. (40). His first work in the area was as consulting engineer to the electrical undertaking of the Walker and Wallsend Union Gas Company. He did not like the way electricity supply was being fragmented with every individual council or corporation area having its own small power station serving that area alone. He thought it made sense to have a large central power station serving a wide area and to persuade industrial concerns large and small to electrify their works. Only in this way could the power station use its plant to the maximum possible extent twenty-four hours every day and hence produce cheap electricity.

He designed Neptune Bank, the pioneer three-phase AC power station and persuaded shipyards and factories to use the electricity. He chose the frequency of 40 Hz which was to be the North East standard. His firm became consulting engineers to NESCO and designed the first 'modern' power station, Carville, from which NESCO could control their whole network. He persuaded neighbouring power companies to take power from Carville and redesigned their systems to match and complement that of NESCO. He persuaded chemical firms to-use his cheap electricity even to the extent of bringing an aluminium smelting plant to Tyneside. He persuaded NER to electrify part of their railway network and his firm did the design work for the changeover. He was instrumental in the setting up of the Gosforth to North Shields electric tramway. He persuaded many firms that it was worthwhile to install wasteheat power stations in collaboration with the local power company.

I could go on, the list of his achievements in the North East alone is almost endless and his work was not limited to this area or even to this country. His work covered five continents. C.H. Merz served as Director of Experiments at the Admiralty during the Great War and in 1940 was about to take up a similar appointment when he and both of his children were killed in London by a German bomb. It is the North East, his home, that owes most to this great man. From the borders to Yorkshire almost all the electricity supplies were, from an early date, not only compatible but actually interconnected - a situation unique in the country. The resultant availability of cheap electricity went a long way to making North East industry the success in undoubtedly was.

On December 8th 1932 all the power companies in the NESCO empire were merged to form the North-Eastern Electricity Supply Company, still NESCO. Just prior to the NESCO merger, PPC went into voluntary liquidation; Blaydon Power Station was completely in the hands of NESCO. PCL continued to light the Blaydon Burn street lights (including Sandy Bank in the Ryton Urban District) and supplied their own houses there too, but all the electricity was bought from NESCO.

Only a few isolated areas remained outside NESCO's control. The only examples of any size being - DISCO (which somehow contrived to need four power stations, Forth, Close, Newburn and Lemington to light a strip of the north bank of the Tyne measuring 5 miles by 1/2 mile) - the Newcastle Corporation Tramways and Street Lighting undertaking whose Manors Power Station supplied the trams, one colliery and the street lights in Benwell, and the municipal undertakings of Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Darlington.

Return to top of page

Closure of Whinfield Power Station

Around 1932 the first National Grid was taking shape (the brain-child of C.H. Merz). The North East used AC at 40 Hz and throughout the country, as has been stated, a large number of different frequencies were in use. If the systems were all to be interconnected by the 'Grid' the frequency would have to be standardised. The chosen frequency was 50 Hz. All the alternators on the NESCO network would have to be rewound,, replaced or scrapped. A new Dunston Power Station was built, Dunston B, which was opened in 1933 and Blaydon Power Station was re-equipped with a single 1,125 kW , 50 Hz turbo-alternator. The station was-out of service for some time however and, as a temporary measure, a 6 kV cable between Dunston and Blaydon Power Stations supplied Blaydon's load. (41)

Whinfield Power Station awaiting demolition, 1978. (Courtesy of Frank Manders, Sunderland.) - Click to enlarge

It was not thought worthwhile to adapt the Whinfield generating plant and in 1932 Whinfield Power Station was closed. The 1,250 kW alternators were scrapped and the 5,000 kW set was sold and shipped to India along with the Babcock and Wilcox coal-fired boilers. Supplies to Rowlands Gill from that time all came by way of the Dunston Whinfield cable and Whinfield substation. PCL still had the job of lighting and supplying the village but, as at Blaydon Burn, they bought all their electricity from NESCO. Most of the waste-heat stations suffered the same fate as Whinfield over the next two or three years. The new arrangement caused one major problem for PCL. The cuprous oxide plant used very large amounts of electricity and this would now cost significantly more. They solved the problem by installing steam engines and DC generators at the plant itself (part of this equipment came from an old warship "HMS Walrus" and part from the British Museum where it had formed an emergency lighting unit). The generators were of 90 to 175 kW and, being direct current machines, were only used to supply the cuprous oxide vats. There was, of course, already a steam supply to the plant from the waste-heat boilers (42)

In 1938 NESCO were involved in the modernisation of Rowlands Gill's sewerage system. Much of the village's sewage had been treated in filter beds at Ladysmith before discharging into the River Derwent. Now a modern treatment works was being established at Lockhaugh, but to divert the sewage to Lockhaugh, pumping was necessary. A pumping station was installed at Ladysmith and was powered by an electric motor (43). To supply this motor, NESCO set up a sub-station beside the pump-house. This was fed at 20 kV from the nearby Dunston-Whinfield cable. A similar installation at Winlaton Mill pumped sewage from there and from part of Winlaton to the same treatment works.

Return to top of page

NESCO Lights Rowlands Gill

During the 1930s dissatisfaction with the street lighting in and around Rowlands Gill had grown. PCL's sub-stations could not cope with the increasing demand for electricity and they were not prepared to invest in new equipment. The lights, already low-powered by the standards of the day, were getting dimmer. Councillor Len White said, "Business people are reluctant to send vehicles into Rowlands Gill and Highfield after dark, but let me be fair to Priestmans, it is partly the roads to blame." The Council decided in December 1938 to terminate their contract with PCL and to ask NESCO to take over supply and distribution at Rowlands Gill, Highfield, Victoria Garesfield and Barlow. On July 1st 1939 NESCO took over completely.

The initial works involved the replacement of sub-stations at Highfield and Victoria Garesfield. The new installations were called "Highfield North" and "Highfield South" respectively and both were fed from the Whinfield to Lintzford 6 kV cable; the former by means of an overhead line and the latter by underground cable. PCL's coal hopper sub-station was replaced by a pole-mounted sub-station called simply "Highfield" and located in a field behind Highfield Road. The Whinfield Sub-station still supplied PCL by means of that Company's own 6 kV cables to the cokeyard, Victoria Garesfield Colliery, Lilley Drift Colliery and Ashtree Drift.

The pole-mounted sub-station on the Whinfield to Lilley Drift overhead line was replaced by a steel kiosk sub-station, "Rowlands Gill East", at the bottom of Smailes Lane, this was supplied from the nearby 20 kV Dunston to Whinfield cable. PCL's street lighting and domestic supply from their Cowen Terrace sub-station were taken over by NESCO's "Rowlands Gill North" on the roadside opposite Cowen Terrace, also supplied from the 20 kV cable. Hookergate Grammar School and the Low Spen domestic and street lighting, previously supplied from PCL's Ashtree Drift sub-station, were supplied from a new pole-mounted sub-station fed at 6 kV from Highfield North through an overhead line. PCL's Orchard House sub-station was replaced by "Rowlands Gill West", fed at 20 kV. The "Ladysmith Pumps" substation was also utilised for low-voltage supply. The low-voltage lines in the village supplying; street lighting and houses remained largely unaltered (and, is the case of the street lighting, largely unused) until after the war when most of the fittings were replaced.

As the village expanded and demand increased additional works were necessary. In 1947 the Rowlands Gill East sub-station was enlarged and in the following year "Rowlands Gill Central" was erected on South Sherburn.

