Monthly Archives: July 2014
As part of The Power and The Water Project (http://powerwaterproject.net) I am based at the University of East Anglia, and am looking at the creation and development of the Electricity National Grid from Its introduction in discrete towns and cities by entrepreneurial individuals through to the huge infrastructure that supplies our electricity today.
One of the areas I would like to investigate is the effect this had on individual people, families and communities. For example Godalming in Surrey was the first place in Britain to have street lighting powered by electricity. In a letter written to his local paper in 1953 a Mr George S. Tanner recalls his memories as a 12 year old boy;
“The lamps were much as they are now but slipped into two brass slides like an inverted letter U. In those days we boys often had magnets to play with and the similarity intrigued me, so one day in our showroom when no one was about I took a needle to see if the electricity would act as a magnet and held it across the base of these two slides. The needle vanished and on my finger and thumb were deep white hollows where the needle had been. It had instantly fused. This was never done again as you can imagine.”
He goes on to recall;
“The wires were not insulated then. The dynamos were at Pullman’s Mill and the river gave the power so the wires were brought overhead from there along the bottom of the Vicarage garden. At that time the wooden bridge was out of repair. The present brick bridge (which I remember being built) had taken its use and so it had decayed and become fenced in with a closed fence and the wires were carried along overhead of this, not very high up. There was opposition as you can guess to anything new and the story goes that two men with their cargo of beer came along one night and one lifted the other up to tear the wires down. But when he grasped them the current imprisoned both.”
“The story goes that old Mr Bridger who at one time was Mayor (or several times so) had shares in the Gas Company. He, it is said, liked his liquid nourishment. The arc standard by the Market House was loose and one night he was ‘out to get one back’ for the Gas Company and so embraced it and shook it and was heard muttering, “B- b- b- ‘lectric light!””
He finishes his letter by saying;
“I do not suppose all this has much value for your information, but now on the edge of 86 I feel that these little memories should be passed on.”
And that is where I would like your help. It is important to understand what happened in areas and individual premises where electricity was introduced. Other stories I have heard include a man found bouncing on his bed whilst trying to blow the electric light out and children being bathed in milk pasteurising containers because they were electrically heated but the farmer didn’t trust electricity enough to have it in the house.
Understanding how electricity was both perceived and received by people is important not just for posterity and historical records but also to develop ways of integrating new technologies into everyday life and to understand how better to disseminate information regarding their introduction, use and potential.
I would be very grateful if anyone has any stories or memories they would share with me. The people involved can remain anonymous or if they wish can have their name associated with their comments in any published articles (in which case could they add their name, and place of residence as they would wish to have it published).
You can contact me through any of these methods. Thank you for any hep you can give to me.
visit the web pages: http://powerwaterproject.net/
Postal Address: Electricity Memories,
School of History
Faculty of Arts and Humanities,
University of East Anglia
By Kayt Button
I used to have a coal fired Rayburn which I had to continually feed logs and coal to keep my house warm and my water hot. This meant going through perhaps three 25kg bags of coal and a couple of baskets of large logs in a week. And I was just one of the 26.4 million households in the UK (according to the Office for National Statistics). Not all of these households use electricity to provide heating and hot water, but very nearly all of them use electricity. The multiplication of say just 30kg of coal per household would mean the need for 792,000 tonnes of coal per week!
It isn’t just the volume of coal; it’s the need to keep the fire going continually, which means having a constant stream of fuel because electricity cannot be stored.. Whilst today electricity is generated from coal, hydropower, nuclear fuels and a whole host of renewables there is a need to constantly keep generating the power. This supply has to meet the demand however varied that is over the day and the year.. When the national grid was built between 1926 and 1933 nearly all electricity was produced from coal fired power stations.
In years gone by Newcastle would have been exporting coal, filling vast ships which would deliver the coal to power stations round the UK and abroad. Loading and unloading ships required man power and was a physical and dangerous occupation for which you had to provide your own spade, and sometimes candles, to shovel the coal flat as it was dropped to the ships to get as much as possible on board.
Today, after the closure of the mining industry in the north-east, the process runs in reverse. The Port of Tyne receives coal from huge ships with massive cranes unloading the coal from the ships. Large vehicles scrape up the last layers inside the ship hold which the cranes cannot reach. Long freight trains line up to take the coal from the port to power stations to maintain constant power generation.
