Electricity Supply
Southend-on-Sea
Electricity (Static) was first discovered around 600bc by Thales who was a Greek, he found that when amber was rubbed with silk, it attracted objects. In 1600s, William Gilbert used the term “electricity” from “elektron” the Greek word for amber. Gilbert experimented and wrote about the electrification of many substances. Ben Franklin in 1752 flew his kite in a thunderstorm with a key tied to the string, and proved that static electricity and lightning were the same thing. Alessandro Volta an Italian invented the first battery in the 1800s, this period saw great advances in the understanding of electricity. In 1879, Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light bulb, and in 1882, opened the first power station in Pearl Street, New York City which powered 5,000 lights. In the early part of the 1900s electricity was seen to be the future to power lights etc., for up until now the lights in the town had been mostly lit by gas, the supply of electricity was very much in its infancy and supply was short. The electricity supply was likewise short between the wars and the late Mr Robert Birkett (who was then Southend’s Electrical Engineer) installed some diesel engines from German submarines at the Southend works; the first went in during 1920 and further diesels followed up to 1926. The storm of criticism aroused by these diesels raged for about four years and created so unpleasant an atmosphere in council circles that the very mention of the word ‘electricity’ was dreaded. In July 1920 an expert, Mr C. H. Wordingham, CBE, was engaged to advise the council on future supply, and he proposed a big generating station at Creeksea at a cost of around £400,000, but the council had a penchant for turning down advice of experts, and did so in this instance. At the suggestion of the Electricity Commissioners the County of London Electricity supply Company was approached to see if bulk supply could be obtained from the Barking power station. In 1925 Mr. Birkett reported on the success of the diesel engines and advised a station on these lines at Southend, which was subsequently adopted at a cost of £40,000. In 1926 another expert was consulted, a Mr J. H. Rider, who advocated a generating station at South Fambridge costing £649,000, but the council also turned this down. The corporation electricity works were not selected as a capital station under the national grid scheme, and the corporation then accepted terms of the County of London Electricity Supply from Barking which resulted in the erection of pylons, which became an eyesore in our countryside. Incidentally, it was proved over the years that the ex-German submarine diesels served the town well and saved it from darkness on more than one occasion.

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1939 Corporation Electricity Department Advert
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