Subterranea Britannica

Melbourne Street Tramway Generating Station (Manors Power Station)

CastleGate, Melbourne Street Newcastle NE1 2JQ
OS Grid Ref: NZ253642
Date of visit: October 2014

[Source: Chris Rayner]

Manors Power Station in Melbourne Street was built between 1901 and 1904 as a coal-fired power station to generate electricity for the city, something it did successfully for three decades till it was decommissioned in 1936. After that it became the Tramway Generating Station, at the same time providing power for electric arc street lighting, the Town Hall, cranes on Newcastle Quayside and electrically-operated lifts on the Tyne Bridge

Familiar touches such as ornate copper roof turrets resembling beehives and stained glass windows depicting trams mark this out as a building designed by eccentric and well-loved local architect Benjamin Simpson, an architect who had no problem with celebrating the modern industrial age.

The 18m high Turbine Hall originally housed the three marine-type reciprocating steam engines, two rated at 1,000 horsepower and the third 2,000 horsepower, which had generated electricity at 500 Volts via a DC dynamo. A large switchboard at the station had then distributed power to the Newcastle Corporation Tramways system. Within five years these original turbines were obsolete and had to be replaced by four new Parsons turbo generators hoisted into place by a massive 50 tonne beam crane (built by the Crown Iron Works in Manchester) which still survives, outlasting the second generation turbines by half a century. The hall had then had a chequered history, at one point in the 1960ís becoming an indoor car park and later, when the city's Metro system was being built in the 1970s, the site of a full-size Metro station mock-up. Now its owners, the City Church use it for their Sunday services, and also let it out for conferences and other functions.

Down below in the basement, the glazed brick plinths that the post-1909 turbo generators once sat on still remain, together with an under-pavement cable duct running the length of the building. A pile of glass pavement lights in the middle of the floor would originally have lit this now dark duct way.

Two wartime air raid shelters also remain, with unusual steel propping, escape hatches and heavy blast doors. These were almost certainly shelters for the Corporation Tramways workforce as no public access appears to have been provided.

More details and contemporary photos at The Castle Gate.

[Source: Chris Rayner]

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