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When we switched on to a new supply

PUBLISHED: 21:14 18 September 2018 | UPDATED: 21:14 18 September 2018

The control room of the power station. Photo: Central Electricity Generating Board

The control room of the power station. Photo: Central Electricity Generating Board

Central Electricity Generating Board

Nothing changed, except Great Yarmouth and Gorleston’s landscape.

The new South Denes power station, opened 60 years ago. Photo: Central Electricity Generating BoardThe new South Denes power station, opened 60 years ago. Photo: Central Electricity Generating Board

In homes, radios still worked, as did televisions - still a novelty for many. Lights, electric cookers and other appliances functioned normally – provided householders put their shillings in the slot-meters.

Shop windows were lit as usual. The famed Golden Mile illuminations continued to delight late-season visitors.

The big unseen difference was that the electricity was being supplied from a new power station which sparked into service on the South Denes at Great Yarmouth 60 years ago this month.

The formal opening was by the Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk, Sir Edmund Bacon.

One of the high electricity pylons carrying cables from the power station across the River Yare will be passed by HMS Wasperton and the disabled inter-service hovercraft she is towing up-stream exactly a half-century ago in September 1968. Photo: Mercury ArchiveOne of the high electricity pylons carrying cables from the power station across the River Yare will be passed by HMS Wasperton and the disabled inter-service hovercraft she is towing up-stream exactly a half-century ago in September 1968. Photo: Mercury Archive

The structure, with its 360ft chimney, dominated the riverside which, within a few years, was to be reinvigorated by the arrival of the offshore search for oil and gas beneath the North Sea, succeeding the traditional autumn herring fishery which was in decline.

To the casual observer, the £14 million power station was the biggest structure built in the borough, perhaps eclipsing the parish church of St Nicholas. Construction took four years and provided work for 800 men.

The post-war scheme included provision of a reinforced concrete quay 1,400ft long with facilities for discharging oil tankers ferrying in fuel to power the generators. The oil storage capacity was 38,500 tons. Those vessels became a familiar part of the harbour scene.

Instead of using Yarmouth’s fresh water, it was decided to draw supplies from the sea. So the neighbouring quayside incorporated water intakes to the power station – and the used water passed from the condensers through culverts under the South Beach and 680ft out to sea.

It was popularly reckoned that the sea temperature where the discharged power station water entered the North Sea made it the warmest spot for bathing hereabouts.

Holidaymakers at the South Denes Caravan Camp were the chief users of that length of sands and would have benefited from any temperature boost to the North Sea. Both the new South Denes Power Station and the nearby shore-side caravan camp are both long gone but remain in the memories of borough residents and probably visitors too.

For decades Yarmouth and Gorleston had their own gasworks (off Barrack Road, and between Southtown Road and the riverside near the Half Way House), but the electricity power station on the South Denes – built by the corporation in 1894 for £16,500 - was on the Yarmouth side of the river but served the entire self-contained borough.

The possibility of providing us with a new power station was being investigated, and the purchase of land had begun, in 1939 but the project was put on hold until hostilities ceased.

For the record, the new-build included the installation of 249,000 kilowatts of generating plant. Overall more than 50 contractors were involved in building and equipping the power station.

As the power station neared completion, it was decided that it should be converted from coal to oil burning. When the facility was opened in 1958, only two of its four units were operating, the others being added in the next two years and supplying the national grid.

But if Yarmouthians thought the new power station would generate electricity for many a decade, they were mistaken, for it operated for only 27 years, switching off in 1985.

According to John McBride’s A Diary of Great Yarmouth, within a decade the power station was demolished - the chimney and some building by explosives - and several of the lofty electricity pylons between Yarmouth and Burgh Castle were removed.

Those towering pylons on either side of the Yare near Fishwharf, assembled in 1932, were dismantled. Almost as if in sympathy, the autumn herring fishery dwindled to nought.

A replacement gas-fired power station opened in 2002, but often seemed out of commission, if I recall correctly.

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