Since 1970 all the utility services have been subject to privatisation. Whether this is a blessing or a curse tends to depend upon the politics of the speaker.
1995 saw the first intimations that the utility companies would now be subject to takeover bids from other utilities and/or international companies. This may have far wider implications than the original privatisation.
Although we sought information from all the utility companies only the Electric replied. Here we were fortunate to encounter a man whose hobby was the history of Electrical Supply in the North East. So, courtesy of John Rutherford, I shall start with Electricity.
Mains electricity reached Belford in 1934 when Belford Substation was commissioned (1) as an extension of the North Eastern Electricity Supply Co's 20kV system from Bamburgh.
The supply company started out as the Newcastle upon Tyne (later North Eastern) Electric Supply Co Ltd., supplying electricity for lighting purposes in the east end of Newcastle in 1889. During the early part of this century, NESCo set about expanding its activities by becoming a power company and by 1912 it operated the largest integrated power system in Europe.
The system included 3 large power stations on the Tyne and Tees interconnected with other smaller stations including waste heat stations at coke works and steel works. By the time the industry was nationalised in 1948 NESCo supplied most of the electrical requirements between the Cleveland Hills in the South and Wooler in the North.
Initial development of the system was slow compared to the rest of the country, the first high voltage networks being operated at the comparatively low voltage of 6kV and remote areas such as Ashington and Alnwick having their own 'central' power stations. Under the guidance of a great engineer and man of vision - Charles Merz (2) the undertaking became a model for the rest of the country.
In 1907 the transmission voltage was raised to 20kV and up to 66kV in 1924. A line operating at 66kV was constructed between Dunston and Bedlington to cater for reinforcement and expansion of supplies to North Northumberland. The 20kV system was extended northward to Alnwick and on to Belford in 1934.
When the National Grid was planned in 1926, 132kV was chosen as the operating voltage. When the power transmitted via the grid outgrew this voltage, a Supergrid system of 275kV, subsequently raised to 400kV was constructed.
In 1948 on nationalization, NESCo formed the main part of the area covered by the North Eastern Electricity Board. The board became a regional Public Electricity Supply Company (PES) when the industry was privatized and changed its name to Northern Electric plc.
The expansion of the electricity supply system in Belford can be seen by a glance at the table which shows the various substations commissioned in the area.
(1) A copy of the original estimate for the supply of electricity to Belford is enclosed. (This has been placed in the box of additional materials)
(2) Co founder of the engineering consultant firm of Merz and McLellan of Killingworth.
||Outdoor (Brick 1993)
|| Pole Mounted
||Outdoor (Brick 1995)
||Outdoor (brick 1995)
The low voltage system from Belford sub-station, supplying electricity at 240 volts to individual premises in the village centre, was installed using overhead feeders. Later installations used cables buried underground.
Recent developments include improving visual amenity in the village centre by undergrounding the low voltage network during 1995 (funded by a grant given to restore the Market Place to its original appearance) and converting outdoor type substations to indoor (enclosed in brick buildings) at several locations indicated in the table above.
British Gas plc supplies the village with gas for domestic and industrial use. Shortly after 1970 the whole country had its supplies of gas changed from 'town gas' which is derived from coal to 'north sea gas' which is extracted from drilling operations.
Because the two gases require slightly different burners, the whole country, including Belford, had to have its gas appliances modified. Since then, along with the rest of the country, we were assailed with an advertising campaign to get us to buy shares in the new company. "Tell Sid!" was in every paper, hoarding and monotonous hours of TV advertising.
1995 was significant for news stories about the chairman's huge salary. Cedric Brown will remain in our memory for quite a while. The gas itself flowed in spite of the hyperbole.
British Telecom plc is the name of the privatized supplier of services here and the rest of the country. Once again it is less the service than the image which stands out in the memory. BT brought us years of Maureen Lipman playing Beattie, an archetypal Jewish mother, with a telephone permanently welded to her ear. Lately Bob Hoskins has been telling us "It's good to talk."
Telecoms technology has advanced quite dramatically since 1970 with most of the old mechanical Strowger exchanges with their dancing, rotating electrical connectors being replaced with digital, electronic equipment. Probably the most common new development is the mobile phone hanging from belts, clutched in yuppie hands and perched in handbags (frequently in tractors too). Competitors to BT such as Mercury are slowly reaching the northern outposts but the cable suppliers have yet to arrive.
The North East Water Company supply water and sewerage services to the Belford Area. Although the long hot summer caused immense disruption to water supplies up and down the country, Belford supplies held out. This is probably due in no inconsiderable measure to the existence of the Kielder Reservoir operated by Northumbrian Water which opened in the early 1970's and although its intended use was partly as a feeder to industry in Teesside has never come into fruition, its immense size has been a great resource for the whole north east region. Northumbrian and North East Water are to merge in 1996 under the ownership of Lyonnaise des Eaux.
The Christmas snow and ensuing heavy frosts led to many bursts as we entered the new year. Only one was of the high pressure main, but the plumbers were kept very busy with smaller domestic crises.