RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET Issue No 36 December 1993
ELECTRIFYING RUTHIN – II
Recollections and Reminiscences of RESCo. By David Rickman
The power station in Mill Lane housed the two main engines, three auxiliary standby engines and the control gear in two halls. The main power units were four-cylinder engines manufactured by Mirrlees, Bickerton and Day of Hazelgrove, Manchester, each of 1,000 horse power coupled to D.C. dynamos of approximately 135 kilowatt output manufactured by Crompton. The supply of current to the public commenced in mid-February 1915.
Between the engine and the dynamo was a massive flywheel, about 12 ft. in diameter, and weighing some ten tons, with the lower half of the wheel within a concrete pit forming part of the foundations. The pit also housed the barring gear, - a long pivoting steel bar which engaged gearing on the inside of the flywheel rim, enabling the engine to be turned over manually into the correct position for starting. Starting was effected using compressed air from a high pressure chamber kept charged by the engine while running.
The auxiliary engines used in emergency were of a type which required a 'hot spot' on the cylinder head achieved by heating with an external paraffin blowlamp until red hot, now obsolete technology. The auxiliary engine in the main hall was of Petter manufacture giving a 60kw output and the one in the second hall, referred to as 'the little Allen', gave 12kw output. The original but disused World War I tank engine was in another bay, no longer in commission in the late 1930s.
Circulating pumps forced heated water to the top of a cooling tower, a tall slatted wooden structure built over a pond and located in the open at the end of the engine house (just inside the present yard entrance to Messrs J.T. Williams, garden machinery [no longer there]). The hot water dripped down over the slats into the pond, cooling in the process and entered a deep well before recirculation.
At one end of the main hall on a raised platform were located all the control gear, meters and switches. The latter were of the heavy copper knife blade type which when operated on load (with thick rubber gloves) produced a vivid blue flash. Meter readings of power generated were recorded at regular intervals in the log and here, too, supply was carefully balanced to demand.
Between the works and the General Manager's house at 61, Clwyd Street, was a single storey building which accommodated large rectangular glass tanks containing lead plates in sulphuric acid, connected in series. These batteries met the low overnight demand for electricity (approx. 20kwh per night in 1939) when the engines were turned off, and were kept charged during the day by the main plant.
The works operated on a two shift system between early morning and late evening when the plant was generating, and with a skeleton staff overnight while on battery operation.
Diesel fuel supplied by the Anglo American Oil Co., was stored in large surface storage tanks. A fatal incident occurred in July, 1931, when a 16 year old apprentice, Maldwyn Williams, was overcome by fumes from a fuel tank.
Periodically, the engines were dismantled for inspection and overhaul. Mr. Morris Evans recalls that one of his first jobs as an apprentice was to crawl inside the engine cylinders of about 24" diameter to polish the cylinder head. A large overhead travelling crane lifted and moved the very heavy engine parts.
In addition to work within the station, an outdoor section dealt with the overhead and underground power lines, and all the other distribution equipment. Transport consisted of one 500 cc. B.S.A. motor cycle with box side car which transported the tools and equipment.
Ruthin was lavishly decorated for the Silver Jubilee of 1935 and the Coronation of 1937. RESCo contributed with a series of spectacular fountains in the shape of Prince of Wales feathers, illuminated by coloured lights after dark. These were in the River Clwyd upstream of Pont Howkin and operated by a pump on the river bank. Other 'Crown' displays and illuminations were set-up in the town.
Personnel working for RESCo in the 1930s included Mr V. Botham, General Manager, 9 operational and 3 external staff, one apprentice, the office manager and the showroom attendant.
Ownership changed in 1935 when Ruthin Corporation purchased RESCo from Western Electric Co., and consideration of a change-over from D.C. to A.C. began. Formal consent to the changeover was received from the Electricity Commission in January, 1939. The change from D.C. to A.C. resulted from the development of the National Grid. Electricity could be generated more economically at very large power stations and transmitted over long distances at very high A.C. voltages which could be transformed before local distribution using cables of relatively small size.
