War and Post-war Crisis

  • Leslie Hannah


The later 1930s were a turbulent time in the history of the electricity supply industry. The pressure by senior men for collective bargaining machinery was accompanied by divisive discussion of distribution reorganisation, which threatened the status and independence of the smaller undertakings and their chief engineers. But these problems were dwarfed in the minds of the Government, and increasingly in the minds of the undertakings’ senior men, by the growing threat of war.1 Since 1936, war preparations had been quietly advancing in most undertakings and in 1938 they were intensified. The Grid control centres had been practising routines for the operation of the Grid under air attack, and emergency control centres had been established to ensure continuity of supplies if the Grid controls were hit. Encouraged by the Government, the undertakings had built bomb shelters for staff and trained them in firefighting to deal with incendiary bombs. They had also agreed that the CEB should organise thirteen spare equipment stores in country districts remote from likely bombing targets. It was felt that the Grid itself would provide a means of ‘pooling’ generating sets in war conditions, so the equipment mainly consisted of spare switchgear and of transformers designed for rapid erection and speedy transport. There were also spares for Grid lines, with pylons designed for erection on base plates with guy-ropes (without the need to dig holes) for rapid restoration of Grid supplies.2


Grid System Electricity Supply Space Heating Supply Industry Maximum Demand 
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Notes on the Text

  1. 1.
    On the general background to the Second World War, the official civil histories are useful, see especially W. K. Hancock and M. Gowing, The British War Economy (1949);Google Scholar
  2. W. H. B. Court, Coa/(1951).Google Scholar
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  4. 2.
    Electricity Commissioners, ‘National Reserve of Emergency Spare Equipment’, January 1940, in HO 205/137;Google Scholar
  5. J. Rowland, Progress in Power, 1960, p. 99.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Cf. D. H. Aldcroft, ‘Government control and the origin of restrictive trade practices in Britain’, Accountants’ Magazine, vol. 66, 1962.Google Scholar
  7. 18.
    E.g. W. G. Jensen, ‘The Importance of Energy in the First and Second World Wars’, Historical Journal, vol. 11, 1968.Google Scholar
  8. 23.
    J. A. Lee, ‘The Grid and its Development’, JIEE, vol. 94 part I, (1947), pp. 45–8;Google Scholar
  9. 25.
    A. R. Cooper, ‘Load Despatching and the Reasons for it with special reference to the British Grid System’, JIEE, vol. 95 part II (1948) p. 717.Google Scholar
  10. 37.
    See, generally, M. Gowing, ‘The Organisation of Manpower in Britain during the Second World War’ Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 7 (1972);Google Scholar
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    W. H. B. Court, Coal (1951) pp. 148–9,Google Scholar
  12. 43.
    J. N. Robertson, in discussion, P1EE, vol. 96 part II, (1949) p. 25.Google Scholar
  13. 45.
    For alternative estimates of domestic coal consumption see W. K. Hancock and M. M. Gowing, British War Economy, (1949) p. 473;Google Scholar
  14. B. R. Mitchell and H. G. Jones, Second Abstract of British Historical Statistics (Cambridge, 1972) p. 68;Google Scholar
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  16. 51.
    see also A. Calder, The People’s War: Britain 1939–1945 (1971) pp. 327–9 for popular reactions.Google Scholar
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    see B. R. Mitchell and H. G. Jones, Second Abstract of British Historical Statistics (Cambridge 1972) p. 193.Google Scholar
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  23. 98.
    P. Schiller, ‘Control of the Domestic Load’, JIEE, vol. 88 part II (1941) p. 473;Google Scholar
  24. H. W. Grimmitt, ‘Considerations on some Electricity Supply Problems’, JIEE, vol. 92, part I (1945) p. 35.Google Scholar
  25. 104.
    cf. Political and Economic Planning, The British Fuel and Power Industries (1947) p. 247.Google Scholar
  26. 110.
    H. Dalton, High Tide and After. Memoirs 1945–1960 (1962) pp. 203–4.Google Scholar
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    F. Williams, A Prime Minister Remembers (1961) pp. 220–1.Google Scholar
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    J. Jewkes, Ordeal by Planning (Oxford, 1948),Google Scholar
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    F. Williams, A Prime Minister Remembers (1961) pp. 221–2.Google Scholar
  30. 143.
    D. J. Bolton, Electrical Engineering Economics, vol. 2 (1951) p. 181.Google Scholar
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    see C. M. Kennedy, ‘Monetary Policy’ in G. D. N Worswick and P. H. Ady (eds), The British Economy 1945–50 (Oxford, 1952).Google Scholar
  32. 160.
    See e.g. I. M. D. Little, The Price of Fuel (Oxford, 1953).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Electricity Council 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leslie Hannah
    • 1
  1. 1.Emmanuel CollegeCambridgeUK

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