Return to top of page

The North-Eastern Electricity Board Takes Over

In 1947 supplies were extended to part of High Spen. The Council had asked NESCO to take over the CIC street lighting and house supplies to the council estate at the top of School Lane. This was done by means of a 6 kV overhead line from Low Spen to a pole-mounted sub-station beside the estate. 1947/48 brought the nationalisation of both the electricity and mining industries; NESCO formed the basis of the North-Eastern Electricity Board (NEEB), and PCL was taken over by the National Coal Board.

Other sub-stations in the Rowlands Gill area were installed or existing ones altered over the next few years as follows:- 1952 Smailes Lane (Pipe Bridge), 1954 further additions to Rowlands Gill East, 1957 Whiskey Bridge, 1959 Lockhaugh, 1962 Rowlands Gill (Taylor Avenue), 1962 Rowlands Gill North removed and replaced by Lilley Sub-station behind the old P.M. chapel, 1961 Sherburn Park, 1965 Dene Road, 1965 Dipwood. These were followed by Highfield Dene and Lilley West (18). The Whiskey Bridge substation mentioned above was installed primarily to power another sewage pumping plant (44). This was installed to pump the sewage formerly treated at Whiskey Bridge filter beds (from Victoria Garesfield, part of Highfield, the Dene Avenue/Orchard Road area and Lintzford Road) to Rowlands Gill and hence to Lockhaugh Treatment Works.

In 1957 Lilley Drift Colliery closed (the brickworks continued until 1977) followed, in 1958, by the cuprous oxide plant and cokeworks at Whinfield, and in 1962 by Victoria Garesfield Colliery itself. Whinfield Sub-station remained in operation supplying some of the NEEB sub-stations and the Lilley site for the brickworks. The last hangover of PCL's domestic supplies also disappeared around this time. Since 1902, as previously mentioned, a 550 V overhead line from Lilley Drift Colliery had supplied power for a ventilation fan at High Thornley. A sub-station there gave a lighting supply to Barlow and was later used to give a domestic supply to streets at High Thornley. Another sub-station fed from this 550 V line supplied Thornley House (now a market garden) (45). When NESCO took over supplies to Rowlands Gill and Barlow in 1939, the High Thornley and Thornley House supplies remained in PCL's hands and were inherited by the NCB in 1948. By 1961 the streets at High Thornley were demolished and the fan was disused, but Thornley House was still supplied as before. NEEB rectified the situation by installing a pole-mounted sub-station at Thornley House. This was fed by overhead lines connected to the 20 kV cable on the main road near Hollinhill Farm.

Return to top of page

Chopwell and High Spen Catch Up

CIC's supplies to Chopwell and most of High Spen were also inherited by the NCB and continued until 1957/58 when NEEB supplies were substituted. Originally small generating, plants had been established at both Chopwell and High Spen. These probably gave direct current (DC) at 500 V using the three-wire system (3). This system gave both 500 V for machinery and 250 V for colliery and village lighting. Some time later (1908 seems the most likely date) these DC plants were closed and replaced with alternating current plant housed in a sizeable power station located alongside the Chopwell coke ovens. This generated at 5,250 V, three-phase, 50 Hz (note the frequency). Power was conveyed to High Spen at this voltage on an overhead line which ran beside the Company's railway track through Chopwell Woods. Transformers at the power station and at High Spen reduced the pressure to 625 V (AC of course) for new colliery machinery and rotary converters (manufactured by Bruce Peebles Ltd.) at both locations gave 500/25O V DC for existing machinery and lighting supplies (46).

A private CIC network supplying their collieries in the Consett and Medomsley areas from a power station at the Templetown coke ovens at Consett was linked to Chopwell Power Station by a 5,250 V overhead line. This line was routed through Westwood Colliery so that this colliery could also take a supply. (47)

Chopwell Power Station - Click to enlarge

In 1929 CIC opened a by-product coke works near Winlaton Hill (called Derwenthaugh Coke Works) and installed two 1000 kW Metropolitan-Vickers turbo-alternators there. Steam was obtained from Babcock & Wilcox coal-fired boilers. The alternators gave 500 V AC, three-phase, 50 Hz and this voltage was used by all the works machinery. Several small (10 kW) 500/125 V transformers around the works gave lighting supplies. Two 800 kW 500/5,250 V transformers stepped up the voltage for transmission to the staithes and workshops at Derwenthaugh itself; this 5,250 V link was by overhead line and is still in use. These transformers were also utilised to link Derwenthaugh with Chopwell Power Station (and hence with the rest of the CIC network) by means of an overhead line along the railway line. A branch from this overhead line was utilised to supply Clockburn Drift when it opened in 1950, and the Derwenthaugh to Clockburn 5,250 V link is still in use although part of it has been re-routed. Until Chopwell Power Station closed in 1959, Templetown, Derwenthaugh and Chopwell Power Stations were run in parallel. (48) (57)

In the mid 1930s the village lighting supplies at Chopwell and High Spen were converted from DC to AC. This involved replacing the rotary converters with 625/250 V transformers. The DC lighting supplies in both villages had been typical of most DC systems in that all the distribution was at 250 V; all the wires radiated from one location (the power station at Chopwell or the sub-station at High Spen). Consequently those streets situated well way from the power station would receive somewhat less than 250 V. It is said that when the Chopwell cinema, the Kings (located conveniently close to the power station), struck its arcs for the evening show, the lights in some streets actually went out. The introduction of AC lighting supplies would have allowed the use of several sub-stations but none were installed (except at Hookergate which the NCB set up in 1947). The villages continued to suffer the disadvantages of the old system. (59)

At Chopwell, steam was supplied for the power station from three wasteheat boilers at the end of the ovens. (Flue-gas temperature 2200°F, steam temperature 370ºF, pressure 160 pounds per square inch). There were also two oil-fired boilers, surely a most unusual feature for a colliery. When the coke ovens closed in 1940, five coal-fired boilers were installed (3 Stirling and 2 Bennis). One of the waste-heat boilers could also be coal-fired and was retained as were the oil-fired boilers. At High Spen there were two boilers at the end of the coke ovens and three at the brickworks. All were fairly close to the generating plant, so perhaps they were all used to give steam for electricity generation for the few years that this was undertaken at High Spen. (49)

The NEEB take-over of Chopwell and High Spen was somewhat more involved than at Rowlands Gill as the low voltage networks were entirely unsuitable for NEEB's purposes. They were completely reconstructed at the same time as the new high-voltage networks and sub-stations were installed.

Chopwell was connected to the NE network first and derived its high-voltage (20 kV) supply from Hamsterley Colliery (50) which, in turn, obtained its supply from the 1923 Rowlands Gill to Consett feeder at Medomsley. The new sub-stations at High Spen were connected to both Chopwell and Greenside (and later to Rowlands Gill) by 20 kV overhead lines.

Chopwell Power Station closed on March 7th 1959. The Derwenthaugh generating plant continued in use until around 1972 when NEEB supplies were substituted (taken from the Dunston to Rowlands Gill 20 kV cable). NEEB had actually had a sub-station at the plant since 1952 and there was a proposal that Derwenthaugh should run in parallel with the NEEB system and 'export' its excess power to NEEB. Equipment for this purpose was actually installed, but in the end NEEB decided that the generating plant was not up to the required standard and they would not allow parallel operation. Whenever Derwenthaugh used the NEEB supply it had to divide its system into two sections with their own plant supplying one section and NEEB the other. When the Derwenthaugh plant was closed, two large transformers were installed by NEEB, the existing sub-station was also retained.