The logistical operation to keep coal flowing to power stations today is vast. Watching the volumes of coal being unloaded, the mountains of it in storage, and the huge machinery to move it from storage to train helps to understand how much natural resource we are using in our everyday lives. As the piles of coal begin to be transported from quayside to the storage yards, another ship will moor up and everything continues as it is a 24 hour operation.
Turning on the light switch, the increasing numbers of electrical gadgets, and technology driving a demand for increased power removes us from the reality of what it takes to produce it; we no longer have to put any effort or even thought into the process. But someone, somewhere is doing the work.
The Port of Tyne is an
exciting, busy, industrious place with 600 acres of land surrounding the River Tyne with both import, and, some export companies. At the height of shipping on the Tyne 1 in 6 of every ship launched in the world was in Newcastle. Visiting the port gives an indication of what a vibrant, busy and industrious place it would have been. There would have been merchants and sailors from round the world, goods piled high on the quayside and so many people, and carts and horses in order to get goods to and from the docks. There would have been a great ship building yards and all the workers that would have employed too. Although not as busy, and with tractors, cranes and scrapers the port is still a vibrant place, which is expanding and diversifying, and still supporting imports and exports and it was a privilege to be there. Find out more at http://www.portoftyne.co.uk/
And so the conference season continues. Whilst a new experience for me personally, the extensive programme of talks and panels circulated in advance of the 2nd World Congress of Environmental History at the University of Minho in Guimaraes, Portugal, which took place between the 8th and 12th of July, provided an insight into what to expect from the one of the year’s most prestigious gatherings of environmental historians, and the subsequent event didn’t disappoint. With presentations and discussions covering a multitude of subject areas, geographic locations and sub-disciplines – from marine cultural environments to the intersections between environmental histories and visual culture; encompassing the Americas, Australasia, India, Africa, and even the comparatively humble Tyne valley in northern England; and drawing upon the work of historians, geographers, zoologists and artists – WCEH 2014 demonstrated quite clearly just how far the practice of environmental history has advanced since the early days of the mid-late 20th century. Nonetheless, despite being daily immersed in a wealth of world-class scholarship disseminated by some remarkably knowledgeable, outgoing and enthusiastic individuals, I still could not help but be distracted by further developments back home in my own area of interest: the Severn Estuary.
Alongside the excitement of meeting and engaging with students, academics and scholars from around the world; listening attentively to discussions on topics as relevant to my interests as the remaking of North American rivers through the construction of hydroelectric dams and as fascinating as the emergence of Earth Art in the 1960s; sampling the many delights of Portugese café culture; and witnessing the tidal wave of destruction that was Germany’s assault on an unsuspecting Brazil in their 7-1 semi-final victory earlier in the week; the news that the Crown Estate have recently agreed seabed rights for a host of new wave and tidal energy demonstration zones, in addition to five new wave and tidal current sites, at various locations around the British coast, couldn’t fail to attract my attention. This includes three sites to be operated by Cornwall-based company WaveHub, encompassing wave testing zones in North Cornwall and South Pembrokeshire and a tidal stream array off the north coast of Devon near Lynmouth. The latter has been announced as the test site for Pulse Tidal’s Pulse-Stream system, which employs an alternative approach to harnessing the power of tidal stream currents to that employed by the majority of developers. Rather than creating the equivalent of an undersea wind turbine, as has been the case for MCT Siemens with their SeaGen design and Open Hydro with their Open Centre technology, the pulse-system exhibits a vertical up-and-down motion akin to the flaps on an aircraft which enables it to be deployed in relatively shallow water.
Equally distracting was the news that, despite the apparent finality of the UK government’s decision last year to reject proposals by Hafren Power for a tidal barrage along the Cardiff-Weston route (from Lavernock Point on the Welsh side of the Severn Estuary to Brean Down on the English side), the newly formed Severn Tidal Energy have recently succeeded in negotiating up to £200m of investment for a renewed attempt at securing support for an identical scheme. The investor, who is reported to be experienced in funding global infrastructure projects, has yet to be formally identified; however, it seems evident that STE are intent on pursuing a similar strategy to that of Hafren Power who made it clear that their project would be dependent on significant financial support from a private investor.
