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Electricity in Aberdeen

In 1889, Aberdeen Town Council received the 1st application by Companies wishing to supply Electricity. They readily decided to operate their own system, which was inaugurated in 1894 at Cotton Street. The rapid increase in demand led to the acquisition of a new site in 1901 and Aberdeen Electricity Works at Millburn Street were built.  In 1895 nearly 160,000 KW units were generated, rising to over 5M by 1907.

In the late 19th century horse drawn trams ran in Aberdeen. However they were later replace by Electric Trams. The 1st Electricity Generating Station in Aberdeen opened in 1894. The 1st Electric Trams ran in Aberdeen in 1899 the Dee Village built in the 18th Century and demolished in the 1890s after it developed into a slum and was bought by the Town Council. In the 1920s it was occupied by the Dee Village Electricity Works a steam powered generating station and latterly run by the Hydro-Electric Board.

Aberdeen Corporation Electricity Works
Electricity for Economic Heat Light & Power
Former Site of
Arthur Dingwall Fordyce’s 1790’s Dee Village (Potters Creek)

Aberdeen Corporation Engineer's Office, 1903 and 1904. Tall 3-storey, 3-bay entrance block fronting Millburn Street, 2-storey wing to rear; 7-bay rectangular-plan workshop and warehouse fronting Crown Street; 2-storey wings to rear forming long U-plan. Granite, ashlar to Crown Street and Millburn Street, coursed and ladder pinned to remainder. Base course; dividing band course above ground floor; 1st floor cill course; eaves cornice and raised wallhead with cornice; pilaster quoins.

South (Pincipal) Elevation: symmetrical. Ground floor quarry faced; consoled and corniced doorway to centre, 6-panel door flanked by panelled sidelights, timber dentil cornice, 3-light rectangular fanlight, decorative cast-iron lamp-holder above; bipartite windows with chamfered reveals flanking to left and right. Bipartite window to centre of 1st floor with fluted pilaster mullion, consoled capitals and pediment; 2-light window to flanking bay to left and right. 3 regularly placed architraved windows to 2nd floor. Raised wallhead with inscription reading "CORPORATION ELECTRICITY WORKS", surmounted by curvilinear gable with carving of the Arms of the City of Aberdeen. 2-storey link to left; round-arched former entrance to ground floor, now with mullioned glazing, corbelled band course above, 2 windows at 1st floor; 3-storey modernised wing flanking to left. East ELEVATION: asymmetrical; front block to left; blind round arch to ground floor, 4-bay 1st and 2nd floors, window to each bay. 2-storey wing extending North with modern 2-storey block adjoining. 

North Elevation: asymmetrical; gabled 3-bay wing advanced to left, 3 windows to 1st floor, modern addition to ground floor extending along right return, irregular window openings to right return, large round-arched pend entrance to far right. Modern raised link corridor to centre. M-gabled warehouse advanced to right, 2 depressed-arched windows to each gable, louvred bull's-eye opening with moulded surround set in gablehead, spherical stone finial to apex of gables; 6 depressed-arched openings to left return, modern additions and alterations. 

West Elevation:
 asymmetrical; 3-storey, 4-bay modernised wing to right, window to each of 2 central bays, flanked to left and right by bipartite windows, at ground 1st and 2nd floors. 7-bay warehouse adjoining to left; pilastered bays; 2 central bays, and bay to outer left pedimented; depressed-arched doorway partly infilled with door and window to bay to outer left; depressed-arched window to remaining 6 bays to right.

Predominantly modern glazing, 16-pane to warehouse. Grey slate roofs, some piended with lead ridges; square platform balcony to centre of Millburn Road block with decorative cast-iron brattishing and corner finials, steel pylon to centre, ridge ventilators with conical caps. Granite wallhead and gablehead stacks. Cast-iron rainwater goods. 

INTERIOR: tiled mosaic floor to entrance lobby with Aberdeen Coat of Arms. All offices modernised in 1970s and subsequently, wood panelling used extensively. 



View from the Works Smoke Stack

The General Strike in Aberdeen - 1926 from the balustrade tower in the main block

The General Strike of May 1926 was a nationwide strike that affected all the cities in the United Kingdom. It had been organised by the Trades Union Congress in an unsuccessful attempt to force the British Government to act to prevent wage decreases and worsening conditions for coal miners.  Wider fears about the breakdown of order and the possibility of a more serious revolution prompted some organisations to take more defensive action, as this photograph of the roof of the Aberdeen Corporation Electricity Works shows.  To all intents and purposes it shows a machine gun placement on top the Corporation's Millburn Street building across from Ferryhill Parish Church. The placard underneath identifies it as a “Lewis Machine Gun” used in the General Strike of May 1926. The weapon, however, is artificial – a deterrent silhouette designed to dissuade strikers from occupying the Electricity Works.

At an early date in the history of Aberdeen there was a sheet of water on the site of Dee Village, called the Loch of Dee, which communicated with the River at high water. When the foundation of the Chimney of the Electric Works was excavated the skeleton of a red deer was found. It was supposed that the animal had been drowned in a spate of the Dee by being swept off an island, and that it had floated down the river till it was left at high tide where the skeleton was found. The stag's horns were placed in the Aberdeen Art Gallery, to serve as a model for artists.

