Electric Light Station

From information received from Roger at Bassett's Pole Service Station on the site of the ELS

Roger, who works at Bassetts Pole Service Station, called me to say that he had some information on the Electric Light Station, situated by the bridge on Coleshill Road, Sutton Coldfield. He gave me a photocopy of a newspaper article. What strikes me as a bit odd is the opening paragraph of the article says that 'every year crowds turn up to see Sutton Coldfield's Christmas lights switched on' - they do? What lights? I have a picture taken in the Gracechurch on Xmas morning which clearly shows hardly a light in sight! See image at base of page. 

The Electric Light Station (1) The Kings Arms (2) Tudor Laundry (3) Sutton Town Railway Station (4) Area now Riland Tip (5)
Just off the map was allotments on which now dwells Victoria Street multi car park

The generators. 1910

Commutated Dynamo of the type that was probably used

See Yellow tabs below

Sutton Coldfield's Tudor Rose above the ELS front door

This is now the workshops for the Basset Pole Service Station

Main Switchboard 1910

David Wilcox thinks this was an approximation of the Electrical Panels
red = Amp meter, Green = Switches, Yellow = Voltage Adjuster

The first street lights came in 3 designs, using bright arc lights that were turned off in favour of dimmer incandescent bulbs later at night. In the beginning there were 12 arc lamps with 108 bulbs and 10,000 private lamps. (Any idea what a private lamp was?) On December 14th 1901 the borough council opened the ELS and streets that were, up to then, lit by dim gas lights, suddenly became much brighter. Planning began for this in 1898 and Sutton Coldfield's Electric Lighting Act became fact a year later. After investigative trips to other towns using electric light the system used by Barking was adopted. The first streets to be electrically illuminated were Coleshill Road up to the High Street, Birmingham and Lichfield main roads (Holland Road to Four Oaks station). Park Road, Clifton Road and Manor Road. A further extension then brought light to Anchorage Road, Tudor Hill, Victoria Road, Station Street, Bishops Road, Rectory Road, Cup Lane and Driffold Lane. All this required a power station generating 350kw DC, enough for about 350 electric fires today, including surplus for about 2000 domestic lights.
The following images are of an original crane, still in place

The building itself was erected on the site of the old gas works on the junction of Ryland Road and Coleshill Road and had a 150 foot chimney. Tudor roses were carved under the windows, the coat of arms and block of bath stone over the entrance. The building housed a boiler room and several steam driven generators and large banks of batteries. In just over 100 years, externally, little has changed despite a century of traffic fumes and weather. What was the Generator Room is now the Basset Poole Service Station and still houses the crane (above) used to repair the dynamo's. In another part the towns resident engineer, Trevor Deusbury, had his office, earning £200 per year, and residents could go there to pay bills.

The ELS site from Ryland Road - Gas Works would have been on the left

Note: the light  has the mirror reflectors, the cross members are to rest a ladder on. Nowadays you need three men, a health & safety inspector
and a registered scaffold putter upper to erect the scaffolding!!!

Tower Wagon

JOHN TREVOR DUESBURY was registered as Borough Electrical Engineer based at this Electric Station. His entry is on the War Memorial Rolls having died on 8 March 1916, aged 38, whilst serving in France. The entry can be found here.  He was a member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers. He was a member of Streetly and Little Aston Golf Clubs.

As mentioned in para 1, the remarkable LACK of decorations on Xmas Day 2006 and every year hence

Probable Power Units in the Electric Light Station

Source: http://www.bathtram.org/tfb/tP000.htm reprinted with permission Adrian Tuddenham

In 1904, when the Bath Electric Tramways power station was constructed, steam turbines were still struggling to gain acceptance in power stations of this size. The BET station was designed for the tried and tested technology of reciprocating steam engines. The three main generators were powered by double-acting reciprocating engines made by Yates and Thom. They were compound engines with Corliss valve gear, a design which gave high efficiency.