Return to top of page


The Central Electricity Generating Board took over the generating side of the industry throughout the country on January 1st 1958, by which time Stella North and Stella South Power Stations had been built (51). Blaydon Power Station, by then producing a mere 1100 kW, closed in 1959 and was replaced by a large 66/6 kV (later 66/11 kV) sub-station on the same site. This took its supply from the 66 kV Dunston Power Station to Prudhoe feeders (actually two distinct lines following different routes, one of which passes through Rowlands Gill) which were erected in 1941 to supply a vital ICI chemical plant. These feeders now pass through Coalburns Switching Station where they interconnect with a 132 kV line from Stella South Power Station (through a sub-station). Blaydon is now usually supplied from Stella via Coalburns, though it can be supplied from Dunston.

Whinfield Sub-station 1980, just prior to demolition - Click to enlarge

The last remaining 6 kV sections in Rowlands Gill disappeared in 1966, or nearly so. The 6 kV supply, as previously stated, came from Whinfield Sub-Station and fed sub-stations at Highfield, Victoria Garesfield, Low Spen, Lintzford and Lilley Brickworks. At "Highfield North" and "Highfield" the 6 kV sub-stations were replaced by 20 kV installations. The village of Victoria Garesfield had been reduced to three streets and only a small pole-mounted sub-station was needed. Low Spen had its pole-mounted sub-station replaced by a larger outdoor sub-station opposite Hookergate School. All these new sub-stations were interconnected by overhead lines supplied by a new underground cable to Highfield from one of the Rowlands Gill sub-stations. Provision was also made to interconnect the High Spen and Rowlands Gill 20 kV supplies when necessary to give alternative supplies to the villages. Lilley Brickworks was provided with a pole-mounted sub-station supplied from the 20 kV cable beside the A694. Only Lintzford retains its 6 kV supply. The Whinfield to Lintzford 6 kV cable was cut at Victoria Garesfield and fed from a new sub-station (52) which transforms 20 kV from the Highfield to Garesfield feeder to the required 6 kV. Its work done, Whinfield Sub-station was finally closed after 50 years service to the area. A new sub-station now bears its name, but the new Whinfield Sub-station 'merely' supplies part of the Whinfield Industrial Estate and the nearby streets (53).

Dunston Power Station is now closed and is now just a sub-station taking power from the Grid it once supplied. Rowlands Gill's electricity supply has come a long way in eighty years, but as you turn on your television or walk along the brightly lit streets remember Merz and Priestman Collieries and reflect on the fact that power for the village still comes along a cable laid in the ground 65 years ago to help us win the Great War.

Return to top of page


Street Lighting Coverage 1903 - Click to enlarge

Street Lighting Coverage 1914 - Click to enlarge

Street Lighting Coverage 1932 - Click to enlarge

High Voltage Transmission 1902 - Click to enlarge

High Voltage Transmission 1926-1939 - Click to enlarge

Rowlands Gill Schematic 1926-39 - Click to enlarge

High Voltage Transmission 1947 - Click to enlarge

High Voltage Distribution 1982 (Simplified) - Click to enlarge

Blaydon Power Station Network 1914 - Click to enlarge

Return to top of page


(l.) Victoria Garesfield Colliery

This consisted of three drift mines at the colliery itself: Coronation Drift NZ 14285819, Speculation Drift NZ 14305812 and Hookergate Drift NZ 14525814, and two remote from the colliery: Ashtree Drift NZ 14405939 and Rickless Drift NZ 13996081. A brickworks (mostly fireclay) operated in the colliery yard NZ 146579 but this was run down in the 1920s. To the east of the colliery were the coke ovens and the 'Alloy' and 'Oxide' plants. A ventilating fan was located at NZ 14395827, the associated shaft being 72 ft (22m) deep. The colliery closed on July 13th 1962.

Return to top of page

(2.) Beehive Coke Ovens

Cross-section of Coke Oven 109 at Whinfield. (Courtesy of Bernard McCall, Portishead) - Click to enlarge

These were developed in the Newcastle area in the eighteenth century. They produced excellent coke for the metal industries but none of the gas and organic compounds released from the coal during the coking process could be recovered; it was the burning of these compounds which provided the heat in the ovens. The ovens at Whinfield were built about 1861 and were in continuous production until May 1958. The preserved ovens, those numbered 108, 109, 110, 192 and 193, are located at NZ 15185814.

Return to top of page

(3.) Electricity.

The unit of electrical pressure is the VOLT (V), 1000 volts is 1 KILOVOLT (kV). The rate at which electricity flows (in terms of quantity, not speed) is the current and is measured in AMPERES (A)- this is usually shortened to AMPS. The unit of electrical power is the WATT (W). If one ampere flows at a pressure of one volt then the power supplied is one watt. In general Watts = Volts X Amps. 1000 watts is 1 KILOWATT (kW). The amount of electrical energy supplied is measured in terms of Power X Time. The 'UNIT' of electricity as measured on domestic meters is the KILOWATT-HOUR, i.e. one kilowatt of power for 1 hour.

Electricity is basically of two types: alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC). The latter was originally called continuous current (CC). In the early days of electricity supply there was a great deal of controversy among engineers as to which was the better system to employ. Direct current (the sort obtained from batteries) had several advantages over alternating current (where the direction of flow changes many times per second; the number of changes per second is the frequency and is measured in Hertz (Hz) ). A power station employing DC generators could also be equipped with a bank of storage batteries (essentially large car batteries) which could be charged from the generators during the night when the demand was low. The batteries could then supplement the generators during periods of high demand or even be used alone if the generators broke down. AC electricity could not be stored, so standby generating equipment was essential . DC motors were much simpler to construct than those operating on alternating current and, in the early days at least, such AC motors as were built needed low frequency AC; so low in fact that it would be unsuitable for filament lamps as it gave them a noticeable flicker.

All in all DC seemed to hold all the cards. This was certainly true for a small power station serving a tiny area around the station, but for anything more ambitious than this1AC was better because of one all-important consideration. This was the ease with which the voltage could be changed on an AC system. A transformer was used, a device with no moving parts, about 98% efficient and requiring very little maintenance. Why was changing the voltage so important?

Suppose a supply of 45 kW of power at 250 V is to be sent a distance of 2 miles (3 km) from a power station, through a cable with copper conductors of 1 inch diameter. Generating and transmitting the power at 250 V would result in the loss of 7 kW of power in the cable itself ( it would be converted to heat in the cable) and the voltage at the receiving end would be only 210 V. This reduced voltage could be corrected by choosing a suitably higher voltage at the power station to give 250 V at the distant location, but this would mean that consumers nearer the power station would receive too high a voltage and even more than 7 kW would be lost in the 2 mile cable. A much more economical approach would be to generate and transmit the power at a much higher voltage, say 6 kV, and reduce it to 250 V at the receiving end. Sending 45 kW at 6 kV over the same 2 mile cable would result in only 12 watts being lost in the cable. This latter alternative could be easily achieved with AC, but was impossible with DC. High voltage DC generators were (and still are) very difficult to design and, whereas it was possible to change the voltage of DC electricity using a rotary-converter (essentially an electric motor driving a generator), the output voltage was equally limited. AC generators (or alternators) giving 6 kV and higher were common from the early 1900s and transformers to reduce 6 kV to 250 V were easily designed.

