ELECTRICITY COMES TO NORWICH
THE first demonstration of electric light was made in St Andrews Hall in the 1870s. The assembled worthies of the city were impressed. Only a few decades earlier gas had arrived in Norwich; nearly a thousand gas lamps lit up the dark streets, but the brilliance of electric light was a revelation. Before the 19th century only the odd candle shining from a window provided any illumination once the sun had gone down. The occasional linkman with his fiery torch would accompany the most important night travellers. The first area of Norwich to benefit from electric light was the Market Place, which was supplied in 1882.
The origin of the firm of LSE goes back almost to the beginning; in 1884 J. J. Colman wanted a dynamo installed in Carrow Works to provide the new electric light for his mill. Two craftsmen called Messrs Paris and Scott undertook the work. Colman’s were not the only local organisation to require wiring for the novel medium of electricity, and the partners established an electrical contracting business. This was to service go-ahead businesses; even the most advanced domestic customers relied on gas to light their homes, and the poor still used tallow candles. Besides installing wiring, Paris and Scott also continued perfecting the manufacture of the dynamo, but they badly needed capital to continue. It was Mr Laurence who provided £6000 which set the firm on a sound financial footing. Thereafter it became known as Laurence Scott.
The name of Gothic Works has always been synonymous with Laurence Scott, or Laurence and Scott as it is colloquially known. As it expanded the firm took over premises called Gothic Works in King Street, and the large factory they built across the river in Hardy Road retains this name today. Laurence Scott sold the contracting side of the business before the end of the 19th century and concentrated on the manufacture of generators, switch gear and electric motors. A lot of the electrical equipment that went into the Titanic was made by Laurence Scott, and you can read their ghostly name on the electric fans that lie deep on the Atlantic seabed, which are now revealed by remote submarine cameras.
The first generating station in Norwich was near St Andrew’s Hall, and produced low voltage Direct Current; this would not reach beyond the city boundaries. By contrast high voltage Alternating Current will travel long distances with little loss of power. Since the establishment of the Nation Grid, AC is transferred at high voltage across the country. It is reduced to a usable level by transforming stations. The generating station in Duke Street was replaced in 1926 by a coal-fired generating station in Thorpe on the edge of the city, and this continued in use until 1980. In the inter-war period electricity was increasingly supplied to the villages of the surrounding countryside of East Norfolk, and electricity poles joined the telegraph poles that criss-crossed the land.
My grandfather William Mason spent his life working for Laurence Scott, although not as an engineer. His task was the more basic one of making the packing cases for the machinery before it was sent off by train. The sidings to Gothic Works were adjacent to Norwich Thorpe railway station. William’s workmanship was of the highest standard, and towards the end of his life he was congratulated by management; not one of the packing cases he made had ever been broken in transit.
The busiest time for Laurence Scott was during the Second World War, when the heavy equipment they specialised in was in great demand. Norfolk is a rural economy, and even in Norwich the major local industries were mustard milling, insurance and shoemaking. These have nothing to do with the heavy engineering which characterised the Midlands and the North of England. Laurence Scott is the exception to this, and still constitutes a substantial employer in the city.