Conversion from D.C. to A.C. brought many changes. Mr D.H. Roberts was appointed General Manager to implement the new plans. New primary substations, one adjacent to the old works and another in Wernfechan, were built in 1938. An overhead 11,000 volt A.C. supply was brought down the Vale from a grid line from Dolgarrog to a point near Parc y Dre. This then went underground to the Mill Lane substation via Borthyn, crossing the River Clwyd alongside Pont Howkin, and onto Wernfechan.
The substations housed transformers which converted the incoming supply from 11,000 volt to the standard 240 volt output. Oil-quenched circuit breakers were the new technology which performed the function of the old copper switches used on the former D.C. supply.
Mr S. Thornton was appointed Change-over Engineer to deal with the modifications required. Problems arose for consumers with D.C. equipment, which could not be converted to A.C. Many customers with D.C. only wireless sets had to be supplied with rectifiers. Others with universal sets required a small internal change to operate on A.C. Wartime difficulties in obtaining parts caused many delays.
Ruthin Castle and Messrs Ellis's Mineral Water Works had special problems because of radiographic equipment at the castle, then a medical establishment, and much D.C. driven machinery at Ellis's. Arrangements were made for a continuing D.C. supply by the installation of a mercury arc rectifier at the substation to convert incoming A.C. current into D.C.
The changeover from D.C. was made progressively in the early 1940s over a two-year period completed by October, 1941. The old D.C. engine-sets which had served so well for nearly 30 years delivered their last D.C. current in Ruthin in the summer of 1941. The machinery was sold for £500 and dismantled by Messrs Bouchers and shipped to a new location in England. A strange silence descended on Mill Lane, but not for long! This old quarter soon throbbed with incessant hammering to 'Music While You Work' as cases were made for shells produced in the old gaol.
The showroom in Clwyd Street was occupied by a government ministry office during the war years and RESCo operated from an office in the town hall, a small storeroom at the rear of the storeroom, and a workshop, charging plant and stores in a shed alongside the Mill Lane substation.
Tariffs applied by RESCo during its 27 years of operation are briefly summarised as follows:
1915 7.5d kilowatt hour
1923 1/- kilowatt hour
1937 4.65d kilowatt hour
1940 3.52d kilowatt hour
When RESCo became part of M.A.N.W.E.B after nationalisation, an initial two-part tariff gave an average price of 4.5d / kilowatt hour. Ruthin's thirst for electricity evolved as follows: -
Units (kwh) sold Max. demand – kilowatts
1915 [part year] 12,354 15.6
1917 17,481 20.16
1941 350,000 238.00
1947 616,000 ----
1993 8,000,000* 3,000.00 * = best estimate available.
(One unit =1 kilowatt hour, equivalent to one bar electric fire for one hour)
Ruthin's thirst for electricity multiplied by approximately 20 times during the operation of RESCo and has increased a further estimated 23-fold in the half century since.
The availability of an ample A.C. supply facilitated the post-war revolution in lifestyles and standards of living. Today's basic domestic electrical appliances - refrigerators, washing machines, television sets and countless others - would not otherwise have been possible. Is the cycle of privatisation - municipalisation - nationalisation - privatisation now complete? Not likely!
NOTES - The writer lived by the power station at 63 Clwyd Street until 1943. Thanks are due to Mr Morris Evans for his contributions to the article and for checking the script. The help of Mr D.C. Newis of Manweb for consumption and other data is also acknowledged.
POSTSCRIPT Mr David Rickman has found that some of the technical information quoted was not quite correct and further research has established the following details, viz. main engine horsepower, 200 b.h.p. each; dynamo manufacturers, Brush Electrical Co.; cylinder diameter, 12 inches; flywheel diameter/weight, 6ft. / 3½ tons.
The two Mirrlees engines were installed respectively in the late 1920s/early 1930s to increase the station output.
Acknowledgements: Mirrlees Blackstone, Stockport; Garcke’s Manual of Electricity Undertakings.
RUTHIN'S TOWN HALL
The recent re-opening of the Town Hall [RLHB No: 14,16], following completion of its £400,000 refurbishment by Glyndwr District Council, occurred 130 years to the month since its Foundation Stone was laid by the then mayor, Mr. R.G. Ellis. At the time, the proposed building was described as a “New Market Hall and Stock Exchange", giving emphasis to its commercial role.
The Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald carried a very full description of the ceremony, which took place on 27th October 1863, when all the shops closed. The proceedings began with a procession through the town, led by the Volunteers' Band. There were two triumphal arches in 'Railway Street' [i.e. Market Street] and the laying of the stone was followed by an Official Luncheon, innumerable speeches and toasts.
The architects were Poundley and Walker of Kerry, Montgomeryshire and Liverpool, and the contractor was William Roberts and Joseph Holland of Ruthin. Edward Griffiths of Chester made the beautiful sculptures which grace the window arches and the main entrance. The total cost was estimated at £3,500 but final costs were nearer £5,000, partly because the main contractors failed. The building time was to have been twelve months, but it took two years and was completed by the bankrupted firm's guarantors, Evan Roberts and Edwards.
The Foundation Stone was laid with a special trowel designed for the occasion by Mr. Walker, one of the architects, made by Skidmore of Coventry, and said to be of gold. The handle was of ebony, silver and ivory enriched with amethysts and rubies with a sketch of the new town hall engraved on the blade.
Two "bottles" were laid under the foundation stone. These contained all sorts of papers, documents and lists of names. There was a photograph of the old Town Hall, a sketch, local guidebooks, post card views of North Wales, the Castle, Pool Park, Llanbedr Hall and so on. There were also newspapers and a set of twelve coins in gold, silver and copper. Perhaps wisely, the foundation stone was not embellished with an inscription.
The new premises were to include an armoury in the basement for the Volunteers, a Corn Exchange, a News Room, Council Chamber, the Town Clerk's office, and an Assembly Room to accommodate 6,000 [sic] people (!) who would doubtless have needed both of the two staircases thoughtfully provided.
The refurbishment exercise has led to the discovery of a number of interesting artifacts which had been lying in obscure corners. For example, a board, listing local places of interest, which old photographs show was once fixed to the frontage of 'The Old Court House'. This is now on display in the market hall.
Other treasures to be highly prized include a number of delightful paintings and watercolours of local scenes which have been re-framed and hung in the corridors of power.
The Town Hall has experienced many modifications of which the latest is not necessarily the last. At least, there seems to have been one constant factor - its role as the local seat of controversy, which still rages although the paint is barely dry. Nevertheless, let us wish the old Town Hall a long and vibrant future.
BACHEIRIG Llanfair D.C.
The name Bacheirig occurs in a survey of 1324, carried out when the Ruthin lordship passed to Roger de Grey. Bacheirig was then a township, the smallest unit of local government, within the commote of Llannerch. This area, probably centred on a cluster of dwellings, was divided into small parcels of land occupied by several tenants. One of these was a David Lloyd.
Another survey, by Edmund Grey in 1465, reveals a similar situation with tenants classed as "Free Welshmen in the Commote of Llannerch", as "Bondmen of Llannerch", or as "English - Baghurike and Garthcanan." It listed "Symone Thelwall" as tenant of several properties in the Ruthin district with a small plot at Bacheirig.
Bacheirig eventually emerged as a small manor house, probably the township's centre for justice and administration. Judging by the lack of notice it has received, it might be thought that Bacheirig never enjoyed high status, but Edward Llwyd placed it fourth on his list of principal houses in the parish of Llanfair D.C. . The original house, located high on the western slopes of the Clwydian range, has now been replaced.
The proximity of Bacheirig to Bathafarn Park [RLHB No: 28] might lead to certain assumptions. For example, in 1592 the Council in the Marches of Wales appointed two commissioners to hear evidence concerning the boundary between the park and Bacheirig. John Thelwall of Bathafarn had claimed that Bacheirig formed part of the medieval parkland but evidence was heard to the contrary.
The Lloyd, more especially, and the Wynne families seem to have enjoyed primacy at Bacheirig, but whether David Lloyd of 1324 was a forebear of John ab Gruffydd Lloyd of Bacheirig, whose daughter Agnes married Richard Lloyd of Hafodunnos [c.1575], must remain a matter of conjecture.
A branch of the Wynne family was also referred to as "of Bryn Cynwrig and Bacheirig", Bryn Cynwrig being in the Llanfair T.H. area, in the Hafodunnos sphere of influence. John Wynne of Cynwric [alive c.1560], was the first to adopt that surname. His grand-daughter Elizabeth, daughter and co-heir of Robert Wynne of Bryn Cynwrig and Bacheirig, married John Thelwall of Bathafarn in c.1620, thus bringing the adjacent Bacheirig estate into the Thelwall domain, at least for a while.
