The Beginning in Guernsey
The Guernsey branch of Edmundsons started life in rented accommodation, in the Commercial Arcade, under the management of Resident Engineer Mr W. H. Druce. In July 1900 he arranged for the undertaking to be generally known as the Guernsey Electricity Supply Company, but it was commonly known as Edmundsons throughout the period of the concession.
Edmundsons had developed from a small family ironmongers business established in Dublin in 1801. In 1848 on the death of the founder, his brother-in-law, John Wigham, moved to Edinburgh to operate a branch of the business that became involved in the installation of coal gas plants. In the early 1870s a London office was opened which in 1879 extended its activities to include electricity supply undertakings. There followed a period in which concessions were obtained for the operation of a number of such organisations in municipal areas, mainly across the south of England. By 1898 the company had eleven plants already operating and ten in the process of construction. When, therefore, the Guernsey concession was obtained, considerable experience had been gained in setting up these organisations and in their successful management in the face of competition from other firmly established energy sources, gas, coal and oil.
The organisation that Edmundsons developed for the control of its undertakings was based on the appointment in each of a resident engineer and manager. Financing was arranged by head office that supplied its branches with cash for local disbursements until income began to flow. Head office approval was required for fuel contracts and it negotiated the purchase of major capital equipment and paid the bills for all UK purchases, although full local records were kept. Local purchases, fixing wages for junior staff and minor contracts on revenue account were matters for the resident engineers. Edmundsons maintained control by a system of monthly reports and statistical returns. Improvements in efficiency and in productivity were developed through exchange of information at periodic meetings of resident engineers. Once in full operation each unit was required to meet financial targets. These measures were backed up by regular visits by directors to the individual stations.
This experience in the operation of undertakings was to prove valuable when the firm gained the concession to start operations in Guernsey. Communications here were more difficult and more time-consuming. The telegraph was in operation and there was a regular shipping service to the island, but assistance in emergencies and requirements for technical help and advice had to come from England. Furthermore, the packaging of materials for transit from factory to power station was less efficient than in later years. As a consequence much time was wasted, not only in making claims on land and sea carriers for the damage to goods in transit, but also in obtaining replacement of defective items.
Guernsey offered one other feature that was unique for Edmundsons, the currency. In 1829 the Royal Court had ruled that the then new French monies should have legal status as currency in the island, at the rate of 10d Guernsey to 1 French franc. In 1870 English money was given legal status at the rate of 1s English to 12½d Guernsey. There was therefore a diversity of notes and coins in circulation in the island with the Guernsey £1 note the equivalent of 19s British. In addition to the British, Guernsey and French currency, silver coins from several European countries were generally accepted. In these circumstances Edmundsons found it necessary to make available prepayment meters that would accept English money as well as those in which French Francs could be used.
Laying the first cables in the Pollet in 1900
Demands on the time of the resident engineer, Mr. Druce, in the days following August 6th 1898 can be fairly described as complex and pressing. The time limit imposed by the law, of two years to full production, was backed by head office pressure for an early return on their investment. Clerical staff was available from local sources but skilled technical staff was at a premium. Wiremen and cable jointers had to be brought over from England increasing costs by way of fares and allowances. Concurrently with building the power station and a network of mains distributors, Mr. Druce had to liase with parish authorities to prepare for digging up roads as well as, in each case, obtaining the authority of the Electricity Committee to lay cables. He also had to sell the idea of electric lighting to a public, the majority of whom could only conjecture as to its benefits while being suspicious of its safety. On the marketing side, the law had imposed limits on the tariff that could be charged, but the price of alternative fuels, gas and oil also limited the rates that could be levied for electricity. Physically laying cables was not so great a problem as some others, as Edmundsons had a close and long association with Callenders Cable and Construction Company of Erith in Kent. This company could, therefore, supply jointers for cable laying works at relatively short notice; local unskilled labour was readily available.
The first priority was to build a power station. On October 20th 1898 a contract was signed for the purchase of a parcel of land, on a pleasant green hillside at Les Amballes in the parish of St Peter Port. The site was very steep, presenting problems for both architect and builder. A contract was awarded to Mr Mansell of Camp du Roi for the construction of the building. Mr Dredge of St George's Esplanade was given the contract to haul goods from the harbour to Les Amballes. The structure that finally emerged over the course of the next year comprised an engine room, switchroom, boiler house and offices, all adjacent to an imposing 100-foot brick chimney. This latter caused some alarm in October 1899 when neighbours claimed it was leaning and in danger of falling on their property. An engineer's examination proved this to be unfounded, and the chimney continued in existence until 1927, when, the site being no longer required for generating power by steam, it was demolished. Apart from minor modifications to meet changing needs, the other parts of the building remained in sound condition throughout the century.
The next step in the construction of the supply system came in May 1899. Edmundsons were ready to start laying cables, but the committee that was required to approve plans for the work had not yet been appointed. Mr. Druce therefore requested the States to appoint the supervisory committee required by Article 1 of the law. On June 14th Major-General F B. Mainguy, Messrs. J. R. Brouard, F. Carey, J. E. Carey and the Rev J. U. Pilbeam, were appointed to form what was to become known as the States Electricity Committee. Major-General Mainguy was also the President of the Telephone Department. Once formed, the committee made arrangements with the Guernsey Railway Company for its Engineer and Manager, Mr Albert L Davis, to be the consultant engineer to the committee.
Albert Davis had taken up his post with Guernsey Railway Company during the spring of 1899. He had a good engineering background and was cautious in his approach to safety. At an early date he drew the attention of the committee to the need for the adequate inspection of wiring installations as a fire prevention measure.