Wartime Manoeuvres
A retired Aberdonian Engineer recalls the night he blew up the Electricity station. During the 2nd World War he served in a famous Scottish Regiment. In 1941 an exercise was arranged where by a different regiment would guard Aberdeen from Commando attacks. The raiding party landed at Cove from a small boat, clambered inland to the Railway Line and followed it into Aberdeen. They found that, although all the Road Bridges were guarded, there was no sentry on the Railway Bridge. They marched right to the rear of the Electricity Works, climbed in and left a dummy bomb before making their escape via the main Beach where their boat took them off.

Dee Village (also known as Potter's Creek) was on the site covered by the Aberdeen Corporation's Electricity Works, in Millburn Street

The new Electricity Station serving Aberdeen City commenced construction in 1901. The building, on Millburn Street, was an elaborate brick and granite construction. Note the use of wooden cranes for lifting the heavy granite stones. In the background can be seen a horse being used to pull the stones to their required positions.

The Electricity Station was built on the site of the old Dee Village, home to workers from the Clayhills Potteries and Brickworks. The village was demolished in 1899 to make way for the Electricity Station.




Electricity Subway1905.

This photograph shows the entrance to the cable subway running from the Works in the line of Crown Street and Justice Mill Lane for 1500 yards. It was capable of accommodating all the feeder cables required for the northern and western districts of the city, and was believed to be the largest of its kind in the UK.  This clearly left plenty of expansion capacity.

The Cast-iron Ventilator in tower form with decorative Art Nouveau detailing, sited on traffic island at head of Justice Mill Lane, at junction with Holburn Street.

Later concrete base fitted with splayed corners supporting cylindrical shaft adorned with stylised foliage at base, and rising with reeded moulding in 4 places (suggesting plant stalks) and terminating in frieze of stylised flowers, crowned with arcaded ventilator head further adorned with stylised foliage and terminated by polygonal, finialled cap.

The ventilator marks the end of the remarkable cable subway running from here, under Crown Street, to the former Electricity Works and Tram Car Depot in Millburn and Crown Streets, to which it provided necessary ventilation. The Art Nouveau style employed for the fine Paris Metro station entrances (designed by Hector Guimard), perhaps inspired its use to demark this underground subway, similarly linked to transport.

When the Electricity Act of 1947 came into force on 1st April 1948, generation of Electricity transferred to the North of Scotland Hydro Board.

North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board

When the Electricity Act of 1947 came into force on 1st April 1948, generation of electricity transferred to the North of Scotland Hydro- Electric Board.  In 1948, the Electricity Supply Industry in Britain was nationalised. The assets of the Grampian Electricity Supply Company and other public producers in northern Scotland were taken over by the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board. Its challenge was to combine these existing assets with new schemes which would be built over the next 20 or so years, to harness the water power of the Highlands. These would provide electricity to the northern part of Scotland on a scale which would otherwise have been impossible. By 1965, 54 main power stations and 78 dams had been built, providing a total generating capacity of over 1,000 megawatts. (A megawatt (MW) = 1,000,000 watts). Over 300 kilometres of rock tunnel had been excavated and a similar length of aqueducts and pipelines constructed. Over 32,000 kilometres of electricity network was built to distribute the electricity throughout the north of Scotland, with a further 110 kilometres of submarine cable taking power to the major Scottish islands. All this work was achieved by a workforce that averaged 4,500, and which, at its peak, numbered about 12,000. In many cases, the workforce was made up of a mixture of British workmen and German and Italian former prisoners of war. This provided a significant financial boost for the area but was not always welcomed by local landowners, many of whom had a vested interest in keeping the Highlands exactly as they had been for years before.

During the 2nd World War the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board (NOSHEB) was formed. It was championed by Tom Johnston, the then Secretary of State for Scotland who dreamt it would pave the way for great economic development in the Highlands. In the next two decades many schemes were built before it was finally accepted in the 1960s that new hydro schemes were uneconomic as the real price of electricity fell.  In the event the degree of economic development hoped for did not materialise but there was a significant social benefit by bringing power to far flung Highland communities. This was the Hydro Board's main contribution.

However, while in the north of Scotland the hydro schemes were designed to provide electricity for Highland communities; those in the south were not. Rather they were intended to sell electricity to central Scotland in order to offset the losses which the non-profit making Hydro Board envisaged making by supplying Highland communities further north.  The intended customers for the energy to be obtained from the Tummel-Garry Scheme are the Central Electricity Board for the Central Scotland Grid and 2 authorised undertakers within the Highland area – the Grampian Electricity Supply Company and the Corporation of Aberdeen. No direct or immediate benefit to local consumers in the area of the Tummel-Garry Scheme is contemplated.

Some have questioned the economic rationale of the Hydro Board as the costly schemes produced a modest amount of Electricity at a time when Britain had lost much of its wealth owing to the War.  Given the Tummel-Garry scheme was not even necessary to supply local communities it begs the question as to whether it really was necessary at all or whether cheaper forms of supply to central Scotland would have proved economically more beneficial to the country as a whole.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013