Robin Longbottom examines how the old Keighley Corporation met the area’s electricity requirements

FOR nearly half a century, Keighley Corporation generated electricity. Initially it was to provide street lighting and power for electric trolley buses, but then was extended to businesses and households throughout the town and surrounding district.

Proposals had been put forward as early as 1894 to light the streets with electricity but it was not until July 1899 that parliament approved a provisional order for the corporation “to supply electrical energy within the limits of the borough”.

The site chosen for the new power station was the old gas works in Coney Lane, that had been vacated in 1874 when the works were relocated to Marley.

The old works site was conveniently close to the River Worth, from where water could be extracted for cooling purposes. It was also close to the Great Northern Railway and its coal yards; however, the yards were across the river and a tramway and bridge had to be built to bring the fuel across.

The early site consisted of a generating hall, accumulator house (housing batteries to store electricity), workshops and administrative offices. The generators were installed in the former gas retort house, which was extensively refurbished. The building was 85 feet long and 40 feet wide and the interior walls were lined with white tiles that were broken at about waist height with a dado of green ones. The floor was paved with diamond tiles of red and white. Initially two 200hp engines and dynamos and one 400hp engine and dynamo were installed but the building had the capacity to hold engines up to 3,000hp without any further extension.

The power station was officially opened on July 15, 1901, when the switch was thrown to illuminate 12 arc lamps on tall poles that ran down the centre of Cavendish Street and further arc lamps along Low Street, East Parade, Church Street and at the railway bridge. The cost was originally estimated at £34,600 but was completed for £31,000.

By the outbreak of the Great War the generator house had reached capacity. Keighley Corporation was now supplying private households and businesses within the town and had also reached agreement to supply Bingley Urban District Council. Bingley at this time also included Harden, Wilsden and Cullingworth. Despite the war an extension was added to the generator hall to increase output and this was officially opened on May 31, 1917. In 1919 agreement was reached to provide a bulk supply to Haworth Urban District Council and to Oxenhope in 1925.

The trolley bus network was also extended and by the early 1920s services were powered by an overhead network strung on poles that ran alongside the streets and roads. Corporation trolley bus services eventually extended to Stockbridge, Cross Roads, Oxenhope and Oakworth and to Sutton-in-Craven, via Steeton and Cross Hills.

After the Great War, Skipton Rural District Council approached Keighley to supply electricity, but the corporation hadn’t sufficient spare capacity. Therefore, agreement was reached with the Yorkshire Electric Power Company (created in 1902 to supply rural areas) to boost Keighley’s capacity from its network and to take an overhead line along the Aire Valley to Skipton. Power was switched on in Skipton in August, 1923. Feeds were eventually taken off the high voltage line to supply Steeton, Silsden, Sutton and Glusburn and other villages along the Aire Valley.

In 1925 the power station was extended once again, increasing the output by 50 per cent and enabling a maximum production of 15,000 kilowatts. The new extension was formally opened by Phillip Snowden of Cowling, later Viscount Snowden and the first Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, on September 19, 1925.

On April 1, 1948, control of the Keighley power station was handed over to Central Electricity Generating Board, after the nationalisation of the electricity industry in 1947, and subsequently decommissioned.