There are references in the period 1656-1694 to "Mr Ambrose Thelwall of Bacheirig", who was admitted to the Freedom of Ruthin on 20th February 1666. His son, another Ambrose, was "of Plas Coch", so that these other residences became the homes of the younger sons of Bathafarn.
At this point, the picture obfuscates, with many names becoming involved apparently at much the same time, although the Lloyd family seems never far removed. One family may have been the tenant of the other, or one may have been identified with Bacheirig Isaf, another with Bacheirig Uchaf. The O.S. 25" maps of 1874 shows both Bacheirig and Bacheirig Bach, although only the former survives. Possibly, the name `Bacheirig' still referred to the township, embracing several residences.
For example, two sons of 'Lloyd of Bacheirig' were registered at Ruthin School by John Challoner, Headmaster, 1653-56, a time when there are references to "Ambrose Thelwall of Bacheirig".
The name of one Samuel Bowdler assumes significance. On 6th February 1665/6, Samuel leased Bacheirig to Margaret Lloyd, widow. By 1669/70, Samuel Bowdler had died and had bequeathed Bacheirig and Garthcynan to his wife Olive who remarried Edward Davies of Ludlow. In 1670/71, Edward Davies of Ludlow assigned the estate to John Lloyd.
William Lloyd [d: 11th September 1691] had four sons, Robert, John, Thomas, David, and six daughters, including Grace, described in the parish records as "late wife of Simon Parry of Llanrhudd, gent", [buried 7th May 1689] and Martha. Robert also had a daughter, Grace, and her son, William Powell, a chandler of Well Street, became Treasurer of the Borough in 1690.
John Lloyd of Bacheirig married Margaret Davies of Ruthin [a relative of Edward?] and had a daughter, Jane. When John died in February1672, his will instructed that his estate be sold to pay off his debts. However, Martha Lloyd was still at Bacheirig when she died in 1685. Martha had been very wealthy, having gold and silver plate, jewellery, substantial household goods with money owed to her and secured by bonds. Martha, orphaned early in life, had been cared for subsequently by her grandfather, William Lloyd ("an ancient gentleman"), whom Edward Llwyd named as owner in 1699. Her brother and executor, David Lloyd, instituted litigation to call in these and other debts.
In 1694, John, William's grandson, returned from Virginia and took up residence at Chester. He owned several houses, land, Negroes, and much else, in Richmond County, Virginia, said to be worth £2,000, managed on his behalf in his absence.
John Lloyd [William's grandson] had married [c.April, 1695,] Letitia, sole daughter, heir and administratrix of Thomas Salusbury of Leadbrook, Flintshire. John died 7th January 1717/8. Salusbury had conveyed his manors in Flintshire to John Lloyd and to Letitia's younger sister, Mary Salusbury. Their only child, Salusbury Lloyd, married and his daughter Catherine married Thomas Brereton who changed his name to `Salusbury', described as 'of Shotwyck Park, Chester'.
To leap some 150 years to the early part of the present century, Bacheirig came into the possession of the Smith family, the present owners. Thomas Smith was not cast in the farming mould and he became an electrical engineer with the County Borough of Wolverhampton, when the electricity supply industry was in its infancy. He was consulted and gave technical advice when the introduction of electricity was being considered in Ruthin.
Thus, Bacheirig of today, a smallish farm pursuing its uneventful routine, has had many surprising and varied associations.
REFERENCES : CRO., Ruthin: DD/DM/8612; sale particulars; Parish Records, PD/55/1/18-19-20; NTD/I69 W.M. Myddleton: "Chick Castle Accounts, 1666-1753"; Manchester, ; p.266; p281, n.1554; p.358, n.I994 Bathafarn Park and Llanbedr Hall Deeds and Documents, NLW. Keith Kenyon•Thompson: "Thomas Challoner - A Rolling Stone". Coelion Publications ; Lloyd: "A History of Powys Fadog", Vol IV, pp. 182, 313; Vol V, p.365. Transactions of the Denbighshire Historical Society, Vols. 5, 15, 17, 19.
Pedigrees of Anglesey and Caernarvonshire Families; J.E. Griffiths (1914)