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First supply meter in 1884

Please note that this text is an extract from a reference work written in 1990.  As a result, some of the content may not reflect recent research, changes and events.

a) The HAMMOND COMPANY: In 1881 Robert Hammond demonstrated the brush arc-lighting system in the town, and was employed by shopkeepers to light their premises along a 1.75 mile ring in Queen’s Road and Western Road . The Hammond Electric Light and Power Company started supplying power on 21 January 1882 with sixteen arc-lamps in the series circuit at 800 volts d.c.; a permanent system was inaugurated on 27 February 1882. The generator, which was sited at the Regent Iron Foundry in North Road (a site now occupied by the Post Office sorting office), was initially regulated by a boy operating a variable shunt resistance, but it soon changed to automatic operation. It was in the charge of Arthur Wright, who designed the first supply meter in 1884. With an unbroken supply since January 1882, Brighton can probably claim the oldest continuous public electricity supply in the world.

b) BRIGHTON ELECTRIC LIGHT COMPANY: In January 1885, Hammond sold out to the newly formed Brighton Electric Light Company. As demand grew, a new power-house was erected in the Regent Foundry yard with three generators which, by 1886, were supplying 1,000 lamps on an eight-mile circuit. The new company became the Brighton and Hove Electric Light Company in 1888, and then established a continuous supply at 100 volts a.c., transformed locally from a 2,000 volt distribution.

c) CORPORATION SUPPLY and NORTH ROAD : In 1883 Brighton Corporation was sanctioned to supply the OldTown, but no action was taken until 1890 when, prompted by the Electric Light Company’s expansion plans, the corporation built a power station in North Road almost opposite the foundry. Opened on 14 September 1891 by the mayoress, Mrs Soper, it produced a supply of 115 volts d.c. The municipal system was extended in 1893 when a three-wire 115 and 230 volt system was introduced. In April 1894 the corporation acquired the rival Electric Light Company and appointed Arthur Wright as engineer-in-charge. A rapid increase in demand led to further extensions at North Road, and by 1904 there were fifteen generating units with supplies at 115, 230, 460 and 550 volts, a total capacity of 5.935 MW. (A d.c. supply was in fact retained until 14 September 1965 and was latterly used by the Post Office Sorting Office and Telephone Exchange {123}.)
The North Road building, which stood to the east of SpringGardens, had a red-brick facade with the borough arms in a pediment, but was demolished in September 1986 to be replaced by the Y.M.C.A.’s William Collier House.

d) SOUTHWICK POWER STATION: It was soon obvious that a larger station was required to meet future demand, and in May 1902 construction of the Southwick power station was begun. Opened on 16 June 1906 by R.Burns, President of the Local Government Board, at a cost of £350,000, Southwick initially operated with three turbines producing 4.895 MW; another was added in 1907, and, as capacity increased, North Road was run down and ceased generating in 1908 to become the principal substation for the town. In 1911 a single generator of 5.25 MW was installed at Southwick, and a large plant extension opened in September 1924. In 1924 also, large substations were opened at Roedean Road, Hollingdean Road and behind the Rookery in Preston Road, all of which still stand. Southwick was connected to the new national grid in 1926 when the supply was made standard, and had further plant extensions in the following years. The corporation’s first collier, the Arthur Wright, made its maiden voyage in 1936, and was soon followed by the Henry Moon which was sunk in the war. By 1946 Southwick’s capacity had increased to 190 MW.

e) ELECTRIC HOUSE, Castle Square : New offices and showrooms for the corporation’s undertaking, which covered the parishes of Falmer, Hangleton, Portslade-by-Sea, Southwick, Telscombe and West Blatchington in addition to the county borough, were opened in Castle Square on 20 January 1933 by Sir John Reeve Brooker. Known as Electric House, the building is decorated with the borough arms and regularly hosted exhibitions of the latest electrical appliances. Electric House was later used by the South-Eastern Electricity Board, and since 1989 has been the Royal Bank of Scotland.

f) NATIONALISATION and BRIGHTON ‘B’: In 1946 the C.E.G.B. authorised the corporation to construct a second power station at Southwick. The first pile was driven on 25 November 1947, but the corporation’s undertaking was transferred to the South-Eastern Electricity Board on 1 April 1948 when electricity supplies were nationalised. The new station, known as Brighton ‘B’, opened in 1952 in a massive building with 360-foot chimneys to the west of Brighton ‘A’, the older Southwick station. In March 1969 however, the aging ‘A’ station was run down with a partial plant closure, and with a further closure in July 1973, generation ceased completely on 15 March 1976; the building was demolished in May 1980. By June 1987 Brighton ‘B’ itself had also come to the end of its useful life and had ceased production. The eastern chimney was blown up before a large crowd on 16 July 1988 at the start of the demolition of the building.