Some undertakers used a hybrid system whereby generation and transmission was carried out using high voltage AC and this was converted to low voltage DC (using a different form of rotary converter) at several points for local distribution. NESCO used this system for a while. Another system employed by NESCO in their early days was probably more efficient than the system employed today; they generated at 2 kV AC and this was transmitted directly into consumers' homes where a small transformer reduced the voltage to 100 V AC for domestic use. The dangers of having such a high voltage inside houses was soon evident and the system was discontinued.

For the reasons outlined above AC gradually replaced DC for all public supplies. DC is now used only for specialised industrial and traction purposes. Today generation is usually at 11 kV and this is raised to 132 kV, 275 kV or even higher for long distance transmission. This voltage is then reduced to 33,20 or 11 kV for transmission to substations and finally to 250 V for the last few hundred yards to our homes.

3-Wire DC - Click to enlarge

Three-wire DC. To give a choice of voltages within one system, DC electricity was most often produced in generators giving two 250 V supplies connected in series.

3-phase AC - Click to enlarge

Three-phase AC. The electricity arriving in our homes is single-phase AC. It arrives on two conductors (wires), not counting the earth wire, which is purely a safety device and does not normally carry any current. However, the supply cable from the sub-station passing down the street will most probably contain four separate conductors. These are known as the red phase, yellow phase, blue phase and neutral conductors - a threephase supply. Your service cable ( the one coming into your house) has conductors connected to the neutral and one of the phase conductors, this gives (nominally) 250 V. Roughly one. third of the consumers served by the cable will be connected to the red phase and neutral, one third to the yellow phase and neutral and one third to the blue phase and neutral. Industrial consumers can obtain 440 V three-phase, for electric motors, using all three phase conductors. (If the mathematics doesn't seem to make sense, blame the laws of physics). The currents in each of the three phase conductors change direction at different instants giving 'direction' to the electricity and enabling simple and powerful motors to be used. If the power drawn from all three phases is the same then there will be no net current in the neutral. Because of this, the neutral conductor can be dispensed with on the high-voltage sections of the networks.

The neutral conductor is earthed at the sub-station, hence, on the single-phase supplies in our homes , it is normal practice for light and socket switches to interrupt only the live (phase) conductor, the neutral being inherently safe. (Do not rely on this- your live and neutral may be accidentally reversed at some point resulting in lamp holders and sockets being live even when switched off.)

Priestman's distribution system in the Rowlands Gill area was somewhat different and caused a lot of consternation among consumers. Their system used 250 V between the phases. The neutral was earthed at the sub-stations but only the three phase conductors were actually carried around the village, the consumers' supplies being taken from any two of the conductors. The result: in every house both conductors were 'live'. No matter which conductor contained the switch, no matter whether the switch was on or off, every bulb-holder and socket was permanently 'live'.

Return to top of page

(4.) Reservoir and Lintzford Pump House

Reservoir at Victoria Garesfield Colliery NZ 14685800

Lintzford Pump House NZ 14285737. The foundations of the pump house can still be seen together with the mounting studs for the motor and pump.

Return to top of page

(5.) Blaydon Urban District

Originally comprised the following places: Blaydon, Stella, Winlaton, Derwenthaugh, Winlaton Mill, Rowlands Gill, High Spen, Chopwell, Barlow, Victoria Garesfield and part of Swalwell. Boundary revisions later resulted in the removal of Swalwell and the inclusion of Blackhall Mill.

Prior to the formation of the Blaydon Urban District Council in 1895 the area was administered by Blaydon Local Board. In 1974 the whole District became part of Gateshead Metropolitan Borough.

Return to top of page

(6.) 50 candlepower

This is approximately the light given by a modern 60 watt bulb.

Return to top of page

(7.) Chopwell and High Spen Collieries.

Chopwell. There has been mining to the north of Chopwell from the 16th century or earlier and in the Milkwell Burn Wood (Carr's Pit- shaft at NZ 11305717, drift at NZ 11315716 and Taylor's Pit- shaft at NZ 11065770, drifts at NZ 11055772 and NZ 11075767) from about 1800. CIC acquired the royalty (mining rights) in 1891 and commenced Chopwell Colliery.



There were coke ovens located at NZ 116585. The colliery closed in 1960 except for the Whittonstall drifts. West Drift was driven to remove the remaining coal quickly. The remaining drifts were closed on November 25th 1966.

An electric railway opened on September 11th 1908 to bring coal from Whittonstall to Chopwell. This was of 2ft2in gauge and was operated by three electric locomotives . DC at 500 V was used and was carried to the locomotives by means of twin overhead copper wires. However the two mile journey with gradients up to 1 in 12 caused problems with brakes and bearings, and it was decided to limit the use of these locomotives to the last half mile of the line which was relatively flat. A stationary electric hauler (the Ravenside Hauler) was installed beside No-3 Pit in 1913 and this operated a 'main-and-tail' rope haulage system over the rest of the line. From about 1923 the Ravenside Hauler was used over the entire length of the line and the electric locomotives were then used only for shunting at the No.2 Pit screens (which handled the Whittonstall coal) and for other very localised work. Around 1929 the electric locomotives were scrapped, the line continued in use with rope haulage until 1966.

High Spen. (More correctly 'Garesfield' Colliery, not to be confused with Victoria Garesfield Colliery.) Opened in 1837 by the Marquis of Bute with the sinking of Garesfield A Pit at NZ 1394 5974. This was followed by:



There were two banks of coke ovens (64 at NZ 139598 and 52 at NZ 133597) and a brickworks at NZ 139597 . CIC took over the colliery in 1890. An air-shaft at NZ 13025885 was known as 'Heavygate' or 'Furnace' Pit, and Garesfield A Pit was also used for ventilation purposes when the other shafts came into use. See also note 10.

* The 21st birthday of the 3rd Marquis of Bute, John Patrick Crichton-Stuart.

Return to top of page

(8.) Lilley Drift, Blaydon Burn and Waldridge Collieries.

Lilley Drift Colliery consisted of two drift mines: the Alice Drift NZ 16735942 and the Barlowfield Drift NZ 16615958. Coal was conveyed from these drifts to the screens by means of a tubway under the A694 road. A brickworks, NZ 169592, operated in conjunction with the colliery and coke ovens were located there also, at least until 1920. For most of its life the colliery used rail transport (the Newcastle to Consett railway, now the Derwent Walk, was adjacent to the colliery) but for some years after 1896 an aerial ropeway conveyed the coal for two miles to Blaydon Burn. Latterly the colliery workings were linked underground with those of Blaydon Burn Colliery, and coal was drawn at the latter colliery. The colliery closed on January 5th 1957 but the brickworks continued for another 20 years.

Blaydon Burn Colliery comprised the Mary Drift NZ 16396212, the Bessie Pit NZ 17076251, the Victoria Drift NZ 16826227 and Barlow Fell Drift NZ 15036068. An extensive brickworks at NZ 179634 and the Ottovale complex at NZ 174631 were associated with the colliery. The Blaydon Burn Waggonway linked the colliery and other works with the Newcastle to Carlisle railway. Originally this waggonway crossed the old Blaydon to Ryton road at a level crossing, NZ 18026358, but the road was later re-routed and raised to cross the waggonway by means of a bridge. The Mary Drift closed on March 28th 1953 and the Bessie Drift on November 3rd 1956. The Barlow Fell Drift and the Ottovale works continued for another two or three years.

