A visit to the South Western Electrical Historical Society

By Kayt Button

The changes brought about by the introduction of electricity over the past hundred and fifty years or so or have totally transformed our everyday lives. From the homes we live in, appliances we use, our systems of communication, and types and methods of working.

Housing of the South Western Electrical Historical Society

Housing of the South Western Electrical Historical Society in an electricity sub-station (Photo: Kayt Button)

After a series of scientific discoveries from the late 1700’s through the first part of the 1800’s supplying electricity commercially began as an entrepreneurial venture for the scientifically forward thinking. Investing in electricity generation through steam engines or other power sources and profit on their investments by charging local people for electric lighting, and later, supply of electrical power. In my quest to find out as much about the early history of electricity from the 1850’s onwards, I came across the South Western Electrical Historical Society. After some communication with Peter Lamb, the society secretary, I visited the museum.

Exposition space

Exposition space of the the South Western Electrical Historical Society (Photo: Kayt Button)

The museum is located in an unused part of an electricity substation, courtesy of Western Power Distribution. The museum contains an exhibition room, where artefacts are displayed, a meeting room, two archive rooms and an office. The exhibition room contains may artefacts described as “What your Grandparents Used”. The room is crammed full of all types of appliances and equipment and although I could have spent a good few hours just browsing and taking in the written information, I wanted to look at the archive material.

I had already read a great write up on the early days of power in the south west, by Peter Lamb and after seeing how much written material there was at the society, alongside the wealth of knowledge of the people there I was thrilled. There are already a large number of individual town histories researched and recorded for the South West of England, as well as the supporting documentation for them. Alongside this I discovered Garke’s Manuals of electricity which document everything that occurred in the electrical industry at the time. With adverts and sponsorship, it is a series of books I am looking forward to investigating further alongside the many other documents and maps available at the museum.

Finding a group of such knowledge people has been a real pleasure, and not just because of a very delicious lasagne pub lunch! I am looking to work further with everyone at the museum to use the South West of England as a case study looking at the changes to electrical power over the past century and a half. Their website address is www.swehs.co.uk to find out more about them.

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