As early as 1882 the Swan Company had suggested electric street lighting for Alnwick, but the council rejected the proposal, on the basis that the technology needed to be more widely tested. These were the early days of electric lighting. Swan’s incandescent electric lights were first installed by Armstrong at Cragside in 1880. Trials of Swan’s electrical lighting apparatus were carried out at Alnwick Castle in 1881, and 100 lamps, driven by a hydro-electric plant, were installed at the castle by the Duke in 1889.
In 1901 the Northern Counties Electricity Supply Company applied to supply Alnwick, and the following year they were busy digging up footpaths to lay cables, then celebrating the first successful installations. It was unfamiliar technology, and in 1909 readers of the Alnwick Mercury were advised “don’t let any strong light, like that of electricity, shine directly into the eye”.
Over the following years it became increasingly common for houses to be advertised as having electric lighting installed. Typically, from 1912, in Stott Street: “The house is well fitted with gas and electric light, which fittings will be included, with the exception of two standard lamps”. And in Clifton Terrace: “electric lighting and gas and hot water heating throughout”.
NESCo had been founded as the Newcastle upon Tyne Electric Supply Company, but was renamed as it expanded to supply the region. It absorbed the Northern Counties Electricity Supply Company in 1916, and went on to supply much of North East England, until nationalisation under the 1947 Electricity Act.
By the 1930s electricity was being installed in Alnwick’s new council houses, and tenants in older council houses (who still relied on gas lighting) were petitioning for a conversion.
Should gas or electric street lighting be preferred? The debate rumbled on for more than thirty years. The challenge for the Lighting Committee was to balance the capital cost of a change, against the different running costs, and other benefits of the competing systems. The issue was complicated by accusations that influential people in the town had a financial interest in the local gas company.
A number of demonstrations of different street lighting systems were carried out in the 1930s, and electric street lighting began to be introduced – starting with the main roads, and new estates. It wasn’t until 1950 that a decision was taken to convert all street lighting in the town to electricity, and the last six gas street lamps (in Denwick Lane) were finally switched off in 1972.
See also NESCo House on Bondgate Within.