As part of my work into the history of tidal energy and the exploitation and harnessing of the tides in the Severn Estuary and Inner Bristol Channel, it is my intention to employ the insights gained from my study of the past to enable the development of informed predictions and imaginings of future scenarios for such activity in the region. Could for example, the now derelict tide mill at Berkeley be resurrected as a small-scale hydro-electricity power station capable of servicing the local community? However, the activities of companies like WaveHub and organisations such as RegenSW serve as a reminder that such a future is already in the process of being envisioned. Perhaps, in place of older technologies such as tide mills or barrages, electricity will be generated through the widespread establishment of vast undersea tidal stream farms, supplemented in places by tidal lagoons such as that proposed for Swansea Bay. Alternatively, the recent establishment of Severn Tidal Energy and the renewed effort by its supporters to realise the potential for generating 5% of the UK’s electricity supply through construction of a single large-scale piece of infrastructure could still result in the designs from the past being made manifest in the future. Only time will tell, but whatever comes to pass, regardless of where I am in the world, at which conference I am presenting or which major sporting event is taking place, I will be sure to remain abreast of developments in the Severn Sea.
Sources/Relevant Website Links (all accessed on 14/07/14):
Making waves: will ‘wavegardens’ change surfing? Exploring artificiality and commercialisation in water-based recreation
Planning consent for a ‘wavegarden’ in Bristol was big news in the city (See: Bristol Post). Perfectly placed between the beaches of Cornwall and Devon to the southwest, and Wales to the west, Bristol is home to a committed surfing community who regularly exodus the city at weekends in search of waves. The Wave: Bristol promises ‘perfect’ waves on their doorstep, breaking on demand in an artificial lake just outside the city. But already the idea has generated plenty of discussion that gets to the heart of what surfing is about and what it means to those who practice it.
Does it matter that the wave is generated by machinery, not winds, tides and swells that cross oceans? Artificiality offers some benefits: regularity, predictability, repetition. Surfers are used to poring over swell forecasts and weather charts to anticipate where the best waves will be on any given day. This takes time, but it also breeds an understanding of meteorological information, and how it affects certain waves and beaches. As a result, experienced surfers demonstrate a nuanced knowledge of the geographies of their local breaks, and can transfer their ability to read conditions to new or unfamiliar places. But if there is no motion in the ocean then surfers are at a loss (friends of mine get noticeable twitchy if they haven’t been in the water for a while and spend a lot of time scanning the horizon for a line of swell that never comes). A wavegarden provides waves no matter the weather. This will appeal to many surfers, particularly during those flat spells when they are wave-starved.
I recently visited the Museum of British Surfing and chatted to its founder Peter Robinson about wavegardens. I was fascinated to see in the museum an illustration from the 1930s of a ‘wavepool’ in Wembley. The 1920s and 30s were the golden age of swimming, with outdoor pools, lidos and river swimming clubs providing many communities with opportunities for water-based recreation. A strong belief in the health benefits of swimming and being outdoors was prevalent at this time. Pete told me that these wave pools were not unusual, particularly in Germany, where swimming in ‘natural’ moving water was preferred. ‘Surf-riding’, what we now call body-boarding (catching waves lying down on short boards) was also popular on beaches across England at this time, and the museum has a great number of photographs, boards and even bathing costumes from this period. We don’t have evidence to show that people took their boards into wave pools at this time – but they may have. In any case, there are historical precedents to the modern wavegarden, and re-locating activities previously enjoyed in ‘natural’ environments such as rivers, lakes and the sea to a safer, more regulated environment of a pool was a feature of the modernization of recreation in the 1930s and 40s.
Swimming pools allowed swimming to develop from a recreation to a competitive sport. Regular pool sizes, rectangular shapes, lanes and diving boards all allowed swimmers to practice their technique and directly compete against each other. A wavegarden has this potential, as surf journalist Roger Sharp notes in his article for Carve magazine. The waves produced in the test facility in the Basque country are long enough for an experienced surfer to do up to 6 turns per wave. Wave after wave, all day long. By contrast, if you are surfing in the ocean, you catch a wave, surf it for as long as you can (in all likelihood, a few seconds), paddle back out, catch your breath; it all takes time. Meanwhile other surfers in the line up are competing for waves with you. Catching waves in the ocean depends on paddling and positioning. These skills are accrued over time – a lot of time – in the water. The better surfers catch more waves, and have more time on waves to improve their technique. Beginners have to find their place in the hierarchy and wait for waves. And once they are on one, all too often they fall off after a couple of seconds. It is a lot of effort for, often, little reward. Those without access to waves struggle to progress.