Reciprocating Steam Engines
In a reciprocating engine, a piston is driven along a cylinder by pressure on one of its faces. This motion is converted to rotation by a crank. As the crank continues to rotate, the piston returns to its starting position and repeats the cycle. This to-and-fro motion gives rise to the description 'reciprocating' as opposed to a continuously rotating engine such as a turbine.

When the piston reaches the end of its first travel, the power stroke, the pressure in the cylinder is released and the piston can be driven back by the continuing motion of the crank. If the engine has more than one cylinder, the return stroke of one piston is arranged to occur during the power stroke of another, and smooth continuous rotation results. If the engine has only one cylinder, a large flywheel can be used to keep the crank rotating during the return stroke, but the speed of the engine will be uneven as the flywheel is alternately powered and 'coasted'. Alternatively, the piston can be driven back by steam pressure on the opposite side from before. The piston is therefore powered in both directions and is said to be 'double-acting'.

As the piston reaches the end of its travel, any residual steam pressure must be released from the cylinder before it can be driven back by steam from the opposite end. When the initial supply of steam was at high pressure, the released steam would still have sufficient pressure to be useful. It could be supplied to a second cylinder, coupled to the first, and allowed to do some more work with the remainder of its energy. An engine which uses the steam twice in this way is known as a 'compound' engine. Because the second cylinder is designed to work with steam which has already expanded, it is of considerably larger volume than the high pressure cylinder and a larger surface area piston is available to extract energy from the lower pressure steam.

Corliss valves
Because high pressure steam expands, there is no need to continue allowing steam into the cylinder to fill the extra space as the piston travels through its stroke. A single 'shot' of steam at the start of the stroke is all that is needed. The valves which allow the steam into the cylinder are a potential point of energy wastage. If they open and shut gradually, the steam flow will be restricted and expansion will occur in the valves instead of in the cylinders. A quick-acting valve is needed, especially one with a cut-off timing which can be automatically varied to suit the load on the engine.

By 1904, the Corliss valve was considered to offer the greatest efficiency. It worked rather like a domestic gas tap, with a rotating 'plug' inside a close-fitting housing. The plug had a large hole bored through it and could be rotated through an angle of 90 degrees to line-up the hole with steam passages in the housing. Because the steam pressure did not tend to force the valve open or shut (as it did with some other types) the rods which operated the valve could be made relatively light in weight and the whole system operated rapidly and precisely with minimal force.

The cylinder head of a large vertical-cylindered tramway generating engine showing the external appearance of Corliss Valves

This wonderful information about what was almost certainly the power units in Suttons ELS can be seen in full here:

http://www.bathtram.org/tfb/tP000.htm - reprinted with permission Adrian Tuddenham

On a similar vein ...........

The following narrative was sent to me by David Wilcox.

In a sense Birmingham is the home of gas, as William Murdock came from Cornwall in 1777 to join Boulton and Watt at the Soho Manufactory, where he discovered the use of coal gas for lighting, and gave a public display at the Soho works for the celebration of the Peace of Amiens in 1802. A year later the whole of the works was lit by gas. Murdock designed the necessary gas-fittings which the company soon manufactured for sale, but the borough of Birmingham was content to rely on whale oil for street lighting. Among the last products manufactured at original Soho Works before the move in the 1860s were many gas fittings.

In 1816 tenders were invited for street lighting by gas, and only one offer was received, from a Mr Gostling of London, who had already installed lighting in Westminster. The tender was accepted, and he was immediately asked to extend his contract to another 16 streets, which was beyond his private means. So he set up the Birmingham Gas Company by private Act of Parliament and in 1818 Birmingham had its first street lighting by gas which was manufactured in Gas Street. The company appears not to have been the most efficient, and competition was soon established. The Birmingham and Staffordshire Gas Company was set up by Act of Parliament in 1825, but did not perform much better, although it did open the country’s largest gas works at Swan Village, West Bromwich, in 1829. In the 1830s two unsuccessful attempts were made to set up new companies - the Consumers’ Gas Company and the Equitable Gas Company. The 1849 Kelly’s Director lists the Birmingham Gas Light & Coke Company with works at Gas Street, Fazeley Street and Windsor Street, and the Birmingham & Staffordshire Gas & Coke Company with its Birmingham works at 57 Adderley Street. All these gas works were located next to canals, but the Windsor Street and Swan Village works also had railway access.
The Birmingham Improvement Act of 1851 gave the borough many new responsibilities and powers to discharge them, but the gas companies escaped the net, because their business was not considered a public health matter although, by contrast, Manchester already had a municipal gas service in 1817.

