How the lights were first switched on in Sunderland

The old cooling tower of Sunderlands power station.

The old cooling tower of Sunderlands power station.

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At 6.30pm on a March night in 1895, the town’s Mayor, Ald. John Sanderson, placed his finger on a button near the staircase in the Town Hall.

Outside in Fawcett Street crowds of people held their breath. Then they burst into prolonged and spontaneous cheering as the Mayor pressed his finger against the button…. and the area in front of the Town Hall became flooded with light.

Aerial photograph of Deptford in Sunderland in 1950.

Aerial photograph of Deptford in Sunderland in 1950.

The age of electricity in Sunderland had begun.

Philip Curtis, of the Sunderland Antiquarian Society, explained more.

Two arc lights - supplied with electricity from a small generating station in Dunning Street - started the new era.

And on that memorable night, the Mayor made a prophecy which was to prove correct.

Outside in Fawcett Street crowds of people held their breath. Then they burst into prolonged and spontaneous cheering as the Mayor pressed his finger against the button…. and the area in front of the Town Hall became flooded with light

Philip Curtis

He said: “I believe that those who live another seventy years will find something even more marvellous than the electric light.”

The old Dunning Street power station generated electricity until 1908 after being extended in 1900 to supply the Corporation’s new electric tramway system.

Sunderland’s new power station, behind the Sunderland Corporation Tramways depot in Hylton Road, opened six years after those first arc lights had burst into life outside the Town Hall.

The station required good easy supply of coal and water. Coal was no problem and the water was drawn from 300-foot wells which were sunk in various places.

Sunderlands power station dominated the river skyline.

Sunderlands power station dominated the river skyline.

In 1926 the first extensions were added to the plant followed in 1941 by further additions which costs £750,000. Eventually, in addition to the main plant, there were seven wooden cooling towers and a 180-foot concrete cooling tower dominating the skyline of Wearside.

Today they are no more. Electricity power stations no longer need to be situated in the centre of towns and cities and Sunderland’s skyline has changed for the better.

Sunderland power station chimney demolition.

Sunderland power station chimney demolition.