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Electricity and the Canal

What has this scruffy old closed down antiques shop got to do with electricity and the canal?


But the flat above the shop, 130 Bold Street Liverpool, is the birth place of Sebastian Ziani Di Ferranti. (1864-1030). There was a blue plaque on the wall, marking his birthplace, but it is currently held at the Science Museum in Manchester.

Ferranti invented the first efficient dynamo (electricity generator) that could be used for electric incandescent lighting, he designed the first "modern", out of town power station at Deptford and the first safe underground electrical distribution system. He also pioneered the use of High Voltage Alternating Current; the system we still use today.

Liverpool was an early adopter (1882) of electricity because of the docks. By installing electrical arc lighting, the docks could be operated 24 hours a day all year round which more or less doubles the amount of cargo the docks could handle. Liverpool had a second reason for adopting electricity early on.  The local refuse was dealt with by incineration in the "destructor" plants. The heat given off by burning refuse was turned into steam, which drove steam engines, which drove generators, which provided the electricity to the lights at the docks. Since the destructors were, generally by the canal and the canal was by the docks, this worked quite well.

Demand for electricity grew quickly, and fairly soon, much bigger generator stations were need. The first of these was Pumpfields (right). It was located by the canal because it was coal fired, and the coal could be delivered directly to the station by barge. Things moved very quickly, and there were soon additional power stations, including one at Clarence Dock, right in the heart of the city.

Then, the national grid was invented in 1926, and made operational by 1933. So how do you connect the High Voltage electrical supply from an "efficient" power station like that at Clarence Dock to the national grid, on the outskirts of the town? The problem was solved by suspending high voltage electricity cables from gantries over the canal, thus avoiding the need to dig up the streets.

Clarence dock is next to Stanley dock, but the power lines followed up the side of the locks to Lightbody Street on standard pylons, then joined the canal on gantries, following along the canal through Bootle and Litherland to the Grid station opposite Field View. This picture shows the canal at Bankhall in WW2.

Clarence dock power station was coal fired, and that coal arrived via the Leeds and Liverpool Canal from Wigan. It remained in operation until 1990 and was demolished in 1993. The gantries were removed in 1991, one hundred years after Ferranti's pioneering Deptford power station opened.

These days, there are no power stations in Liverpool or Bootle, and electrical power is delivered from the grid in various ways. For example, standard pylons connect the Field View Grid Station to the grid, while undergound cables connect the Bootle Grid Station, which can be seen from the canal near Marsh Lane Bridge.