Waldridge Colliery - NZ 250501, closed April 1926.

Return to top of page

(9.) Exciting Current

A simple AC generator, or alternator, would consist of a permanent magnet rotating beside a stationary coil of wire (or three coils for a three-phase supply ). In practice rotating electromagnets are used (the Lilley generator had 12, hence it was a 12-pole machine). The current to power these electromagnets is known as the exciting current (or field current) and is supplied by a separate DC generator. Where did this generator's exciting current come from? It supplied its own, relying on residual magnetism in the metal to get it going.

Return to top of page

(10.) High Thornley Fan Shaft

This shaft at NZ 16026037 is 300ft (91m) deep and 8ft (2.4m) in diameter. It predates Lilley Drift Colliery and was the No 3 Pit of the original Garesfield Colliery (Garesfield Farm and the actual Gares-field are nearby). This colliery, sometimes referred to as Thornley Colliery, began working about 1800 and had closed by 1854. Another of Lilley Drift's air-shafts (NZ 15145987) had been the No 4 Pit (or Engine Pit) of Garesfield Colliery.

Return to top of page

(11.) Horse-Power

1 horse-power is equivalent to 746 watts.

Return to top of page

(12.) Switchboard Equipment

Voltmeters and ammeters, as their names suggest, measure voltage and current respectively.

A switch is a device which interrupts an electric current by producing
a non-conducting gap in the circuit. A three-pole switch is essentially three switches (one for each phase) operated by a single handle or lever.

A circuit-breaker is a switch which can be operated remotely or automatically as well as manually.

A fuse is a device which prevents the flow of excessive-current which could otherwise damage equipment or cables. Some types of circuitbreaker perform the same function.

A rheostat is a device which will limit the amount of current flowing in a circuit by converting some of the energy to heat. If a rheostat is used to control the exciting current of an alternator then it will effectively control the output voltage of the alternator. A rheostat can be continuously variable or variable in steps, the latter type is a multiple-contact rheostat.

Return to top of page

(13.) Blaydon Power Station

Located at NZ 17546315.

Return to top of page

(14.) Blaydon Burn Reservoir

Located at NZ 172631. Can still be seen.

Return to top of page

(15.) Blaydon Main Colliery

Stella Coal Company until 1908, Priestman Collieries 1908 to 1921. Consisted of:

Most of the surface buildings were located beside Shibdon Road where the swimming baths are now situated. The Colliery closed in March 1921 when some of the workings were seriously flooded during a miners' strike (they worked under the Tyne). The unaffected parts were later worked from Blaydon Burn Colliery.

Return to top of page

(16.) Boilers at Blaydon Power Station

The number of boilers quoted is taken from a list of contracts associated with the building of the power station. A later Merz & McLellan document (Tyne & Wear Archives Dept. Ref 671/40), however, indicates that four boilers were actually installed initially and a fifth in 1907 (when the alternators were rewound).

Return to top of page

(17.) Priestman Power Company.

Registered 26/11/1903, No. 79256. The original directors were: F. Priestman *, H.B. Noble, J.T. Merz **, H. Peile *, S.J. Leybourne *** and J.H. Armstrong.

* Also directors of Priestman Collieries Ltd.
** Chairman of NESCO and father of Charles H. Merz.
*** General Manager of Priestman Collieries Ltd.

Return to top of page

(18.) Sub-Stations

An installation, generally remote from a power station, housing equipment associated with electricity distribution. The equipment consists of transformers, switchgear and protective devices. (In the case of DC supplies, rotary-converters would replace transformers). A Primary Sub-station deals only with high-voltage supplies, for example, Blaydon Burn, which transforms 66 kV to 11 kV. Other sub-stations are supplied from a primary sub-station and convert the high voltage to 440/250 V for domestic and light industrial use

Priestman Collieries Sub-stations. (Only those concerned with public supply are listed here. There were others around the works, for example, in the Fitting Shop and Oxide Plant, which were concerned only with lighting the works)

* P.M.= Pole-mounted.

Consett Iron Company Sub-stations.


Return to top of page

(19.) Thomas Ness Ltd.

Operated a tar works at NZ 173630 in conjunction with the Ottovale coking plant. When Priestmans bought the Norwood Coke Works in 1930, the same firm set up a tar works there as well (NZ 237611). This latter plant is still operating despite the fact that Norwood itself was recently closed.

Return to top of page

(20.) Newcastle Benzol Co

A Priestman subsidiary which operated a refinery at the Ottovale works, NZ 174630, and a fuel depot at NZ 17046305. When coke is produced by indirect heating, as it was at Ottovale, there are three main by-products: gas, ammonia and tar. The tar went to Thomas Ness Ltd., the ammonia was sold as fertiliser (in the form of ammonium sulphate) and proved a lucrative product until ICI, Billingham began to make it more cheaply, and the gas heated the coke ovens and raised steam for the power station. What was left for the Benzol Company? The gas as produced was far too valuable to burn. It contained many valuable organic compounds: Benzol, Toluol (Toluene) and Naptha in particular. The Newcastle Benzol Company removed these chemicals from the gas before passing the remainder, mostly carbon monoxide, on to the furnaces. The toluene was in great demand during the Great War as it is the main ingredient in T.N.T. (Tri-Nitro-Toluene), but benzol was their main product. They mixed it with petrol and sold it as a motor fuel. It proved very popular but, unfortunately for them, they chose to use Russian petrol. Eventually, after prolonged opposition from British petrol companies, Priestmans sold the whole refinery to the National Benzol Co.

Return to top of page

(21.) Axwell Park Colliery

Located at NZ 202618. Opened 1856, closed August 7th,1954.

Return to top of page

(22.) Dunston Power Station.

Located at NZ 218629

Dunston A opened 1910 by NESCO . This was a most unusual power station as it had its own by-product coking plant. The usual chemicals were recovered and the power station was fired by both coke and gas. This plant remained in use until the opening of ICI, Billingham (1926), which rendered it uneconomical. When the nearby Norwood Coke Works were opened in 1912 (Teams By-Product & Coke Co. Ltd. NZ 238613), their surplus gas was also used at Dunston Power Station. Norwood's gas was later sold to the local gas company for public supply, an arrangement which continued until the advent of natural gas supplies.

Dunston B opened 1933, coal fired.

The capacities of the two stations in 1954 were: Dunston A 45,000 kW, Dunston B 300,000 kW. Dunston A closed some years ago and Dunston B in 1980; both buildings are still standing (1982) but are to be demolished. The sub-stations on the site are to be retained and the former C.E.G.B. control room is being adapted for use by NEEB.

Return to top of page

(23.) Greenside, Addison & Emma Collieries (Stella Coal Co.)

Greenside Colliery. Located at NZ138619. Opened 1907, closed 23rd July 1966.

Addison Colliery. Located at NZ 168642. Closed 22nd February 1963

Emma (or Towneley) Colliery. NZ 144639. First sod cut 25th February 1845 Closed 19th April 1968.

Return to top of page

(24.) Electric Furnaces for Ferro-Alloy Production.