Any numerical cross-references in the text above refer to resources in the Sources and Bibliography section of the Encyclopaedia of Brighton by Tim Carder.

The following resource(s) is quoted as a general source for the information above: {115,123,153,154,155}

Formerly 'Electricity House': now the Royal Bank of Scotland
Photo by Tony Mould
Shoreham Power Station, c. 1980: Shoreham Power Station prior to its demolition. Photograph Copyright Evening Argus.
Image reproduced with kind permission from Brighton and Hove in Pictures by Brighton and Hove City Council

Comments about this page

  • The one abiding memory I have of Electricity House in Castle Square is that it was a favourite meeting place as most of the buses in and around the town stopped in the Square. So if you made a date you would often arrange to meet on the corner outside the building.

    By Kenneth Ross (28/03/2007)
  • Round about 1934 I can remember the heavy electricity cables being installed in trenches from their large yoyo type drums along Newick Road, North Moulsecoomb. We all played in the trench during the evenings at one end whilst the night watchman with his coke brazier would be at the other. To us, it was fascinating, watching the workmen manually heaving the cable along the trench when it was ready. We’d had electricity for lighting but not for power and cooking. Gas ruled the roost and a gas cooker could be found in all the sculleries of the houses on the estate. For quite some time afterwards, only very few people could afford a change to an electric cooker!

    By Ron Spicer (03/07/2008)
  • I remember that as late on in the 1950s Grant Street was still on DC (direct current) mains power supply. The electricity board staff visited houses to change, or replace, domestic equipment for the changeover to the AC supply. In fact Fawcett School was on DC supply when I was there (1951) as we used to charge the science lab batteries straight from the supply through domestic light bulbs connected in series…very dodgy.

    By Barrie Searle (15/02/2011)
  • My dad used to work at this power station before it was demolished. xxx

    By Sharon (22/06/2011)
  • I’m sure I remember being on DC in Brunswick Place, Hove during some of the 1950s. I seem to remember my father having to buy an invertor (he called it a ‘convertor’, supplied in a wooden box, it used to hum!) in order to be able to plug in the new Decca TV. I wonder when the supply was converted to AC?

    By Tony Hagon (07/06/2017)
  • There was an electricity station on the corner of Davigdor Road and Holland Road and during the 1950s I had a look inside. It was largely empty but had several very elderly looking rotary converters which generated direct current from alternating current. Did this station ever generate electricity ?

    Hove had it’s own generating station at the bottom of Leighton Road, adjacent to the railway line, it opened in 1903. It seems to have had a short life and was taken over by Hove Corporation and converted to burn the towns rubbish. The tall chimney, a local landmark was demolished in the 1970s. 

    By John Bradley (24/10/2017)
  • There were strange anomalies in the electricity supply in the Brighton area right up until the mid 1950s. When we lived in Sussex Square we had a DC, (Direct Current) supply. However Eastern Road which passed through the middle of the square was on AC. (Alternating Current) When we lived at No 38 Sx Sq in the 1940s & 50s my father was deeply into wireless and had all sorts of radio gear which ran on AC. This necessitated a cable being hung over the garden wall where it picked up an AC supply from a friend who had a flat in Sussex Mansions at Nos 39 & 40 which were supplied from Eastern Road so was on AC. One of the lads who lived on the opposite side of Sx Sq had an electric train set which was run straight from the mains using several electric light bulbs wired in series along a row of batten holders screwed to a short plank to provide enough resistance to lower the voltage to 12 volts for his train set, as described above by Barrie, VERY dodgy! My father used to bring me home charged up 12v car batteries to run my Trix Railway on as he thought that messing about with resistors and light bulbs etc off 250 volts DC was extremely dangerous! If you get a shock off AC it will throw you away from it if you are lucky but DC will kill you immediately. We had a 24v Ex Army rotary converter, like an electric motor bolted back to back with a small generator, which ran off two 12v batteries and gave out 230v AC which we used for running tape recorders etc away from a mains supply. My father used this to record the commentary from one of the Goodwood nine hours motor races in the 1950s. I think I’ve still got the tape somewhere. At the garage there was a large battery charger with a sliding resistor about a foot long to vary the output voltage. I don’t remember using this so maybe it was a leftover from the DC days?

    By Tim Sargeant (25/10/2017)

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