How It All Began
- The Beginning
The Society was started in 1994 following Peter Lamb’s visit and talk to the South West Gas Historical Society at Exeter. Interested SWEB employees were asked to respond to an advert in the SWEB Life magazine and roughly 40 people replied. An inaugural meeting was called on the 19th March 1994, when 25 founder members attended with 22 apologies. Within two years the membership had grown to 87.
- Society Formation
The “South Western Electricity Historical Society”, as it then was, was formed to broaden the base of interest in electricity history throughout the South West peninsula. It had a strong base with a large archive and artefacts collection. For the last ten years we have been active in capturing the individual stories of all the electricity supply undertakings and more recently have been uncovering the stories of the many private generating stations in country houses and elsewhere. We have compiled a list of all the past generating sites throughout the South West and are still finding more, particularly interesting are the few hydro-electric stations, which once operated in Devon.
The Society has roughly 130 members spread throughout the South West and still growing, mainly drawn from SWEB/WPD ex-employees, but with a few from the generation and transmission side of the business, although in recent years non-ESI members have joined from outside the South West. Meetings are held roughly 8 times a year, mainly at three locations, Bristol, Taunton and Exeter, although visits feature strongly in our programme. Also we have a weekend away every two years in locations mainly associated with industrial archaeological sites, when attendances are usually in the 40 bracket.
- The Museum
We started off with a considerable museum collection and archive, largely put together by Peter Lamb and Paul Hulbert and Gordon Bacon (Appliance Store, Bristol) and with a large collection from Torquay. During 1993 these were moved from Feeder Road to two redundant switch-rooms at a major substation at Cairns Road, Redland, Bristol and now these have grown into a sizeable display of museum artefacts of old appliances and technical equipment and a large Archive, expanded with reference books covering the whole Country. We have developed this accommodation into an education centre including a comfortable meeting room, suitable for entertaining small groups.
- The Archives
We started with a large archive, the major part being the Minute Books of the pre-nationalisation undertakings in the South West plus other archival material collected by Peter Lamb since 1980. In recent years the small national library has been extended with considerable additions of reference books including Garcke’s Manuals, Electricians and Electrical Reviews rescued from both the CEGB and Electricity Council disbanded libraries. We have also developed a large web site : www.swehs.co.uk , which is accessed world-wide with enquiries on electricity history. These number about 40 to 50 a year and come from a wide variety of countries, including USA, Australia, India, which are dealt with by roughly six archivists once a month on the second Thursday in the month. We have assisted and are at the present time assisting the BBC in the preparation of a variety of programmes.
- Meeting Room
We have developed a very comfortable meeting room enabling us to host meetings on our own premises and an office where the main reference books are stored.
- Widening our scope
To reflect our interest in a broader geographical area, and to acknowledge the invaluable support of Western Power Distribution, we became the Western Power Electricity Historical Society in 2017.