Basically a steel container lined with special bricks into which three large carbon electrodes (connected to a three-phase supply at around 50 V) can be lowered. The furnace is charged with iron turnings, coke and ore (quartz for ferro-silicon, chromite for ferro-chrome). When the electrodes are lowered into the charge, a current of the order of 10,000 amps passes through the charge and melts it, forming the required alloy. The furnace is then tapped and the slag separated. During the heating process the electrodes are continually lowered as the electrode tips vaporise. Because of the size of conductor needed to carry the huge currents to these furnaces, the transformers supplying the furnaces were always located close to the furnaces. At Whinfield these transformers were fed at 6 kV.

Return to top of page

(25.) Whinfield Power Station. NZ 15285815

Photographs show what appear to be two buildings side by side, one of white brick, the other of corrugated-iron sheet. It would seem, however, that the latter was an extension of the former. The internal arrangement is unclear, except that the 5000 kW alternator was situated on a higher level than the smaller sets. The earlier set of underfed boilers (see note 27) was housed in a building adjoining the brick section of the power station and alloy plants A & B adjoined (and were of similar construction to) the corrugated-iron section.

Return to top of page

(26.) Generating Plant at Whinfield

It has proved extremely difficult to establish exactly what plant was installed at Whinfield Power Station. Very little documentary evidence has been found and eyewitness accounts are contradictory. It is certain that a Metropolitan-Vickers 5,000 kW, 6 kV, 40 Hz turbo-alternator was installed in the mid-1920s. It is equally certain that a number of much older 1,250 kW, 6 kV, 40 Hz sets were there also. Various accounts have indicated that there were two, four or six of these smaller units. I was assured, by someone who should know, that they consisted of B.T.H. alternators driven by Brown-Boveri turbines. Yet I have documentary evidence, unfortunately undated, that four Metropolitan-Vickers 1,250 kW, 6 kV, 40 Hz turbo-alternators were delivered to Priestman Collieries. The only Priestman installations likely to have required anything like 6,000 kW of generating capacity at one time were Whinfield & Blaydon Power Stations. The equipment at the latter is well documented and did not include Metro-Vick sets.

It is possible to reconcile the various accounts by assuming that there were initially two Brown-Boveri/BTH sets later (1917?) supplemented by the four from Metro-Vick and, when the larger set was installed, two of the existing sets were removed to make room for it. This is very conjectural; I am still seeking more definite information.

Return to top of page

(27.) Boilers at Whinfield

The waste heat boilers were located at NZ 15165814, NZ 15205818, NZ 15265817 and NZ 15295822. The original underfed boilers were at NZ 15305813 and those installed in 1917 at NZ 15255823

Return to top of page

(28.) Whinfield Cooling Ponds

Located at NZ 15265811

Return to top of page

(29.) Early Cinema

1909 to circa 1916. NZ 16805853. Also served as dance hall and (roller) skating rink. It was apparently usual to have live acts between films at this cinema and, in 1913, a tragic accident resulted in the death of one member of a dancing troupe known as 'The Four Eldons' who were appearing at the cinema. On the evening of Thursday May 29th 1913, an 18 year old local girl, Florence Ashall, had attended the show which finished at 9.30. When she arrived home, her father sent her out to get some tobacco and she met up with one of the dancers, Gilbert Askham aged 17 from Leeds. They went into the goods yard of the nearby station but, unfortunately for them, they chose to stand in front of the buffers on one of the sidings. At 10.30 a goods train arrived and some of the trucks were shunted onto that siding. The trucks struck the couple and pinned them against the buffers. Two miners came on the tragic scene. Florence still had her arms around Gilbert's neck, but both youngsters were dead.

Return to top of page

(30.) Carbon Electrode Plant, Blaydon Burn.

Located at NZ 16696220. Quite shortlived, probably only during the Great War.

Return to top of page

(31.) Cuprous Oxide, Electrolytic Production.

The process involved passing DC electricity through a hot (60-70 Celsius) solution of common salt (sodium chloride) using copper electrodes. On a very superficial level the process can be described as follows:

Chlorine is attracted from the solution to the positive electrode (anode) where it reacts with the copper to give copper chloride. Sodium metal is formed at the negative electrode (cathode) and it immediately reacts with the water to give sodium hydroxide solution. The sodium hydroxide and copper chloride react to give sodium chloride (again) and copper hydroxide. The latter breaks down because of the temperature to give water (again) and copper oxide (cuprous oxide). The cuprous oxide is precipitated, i.e. it is insoluble and is deposited on the bottom of the container.

The net result is that copper from the anode and oxygen from the water combine to give copper oxide.(Water contains atoms of oxygen and hydrogen, when the oxygen is removed, hydrogen is left. This is a gas and it simply bubbles from the solution.) In theory it was only necessary to periodically replace the electrode and top up the water to keep the process going indefinitely.

At Whinfield the process took place in wooden vats lined with pitch. They were about 6ft (1.8m) square and 31/2 ft (1.1m) deep. Across each vat were two copper bus-bars (conductors) from which were suspended several copper rods to make up each electrode. Each rod was about 21/2 ft (0.8m) long and 3 inches (76mm) in diameter. They had a narrower neck and a T-piece across the top. About forty of these vats (there were about 55 in total) were connected in series across a 120 V D.C. supply, the current being controlled by a rheostat. Every two hours or so the polarity (direction) of the current was reversed, this resulted in the rods making up both electrodes being consumed alternately. After two days the contents of the vats were pumped out and the cuprous oxide separated in a filter press. The salt solution was then returned to the vats, the rods replaced and the process repeated.

Some of the copper rods were actually produced at the Whinfield site, others were bought ready made. The cuprous oxide plant survived nationalisation and finally closed in May 1958. However, the vats and personnel were moved to the 'International Paints' factory at Felling and continued in use there for several years.

Return to top of page

(32.) Alloy Plant 'C', Whinfield Works

Located at NZ 15455810. Following the collapse of the Newcastle Alloy Company, this building was used as a coke-cutting plant. In recent years it was used for the production of breeze blocks (Thomas Armstrong(Concrete) Ltd.). This company now has a modern factory on a nearby site and the old building is disused. I understand that it is to be demolished along with the old Whinfield Sub-Station (note 54), the upper storey of which had been used as an office by the same company.

Return to top of page

(33.) William T. McGavin

proved to be a man of exceptional calibre and was rapidly promoted to managerial level. His career includes the managerships of Ottovale, Whinfield and Norwood. He now lives in retirement at Ryton and, despite his age, his considerable mental faculties are completely undiminished. [Believed to have died 1989]

Return to top of page

(34.) The Picture House, Rowlands Gill

Located at NZ 16805853. Built 1919, last show Friday November 30th 1962.

Return to top of page

(35.) Lintz Colliery

Located at NZ 158562, closed 1929. A tee (branch) from the Rowlands Gill to Lintz Colliery section of the 20 kV overhead line also supplied South Garesfield Colliery (NZ 158573 from 1887 to February 1960) Barcus Close Colliery (NZ 171578 1932 to April 1966) and some farms.

Return to top of page

(36.) Hookergate Grammar School

Located at NZ 145592, now Hookergate Comprehensive School. [Closed 2011]

Return to top of page

(37.) Hollinhill Sub-station

See Note 18.

Return to top of page

(38.) Richardson Printing Ink Co

Located at NZ 15045718 on the south bank of the River Derwent at Lintzford. This building is of some antiquity. Prior to 1923 it housed a paper mill which used water power.