Plans for laying the first cables were submitted to the Electricity Committee on June 19th, and with the support of Albert Davis they were approved. Within a few weeks of a start being made, the Gas Company complained that the cables were being laid less than eighteen inches from the gas mains, which was closer than was allowed by Article 2 of the Law. On investigation it was found that the complaint was in respect of service pipes, which had been laid at varying depths. It was therefore impossible for the electricity cables to be laid in a manner that would conform to the Law. The dispute was resolved by Albert Davis, who pointed out that there was no risk in laying cables closer than eighteen inches to service pipes, provided that they were protected with stone dust. It was not, he contended, the intention that this provision of the law should be applied to service pipes.
The plant installed in the building during 1899 consisted of two Babcock and Willcox boilers fuelled by small steam coal with forced draught jets and super heaters. Each boiler provided steam to a Bellis and Morcom two-crank compound type steam engine with an output of 110 BHP. The engines were placed above the boilers and coupled directly to Parker Two-Pole Dynamos each producing 75 kilowatts of dc electricity. The switchgear was fitted to a much-admired marble control board. The system also included a bank of batteries that could hold a charge sufficient to meet a demand of 34 kilowatts for 9 hours. At the outset, the load was insufficient to justify running the plant continuously, but by installing the batteries, the operation of steam generating plant could be limited to two or three days a week.
It had been anticipated that the initial demand for electricity would be for lighting, which previously had been met by gas, in town, and oil lamps or candles, in the rural areas. Following on from this, electric lamps came to be rated in terms of their luminosity, their 'candlepower'. Originally this was defined as the light emitted from a British Standard Candle, made of specified wax and wick materials. But these were difficult to produce. In experiments to establish a standard for comparison with gaslight the National Physics Laboratory defined the term as the light due to one candle placed at a distance of 1 foot from the surface and directly above it. With the efficiency of the incandescent lamps at the turn of the century 3½ watts were needed to provide light equal to that of one candle. By way of comparison, one hundred years later the same level of luminosity would require about one half of a watt, when using a high efficiency coiled coil lamp.
The electric lamps then available were capable of light emissions equal to eight, sixteen and thirty-two candles and it became the practice to express the electrical load of installations by reference to the number of eight candlepower lamps needed to meet the load, each of which would consume 28 watts. Even though a part of the load was for motive power this practice continued until 1921, from that time the output of lamps was expressed in terms of their wattage.
On September 1st 1899, the electrical inspector submitted draft regulations for the inspection of installations in buildings. The States approved them in principle in December and the Royal Court was asked to prepare an ordinance to bring them into force under Article 22 of the law. However, before this could be done, a conflict of views developed between the electrical inspector and the resident engineer over firstly, who should carry out the tests, and secondly the extent to which some of the requirements were excessive to the point of impracticability. The first of the disputes was resolved by a compromise whereby the resident engineer was authorised to test and certify all installations, but the consultant would carry out spot checks on work done by Edmundsons' staff. The second problem dragged on until 1903 when the ordinance was passed, but it was not until 1907 that full agreement was reached when the Wiring Rules were published by the Institution of Electrical Engineers.
The first place to be lit by power supplied by Edmundsons was the Spurgeon Memorial Chapel, but the power did not come from the power station at Les Amballes. The construction of the chapel was nearing completion in September 1899, the wiring having been completed on 18th of that month, and although Edmundsons had promised to supply it with electricity the public supply system was not yet ready. In fulfilment of the promise, a States steamroller was hired and connected to Mr Randall's Silvertown dynamo to light fifty lamps for the new chapel's opening ceremony, performed by Pastor J Gard on September 25th. The effect of this method of illumination received high praise from the local press. It was repeated for the Sunday services until the New Year when the steamroller was required for work elsewhere.
View of the entrance to Les Amballes Power Station and Offices
On Tuesday February 20th 1900, although there was still much clearing up to do before the power station was finished, an experimental supply of electricity was generated and distributed over a limited area. Despite being pre-occupied with the progress of the Boer War, and at this time in particular the relief of Ladysmith, the Guernsey Evening Press found room on its pages to describe in detail those buildings that were illuminated. They included the Yacht Hotel that was lit by two arc lights, and Mr A P Roger's jewellery shop, which displayed ninety incandescent lamps in its window. In all some eight commercial premises and half a dozen private residences are mentioned. The news was also reported in the Jersey newspapers. Construction of an electricity supply undertaking in that island was not approved until the mid-twenties, despite an attempt to introduce it in 1913.
On February 28th Albert Davis issued the certificate, required by Article 14 of the law, certifying, in respect of the distribution system and the power station plant, that the work conformed to the law and met safety standards. It also recorded that the Board of Trade regulations had been followed in every essential detail. In the early stages, the undertaking had been managed from its rented office at 25 Commercial Arcade. On July 1st 1900 the offices were re-located to Les Amballes power station.
On July 26th 1900, a few days before the two-year time limit for the construction of a basic system expired, the Bailiff officially opened the power station. This being a landmark in the history of the island, a ceremony suited to the occasion was arranged. It was attended by some sixty guests, including Jurat Giffard, Alderman Chave from Weymouth, Mr Wigham from Edmundsons, London, Mr Callender of Callenders Cables, Mr Dickson from Jersey, Mr Peak from Guernsey Railway Company and Mr Bristow from the Star newspaper. The guests were taken on a conducted tour of the station before the Bailiff switched on the lights. The switch used had been specially made for the occasion, and was engraved in a style popular in the eighteenth century.
The first dc control panel made especially for the official opening
The whole party was entertained to lunch at the Yacht Hotel, on the site that later became Boots the chemist. It was the first building to be wired by Edmundsons on July 1st 1899 and was also, at the time of the opening, its biggest consumer.
Reporting on the opening, a local newspaper expressed the view that it would be some time before it would be necessary to take up the roads again to lay new cables. This was a wishful thought that was soon confounded.