Wavegardens will level the playing field. In a controlled environment, beginners will be able to learn, and enjoy more time actually surfing, while experts and pros will take advantage of the opportunity for repetitive practice and video analysis to work on the technicality of their surfing. But, the ‘indoorisation of outdoor sports’ isn’t for everyone (*though wavegardens are not ‘inside’, they do create an artificial surfing environment). ‘Wild’ swimmers have rejected the chlorinated confines of the indoor pool to return to the open water, in increasing numbers. For them, it is swimming as part of a watery environment and living ecosystem that gives pleasure. Surfers already experience and value that connection with their environment. For many, the idea of surfing taking place any where other than the sea is an anathema.
So is the notion of paying to surf (though at least one exclusive surf resort exists, on Tavarua Island, Fiji). Waves have, traditionally, been viewed as a free product of environmental conditions and a strong surf-environmentalist identity exists and works to promote water and environmental protection: see Surf-Aid and, closer to home, Surfers Against Sewage. Will wavegardens normalize the concept of pay-per-surf? The commercialization of other recreational waterscapes has already taken place. The popularity of angling by the mid-19th century, and decreasing stocks of fish, allowed landowners to charge fees to access good fishing spots, and the government introduced rod licences to control numbers and receive revenue. Anglers now enjoy propriety rights to the riverbank, for which they pay handsome sums. And the perception that other users – canoeists and swimmers, for example – use the river for free contributes to the ongoing conflict that exists for recreation on British rivers. The controlled space of a wavegarden facilitates the commercialization of the sport. The public space of the beach and the sea resists this.
But Bristol already has a wave that is surfed: the Severn Bore. It is not in the sea – though it comes from the sea, as tidal waters push up the river and create the wave – and it is anything but perfect, but it is regular (timetables are published online), and, unlike the wavegarden, it is free. I am researching how a community of surfers has centred on the Bore and am interested to see if and how a wavegarden in Bristol will affect this vibrant branch of Bristol’s local water culture. Will Bore surfers welcome the wavegarden as a shorter and better-behaved cousin to their beloved ‘Sabrina’ (the Roman name for the Severn)? And will the wavegarden encourage more people to seek out the river bore, connecting the static environment of the wavegarden to the dynamic environment of the tidal river? The wavegarden promises long rides per wave, but the Bore can offer a wave that progresses for miles, not metres. But as with surfing elsewhere, the close community of the Bore recognizes the efforts its members go to in order to surf the occasional wave – again, studying conditions and tide timetables, waking in the dark on cold winter mornings, travelling to the destination, where finally, effort is rewarded with an exhilarating surfing experience – one closely tied to place.
Bristol has a thriving water culture, with a lido and an outdoor swimming club at Henleaze (both are membership-based, but with provision for guest access), a triathlon training lake at Bristol Open Water, numerous indoor pools, and the Bore surfing community. It makes sense that a wavegarden should succeed here, and planning consent has been met with interest and excitement. Examples from the past show that innovations like the creation of pools and facilities can alter sports and the cultures that they generate. Wavegardens certainly offer a potential new space in which to contest surfing. But something tells me surfing will never lose its spiritual connection with the ocean. Ocean waves may be temperamental, sporadic and frustrating, but they are also dynamic, challenging and endlessly forming. The experience of sitting in the ocean patiently waiting for the gift of a wave is not one that can be re-created. It is where effort meets patience and energy meets calm. The moment an ocean wave takes you with it is flow incarnate, a gift from nature that draws people to the ocean. Wavegardens are interesting, and will make money, and provide a leisure service. But they can’t match the great Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans – or even the muddy river Severn.
 Maarten van Bottenburg and Lotte Salome, ‘The indoorisation of outdoor sports: an exploration of the rise of lifestyle sports in artificial settings’, Leisure Studies 29:2 (2010), 143-160