Return to top of page

(39.) Smailes Lane

Some confusion may arise over the use of the term 'Smailes Lane' to describe the main road through Highfield. The name is now usually taken to mean the lane between the library and Pipe Bridge. However, Smailes Lane continues as the B6315 from Pipe Bridge to St. Patrick's Church and, in the other direction, from the library to the A694. In the earlier part of last century, what is now Stirling Lane (previously Stirling's Lane) was also part of Smailes Lane. This section was renamed in memory of Dr. Robert Stirling whose unsolved murder occurred there on November 1st 1855.( Dr. Stirling is buried in
Tanfield churchyard.)

Return to top of page

(40.) Charles Hesterman Merz

As far as I am aware, the only memorial to this man in the North-East is Merz Court, one of the buildings at Newcastle University.

Return to top of page

(41.) The Billingham ICI Works

had a considerable quantity of 40 Hz plant and the cost of re-equipping the works with 50 Hz machinery was prohibitive. Their solution was to build their own 40 Hz power station. This is still operating but the Works now use both 40 Hz and 50 Hz equipment. In 1976 the power requirements were: 50,000 kW at 40 Hz and 60,000 kW at 50 Hz. ICI's generating capacity was 90,000 kW (some at 50 Hz) and they had three 40,000 kW, 66 kV links from NEEB (at 50 Hz, of course.) Some interchange of power between the 40 Hz and 50 Hz systems was possible through frequency changers (a form of rotary converter in which an alternator of the required frequency is driven by a motor using a different frequency).

Return to top of page

(42.) Generators at the Cuprous Oxide Plant, Whinfield

When Whinfield Power Station closed around 1932, the use of rotary converters to provide the power requirements of the 'Oxide' Plant became uneconomical. These were replaced by two DC generators driven by reciprocating steam engines. One was manufactured as a complete unit by Clarke-Chapman and gave about 750A at 120 V (90 kW). The other consisted of a Crompton-Parkinson generator powered by a steam generator of unknown make. This generator gave about 1000A at 120 V (120 kW). One of these two sets was apparently obtained from the British Museum. No, it wasn't an exhibit, it had been a standby lighting unit.

During World War 2 a third generating set was installed which consisted of a Siemens generator driven by a Browett-Lindsey engine. The generator was rated at 120 V, 1,200 A (144 kW) but was frequently run at 1,500 A (180 kW) during the War. This set is said to have come from HMS Walrus, a 'W' Class Destroyer (Launched 27/12/1917 at Fairfields, Glasgow. Stranded in Filey Bay 12/2/1938. Broken up at Dunston in October 1938). The steam supply for these engines came from the waste-heat boilers, it was already used to heat the vats.

Return to top of page

(43.) Ladysmith Pumping Station & Lockhaugh Treatment Works.

Ladysmith Pumping Station. Located at NZ 16935861,built by BUDC 1938, now run by Gateshead MBC.

Lockhaugh Treatment Works. Located at NZ 172590, built by BUDC 1938, now run by Northumbrian Water Authority.

Return to top of page

(44.) Whiskey Bridge Pumping Station

Located at NZ 15805774, built 1957.

Return to top of page

(45.) Thornley House and Streets at High Thornley

Thornley House. NZ 16875987. A large mansion occupied this site until about 1930. It is now a market garden with its own retail outlet in the village. For many years this business was in the capable hands of Mr Jack Brown. Now his son-in-law, Mr George Atkinson, has taken over. [The Market Garden was taken over by Mr Brown's daughter, Enid Tones, and it closed in 2006.]

High Thornley. Located at NZ 165601

Return to top of page

(46.) Generators at Chopwell and High Spen.

As at Whinfield, it has proved very difficult to obtain information on the early generating plant at Chopwell and High Spen. The situation in 1959, and for some years before, is quite clear; Chopwell had a coalfired power station containing two Bellis and Morcam 1,500 kW sets and one English Electric 3,000 kW set. All three gave three-phase AC at 5,250 V, 50 Hz. The power station worked in parallel with alternators at Derwenthaugh Coke Works and the Templetown Complex at Consett. High Spen had a sub-station which was fed from the Chopwell to Derwenthaugh overhead line. Both collieries used 5,250/625 V transformers to power the colliery machinery and 625/250 V transformers for colliery and (prior to the NEEB take-overs) village lighting.

It is equally clear that the original (1898) installations bore little resemblance to this later system. I believe that CIC established generating plant at Chopwell and High Spen for lighting purposes only and intended using steam to provide motive power. When transport between Whittonstall and Chopwell was required, a route with steep gradients, electric locomotives seemed the most promising and were chosen. This, however, required more power than the existing plant could supply; much more. If a large power station was to be established at Chopwell it would make sense to integrate it with the existing Templetown plant and to use it to supply High Spen as well. Because of the distances involved in both of these links, the choice of a high voltage, for transmission at least, was mandatory, and at that time high voltages could only be obtained with an AC system. Templetown used 5,250 V, three-phase, 50 Hz, and this was the most sensible choice for Chopwell.

The power station was apparently built in 1907, just across the railway tracks from the coke ovens. Waste-heat boilers on the ovens supplied the steam; these were of the water-tube type (one was tested at Chopwell between May 21st and May 28th 1907). Rotary converters took over the 250 V DC lighting supplies and provided 500 V DC for the electric cars (locomotives). The overhead lines to High Spen and to the Templetown network were established and rotary converters at High Spen took over the DC lighting supplies there too. With more electric power available, Chopwell and High Spen were able to electrify some of their mechanical operations such as hauling, ventilation and pumping. With the final demise of the electric cars in 1929, the rotary converters would have only the lighting load to supply. Rotary converters, unlike transformers, required regular maintenance, and their continued use would not be justified. Hence the switch from DC to AC lighting shortly thereafter.

Return to top of page

(47.) Equipment at Consett Works.

CIC's electrical arrangements at their Consett Works were rather complicated. Their main distribution was 500 V DC three-wire obtained from a 1000 kW turbo-generator located in the Turbo-Blower-House. They also generated at 3300 V (usually given as 3 kV) AC, three-phase, 40 Hz, using two 3000 kW turbo-alternators located near the blast furnaces. These alternators supplied the plate mill and were run in parallel with the system of the local supply company, The Cleveland and Durham Electric Power Company ( which held the Provisional Orders for Consett and Benfieldside- both dated 1901). The connection to this company's network was through three 1600 kW, 3 kV/20 kV transformers.

Then there was the 5,250 V (usually given as 5 kV), three-phase, 50 Hz colliery network. Power was generated at Templetown and Chopwell (and, from 1929, at Derwenthaugh) and supplied the CIC collieries (see below) in the Consett, Medomsley and Leadgate areas as well as Chopwell and High Spen (Garesfield) Collieries. Both AC systems were connected to the works 500 V DC system; the 3 kV,40 Hz system through two 1,500 kW rotary converters and the 5 kV, 50 Hz system through a single 750 kW rotary converter. Thus all three systems could exchange power (all four, if one includes the Cleveland Co.).

The Cleveland and Durham Electric Power Company's network was connected to the NESCO system so, in fact, Chopwell and Derwenthaugh were connected, very indirectly, to the NESCO system as well - with DC as an intermediary. CIC's arrangement with the power company could not have survived the frequency change (circa 1932). I do not know what CIC did with their 40 Hz plant at that time; they may have changed it to 50 Hz or continued as before without their feed to the Cleveland Co., or perhaps they switched their interconnection with the power company from the 3 kV, 40 Hz to the 5 kV, 50 Hz network.

