Power behind Lune industry

Andrew Reilly looks at the history of the Williamson Power Station in Lancaster and what an innovation it was originally.

Saturday, 24th April 2021, 3:46 pm
Updated Monday, 26th April 2021, 5:04 pm

With all the discussion recently about the demolition of the Williamson Power Station chimney on the Lune Industrial Estate, Lancaster and possibly the whole building – now declared a non-designated heritage asset as a result of the intervention by members of Lancaster and District Heritage Group – this article about the history of the building found by Andrew Reilly of Lancaster Past & Present gives a better perspective of what an innovation it was originally.

At the end of the war, 1945/6, the Government called on industry to give priority to fuel savings in its drive to restore the country to normality. The then chief engineer Alston anticipated the need to meet bigger calls for steam, water and electricity and in 1945 was given the go-ahead to prepare plans to put Lune Mills ahead of the field in terms of fuel related costs.

Prior to 1945, power requirements were covered by 72 Lancashire boilers spread around the site and the Cotton Mills, a direct electricity supply from Lancaster power station and a steam driven direct current power house which was almost a museum piece.

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The Williamson Power Station was opened on the Lune Industrial Estate in 1949.

Consultants Kennedy and Donkin were employed to design a scheme for a modern power station and a steam and electricity distribution scheme covering the whole factory.

To overcome this Kennedy & Donkin put forward a scheme involving the following plant:

Power Station

4 – 30,000 lb/hour 600 p.s.i 720 deg F superheat Water tube boilers by Mitchell Engineering.

One of the pieces of machinery at the Williamson Power Station in Lancaster.

In 1954/5 the plant was increased by:-

1 – 40,000 lb/hour boiler to the same specification.

2 – 3 M.W. Back Pressure Turbo Generators, exhausting at 100 p.s.i. built by Bellis and Morcom,

2 – 600 kw Condensing Turbo Generators, also by Bellis & Morcom.

In late 1963 Williamsons merged with Nairns of Kirkcaldy to become Nairn-Williamson, the largest producers of floorcovering in the country.

1 – Heat Storage vessel used – for feed water. It was 70 ft. high by 12 ft. diameter and weighed 100 tons. It held 200 tons of water.

The heat storage vessel had a big influence on the economic running of the plant and it was shown on the graph how the control engineer could put heat in and take it out of the vessel to help to balance the- steam and electricity demand.

The control engineer could avoid overloading the boilers and also limit electricity maximum demands by using a Ripple Relay system.#

This could be used to shed or reinstate load by sending out a harmonic signal on the mains which operated tuned relays on valves and switches. Steam from the station was taken round the site in 14-ring mains on high gantries and as part of the drive for efficiency the condensate was collected at 12 tanks and then pumped in a six-main back to the station.

An aerial view of The Williamson Power Station and chimney on the Lune Industrial Estate in Lancaster.

All these features, together with training and an efficiency linked bonus scheme helped to achieve regular boiler efficiences of 82% and an overall station efficiency approaching 80%.

The target of coal savings were achieved – 28,000 tons/annum, together with a marked reduction in labour and electricity charges.

In late 1963 Williamsons merged with Nairns of Kirkcaldy to become Nairn-Williamson, the largest producers of floorcovering in the country.

With a falling market due to the introduction of cheaper carpets and tiles Lancaster with the most modern plant was creating problems for Kirkcaldy.

During 1967 in a political move the Government gave the company £2m to concentrate lino making at Kirkcaldy because of high unemployment in Fife. The result was the end of a modern factory and power station at Lancaster and almost 3,000 people lost their jobs.

Source – RCSA Sussex. Steve Oliver 1992. Thanks to Lancaster Civic Society for this article.