By the 1870s there were 33 municipal gas undertakings in the country. This was at a time when Birmingham reached the peak of its prosperity, and enjoyed the leadership of the Mayor, Joseph Chamberlain, who in 1874 persuaded the Council to vote by 54 votes to two in favour in favour of buying the companies out. An Act of Parliament in July 1875 authorised the deal and the Birmingham Corporation Gas Committee was set up. West Bromwich council decided to keep some independence and obtained parliamentary powers in 1876 to buy from Birmingham the right to establish its own undertaking. Birmingham Corporation retained the Swan Village works to supply Wednesbury and other outlying districts, but West Bromwich built its new works in Oldbury Road at Albion, again close to the canal and the railway, opened in 1880.

From the start, the Birmingham Gas department was a success, making more money which benefited the ratepayers, while gas charges were reduced twice in the first five years. At the same time, the gasworks were modernised and enlarged, a hire-purchase system was set up to sell domestic gas cookers, and pre-payment gas meters were introduced on a large scale. According to Professor Asa Briggs, “It was this undertaking more than any other which made Ralph describe Birmingham as ‘the best-governed city in the world’”. It is no coincidence that the Art Gallery was built over the offices of the Gas Department, which was its landlord. Birmingham’s excellent public libraries were also financed largely from gas revenues. Birmingham also supplied gas to the neighbouring districts of Aston, Handsworth and Yardley, long before it swallowed them up.

With an efficient gas undertaking, the city authorities took little interest in the faltering progress of electric lighting, and it was not until the Birmingham Electric Supply Company was making high profits in the late 1890s that it was taken over by the city. Inevitably, the electricity undertaking grew faster than the gas department during the 20th century, but the City of Birmingham Gas Department put on a brave show into the 1930s, enlarging its statutory area of operation from 125 to 195 square miles, to supply Coleshill, Darlaston, Sutton Coldfield and Wednesbury. Between 1929 and 1931 the Gas Department installed gas connections and slot meters to about 21 000 court and terrace houses without charge. By 1938 one-third of the gas produced was used for manufacturing purposes. Gas was still used largely for street lighting, with spectacular high-pressure fittings in Victoria Square, Now Street, Corporation Street and parts of Hagley Road.

With nationalization in 1949 the undertaking came under the control of the West Midlands Gas Board.

Gill, C: History of Birmingham - Volume I, Manor and Borough (Oxford University Press, 1952)
Briggs Asa: History of Birmingham - Volume II, Gill, C: History of Birmingham - Volume I, Borough and City (Oxford University Press, 1952)  Contemporary directories

Beryl McMullen: A little bit of History. William Murdoch the inventor of gas light was born in Dumfries Scotland. 

It was In 1777, at age 23, Murdoch walked over 300 miles to Birmingham to ask for a job with James Watt, the famous steam engine manufacturer. Both he and his partner Matthew Boulton were so impressed  he was welcomed with open arms.  After living in Birmingham for some time Murdoch, Anglicised his name to Murdock.












'The Old Photographs of Sutton Coldfield' Compiled by Marion Baxter





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http://www.suco.co.uk/      http://www.tigersunited.com/history/p-kmiles.asp Ken Miles     http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4158/is_20040512/ai_n12788010 Lee Vale-Onslow

http://www.newhallmill.org.uk/newhall.htm - Friends of New Hall Mill     http://www.suttoncoldfieldobserver.co.uk/index.jsp Sutton Coldfield Observer

http://icsuttoncoldfield.icnetwork.co.uk/ - Sutton Coldfield News     http://www.thisissuttoncoldfield.co.uk/