The following CIC collieries were supplied from Templetown prior to the link-up with Chopwell: Blackhill (NZ 104515), Derwent (NZ 123548), Delves (NZ 113503, Eden (NZ 134521) and Medomsley (NZ 115537). Chopwell was connected to the network at Derwent Colliery by an overhead line which was routed through Westwood Colliery (NZ 115559). Langley Park Colliery (NZ 211541) was later added to the network.

Return to top of page

(48.) Derwenthaugh Coke Works

Located at NZ 193615 . Erected in 1929 for CIC by "Silica, Coke Oven and Machinery Ltd." of London. Consisted of 85 by-product ovens giving 13-15 tons of coke each per charge. For many years the surplus gas was fed into the pipes of the Newcastle and Gateshead Gas Company. When natural gas supplies arrived in recent years, a pipeline was laid to Consett so that Derwenthaugh's gas could be used at the steelworks (Part of the British Steel Corporation since 1968). Sadly, Consett now has no use for this gas.

Return to top of page

(49.) Boilers at High Spen and Chopwell.

The waste-heat boilers at Chopwell were located at NZ 11585852 and NZ 11575854, the underfed boilers at NZ 11775851 and the oil-fired boilers at NZ 11805851.

At High Spen, the boilers likely to have been associated with the generating plant were located at NZ 13945982 (coke-ovens) and NZ 13935974 (brickworks). There were other boilers on both banks of coke ovens.

Return to top of page

(50.) Hamsterley Colliery

Located at NZ 117565. A drift mine operated by Hamsterley Colliery Ltd. Opened about 1866, closed 2/2/1968. This colliery had its own generating plant and supplied lighting to the village of Hamsterley Colliery and to Blackhall Mill. NEEB took over these areas in the early 1950s.

Return to top of page

(51.) Stella North and Stella South Power Stations

Stella North Power Station Located at NZ 176646 Capacity about 300,000 kW.

Stella South Power Station Located at NZ 173643 Capacity about 300,000 kW.

Return to top of page

(52.) Highfield South Substation

This sub-station served the village of Victoria Garesfield between 1939 and 1966, transforming 6 kV from Whinfield Sub-station to 250 V. From 1966 this function was taken over by a small pole-mounted sub-station 'Garesfield', and Highfield South took over part of Whinfield's function; supplying 6 kV to Lintzford. Both Garesfield and Highfield South are fed at 20 kV. See note 18.

Return to top of page

(53.) Whinfield Industrial Estate

Located at NZ 152581

Return to top of page

(54.) Whinfield Sub-station (Old)

A two storey building, the upper storey belonging to NESCO/CDEPDC and the lower storey to Priestmans. It housed two 20/6 kV and three 6 kV/550 V transformers and various switchgear. Of the 6 kV/550 V transformers, one was manufactured by Westinghouse and two by Berry.

Return to top of page

(55.) Death of Colliery Manager.

The 1912 Miners' Strike indirectly caused the death of the recently appointed manager of Blaydon Burn and Lilley Drift Collieries, Mr Christopher Liddell. He bought a gun for protection during the strike and killed himself while cleaning it. (March 1912).

Return to top of page

(56.) Tragedy for Alloy Manager.

For the manager of the Newcastle Alloy Company, Mr George D. Cowen, of Meynell House, Rowlands Gill, the closure was the second tragedy he had suffered. His only son, six year old John Dunford Cowen, had been accidentally drowned in the River Derwent on the afternoon of Tuesday March 23rd 1920. The body was found by Mr Thomas Lumley.

Return to top of page

(57.) Clockburn Drift and Winlaton Mill

When Clockburn Drift was opened in 1950 (to draw coal directly from the workings of Marley Hill and Byermoor Collieries for coking at Derwenthaugh) various old wooden implements were found. Tradition has it that monks worked coal here in medieval times. The sidings of this drift are on the site of an old iron works established by Ambrose Crowley around 1700 and latterly operated by the Consett Iron Company. It closed about 1918. The old village of Winlaton Mill was also located near Clockburn Drift and must be quite unique in that it was demolished in 1933 to make way for a rubbish dump.

Return to top of page

(58.) Newcastle and Gateshead Power Stations

Carville NZ 303659, Neptune Bank NZ297656, South Shore Road NZ 260639, Manors NZ 254642, Forth Banks and Close NZ 248636, Lemington (still standing 1976) NZ 186645.

Return to top of page

(59.) Kings Picture Hall, Chopwell

The first cinema, dating from about 1910, was burnt down on February 23rd 1920. A new one was built behind the shell of the old cinema and this continued until 1967. (Last show January 28th)

Return to top of page

(60.) Death from Lightning

Lightning makes itself felt in Rowlands Gill from time to time and occasionally does some damage but, on 30/7/1924, it caused the death of 49 year old Mr Edward Bewley of 7 Derwent View, Rowlands Gill who was struck while walking home from work.

Return to top of page

(61.) The Birds

An unusual problem confronted the engineers at Whinfield during the 1930s. For several mornings in succession at precisely 8 a.m. the circuit breaker controlling the Whinfield to Lilley Drift 6 kV feeder snapped open (actually it sounded more like an explosion) indicating a short-circuit somewhere on the line. Each time, the fault cleared itself and power was restored by manually re-closing the circuit breaker. Each time, the whole length of the line was inspected and nothing appeared to be wrong. The circuit breaker itself was inspected, again nothing was wrong.

After five days of this, everyone had had enough. Not only were they tired of the three mile inspection trip (the feeder was strung on 57 poles), they were worried in case the intermittent fault might become something more serious. A fault on this feeder would not only black out a large part of the village, it would also immobilise Lilley Drift's pumps and ventilation fan. Next morning all the staff were spread out along the length of the feeder to await 8 a.m. Precisely on time the circuit breaker opened again, but this time they saw why. A large number of birds apparently favoured a particular span of the overhead line which was located near the railway station. When the 8 a.m. train from Newcastle approached the station, it sounded its whistle, and all the birds flew off at once. The wire reacted by whipping back and forward violently, so violently that it touched its neighbour and caused a short circuit. The solution did not involve shooting the birds or silencing the train, they simply tightened the wire.

Return to top of page


Local Authority Records

Company Records

Private Papers

Government Acts

Journal Articles



Return to top of page


I would like to thank the following people for information and assistance given: Dr A.F. Anderson and Messrs. F. Anderson, J. Blackett, G. Brown, W. Burns, D. Dodds, Ch.M. Hollidge, J. Laing, W.T. McGavin, T.W. Moon, D.W. Pattenden, the late P. Stoddart, B. Storey, J. Stubbs, J.S. Wade, J. Walton, the late L. Walton and T. Walton. I would also like to thank the staff of the following organisations: CEGB Engineering Services - South Stella, Durham County Records Office, Gateshead Central Library, NCB - Team Valley, NEEB - Carliol House, NEEB - South Tyne District, NEEB - Durham District, Newcastle Central Library, Newcastle University Library, Tyne & Wear Archives Dept. and the Mining Institute - Neville Hall.

Return to top of page


Return to top of page


Where possible and appropriate, eight-figure references have been given. These can be converted to the more familiar, but less precise, six-figure references by the omission of the fourth and last figures. (NZ 11425857 becomes NZ 114585). A common error is 'rounding up'(ie 5857 to 586), this is not correct.

Copyright © Brian Pears 1983, 2013

[Last updated: Saturday, 9th February 2013 - 18:16 GMT - Brian Pears]