Electrifying Congleton: Igniting a New Era of Light and Power

Electricity came late to Congleton. Public electricity supplies were available in parts of London in the 1880s and in many provincial towns by the turn of the century. The delay was due at least in part to the existence of a flourishing gas undertaking, started in 1833 and taken over by the corporation in 1866, whose profits helped to relieve the rates.

In 1919, Alderman A. J. Solly suggested that the Gas Committee, of which he was chairman, should consider the establishment of a power station in the town. He had been advised that a 2000hp station would be a paying concern. The cost was estimated at £40,000 to £50,000. The possibility of using water power from the Dane was discussed, but the Mayor, Alderman C. D. Bradwell, said he had twenty years experience of the horsepower of the Dane and he estimated the power available at 35-40hp in winter and 15-20hp in summer, scarcely enough to light one large mill.

In June 1926, Mr C. H. Yeatman, the Electrical Engineer to the City of Stoke on Trent, was invited to address the committee on the possibility of Stoke providing a bulk supply of electricity to Congleton; also at the meeting was Mr Arthur Ellis, a Cardiff consulting engineer. A sub-committee recommended that the council should apply for an order authorising them to distribute electricity within the borough, and also that Mr Ellis should be appointed as consulting engineer at £150 per year, plus expenses.

By mid-1927 Mr Ellis was busy preparing a scheme for the town and in September he optimistically predicted that a supply would be available in winter 1928-9. In April 1928 his report was at last circulated to the members of the Gas Committee. It had been delayed to allow the situation of the proposed North West Midland Joint Electricity Authority to be considered, as this authority would bring power directly into Congleton and thus save the town the expense of a supply cable from Stoke-on-Trent.

Primary distribution mains would terminate at a principal substation at some convenient point within the borough (although it later transpired that two separate substations would be needed, one belonging to the Joint Electricity Authority and one to the borough). From this substation, underground mains running along the principal streets of the town centre would distribute electricity. Mr Ellis already anticipated the need to extend the supply to more remote parts of the borough, and had estimated the cost of this separately. His estimate of the cost of the undertaking was therefore: substation £8,975, distribution to town centre £6,717, distribution to outlying parts £16,109.

Discussion in the Gas Committee seems to have been concerned largely with the location of the council’s substation. Mr Ellis proposed a site on the Fairground, behind the Capitol cinema. Other members wanted it at the gasworks so that one engineer could supervise both. The decision was put off.

In October 1929 it was agreed that the council’s substation should be in Bromley Road, alongside the Joint Electricity Authority’s substation. In November the Gas Committee bowed out of the picture when the Town Council resolved to appoint an electricity committee and in the same month, the Congleton Electricity Special Order 1929, came into force.

The Congleton Electricity Special Order is a brief document, taking only two pages to put into effect various provisions of the Electric Lighting (Clauses) Act, with attached schedules listing the streets in which distribution mains were to be installed. The areas to be supplied within two years covered West Street, Swan Bank, Mill Street as far as Antrobus Street, Antrobus Street itself, Duke Street, Bridge Street, High Street, Market Street, Moody Street, Chapel Street, Lawton Street and Little Street.

By the end of July 1930 cable laying had begun and in September the Electricity Committee was asking Mr Ellis for estimates of the cost of extending the cables to ‘such further streets as he considered would be remunerative’. On 22nd September erection of the substation began. By November the cables were being put up and in January 1931 the Electricity Committee was confident enough to approve plans to extend the mains to Canal Road, Brook Street, Park Lane, Howey Lane, Howey Hill, Wagg Street, Waggs Road and West Heath.

Finally, in February 1931, the great day arrived. A party of council members and others, led by the mayor, Councillor R. A. Daniel, ceremonially entered the new substation and switched on the power. They then adjourned to the Town Hall, and formally switched on the new electric lighting there.