A brief history of Weston-Super-Mare’s electricity history is given below in order to provide a background to some photographs of Weston that have come to light recently associated with a brochure called “Electric Light and Power” issued by The Mendip Press Ltd., in 1907 then of 32 Waterloo Street, Weston-Super-Mare, the present offices of the Weston Mercury. It would appear that they were sponsored by at least 50 other electrical undertakings to publish the brochure nationally.
Weston-Super-Mare was one of the last major towns in the South West to have public electricity supply in 1901. For example Taunton was the first in 1886 and Bristol in 1893. Many displays of electricity had taken place in the town and the most impressive display was staged by Laing, Wharton & Down with 20 arc lamps along the front for one month in the Summer of 1887 and Mr Wharton giving a lecture to a packed audience in the Victoria Hall in October of that year, but the Town Council still couldn’t be persuaded to promote electricity.
Pressure continued from many quarters, but particularly about the need for a tramway system, until the Town Council agreed to obtain an Electric Lighting Order from the Board of Trade in 1895. A new company was then set up in 1899 called the Weston-Super-Mare and District Electric Supply Co. Ltd., and then a Tram Order was obtained also in 1900 to give them the necessary powers with a capital authorisation of £ 80,000. A generating station was then constructed at Locking Road with direct access to the GWR Railway line for importing the necessary coal, and the first public electricity supply was commissioned in May 1901. Alongside the generating Station was built a large tram shed, which began operating a year later.
The Opening of the Electric Works in May 1901
A Tram setting off for the Sanatorium
Initially only 134 lighting consumers were connected in the first year, which had only risen to 260 by 1907, however the trams were more successful in carrying 778,965 passengers in the first year.
The plant at Locking Road by 1907 consisted of 4 steam engines driving DC generators with a capacity of 800kW at a time when the Bristol Undertaking was installing steam turbines. The electricity supply made available was 230v and 460v, the lower voltage for domestic supplies and the higher for the tram motors. Within a short time 2.9 miles of track had been laid with tramcars provided by Brush Ltd, fitted with BTH motors.
You may be interested to hear that at that time, electricity was supplied to Birnbeck Pier to drive the machinery for hauling up the Water Chute boats and to drive a Flying Machine. Also Grand Pier was provided with electricity to supply lights for the new Steamboat Jetty.
The Grand Pier in 1907
It was reported at that time that “A great increase has been made during the last year in the number of Arc Lamps installed, as many as thirty having been connected with the mains for outside lighting in the High Street alone”.
The brochure listed other important connections :
Lance and Lance’s new premises
The Royal Hotel
WH Smith & Son
St. Peter’s School
Perrett’s Model Bakery
G. Sparke’s Joinery Works
Also this interesting view of the Knightstone Theatre showed many internal filament lamps.
Described as the Stage in the Knightstone Pavilion
For those who may be interested in the people involved, only the Managing Engineer is given as Mr. Marcus Nash AMIEE. He was trained at the City Guilds College, South Kensington and later worked for Midland railway, Sutton Electric Tramways and joined the Weston company in 1904. On checking other sources I found that the Chairman was Mr WL Madge with fellow Directors : G Ratcliffe-Hulme, Geo Offer & Geo J Somerville.
At nationalisation in 1948, the number of consumers had risen to 7,755, the trams were no more, electricity generation had ceased and the system had been changed to AC with a bulk supply from the National Grid.