The original Birchills power station.

Walsall Corporation was granted a Provisional Order to supply electricity in 1890, and work on the project began in 1895. The original generating station was built in Wolverhampton Street, but soon proved to be uneconomical and unable to supply sufficient electricity to the area.

In 1913 Walsall Corporation decided to build a new generating station at Birchills which would feed a 6,600 volt, three phase network. Work began in 1914 when Mr. H. A. Howie was appointed engineer and manager. Birchills power station was designed to run as efficiently as possible, and soon appeared alongside the Birchills Canal, which would provide the necessary cooling water for the generating plant.

An electrically driven pumping plant was included to take cooling water from the Anson Branch of the canal, which after use could be returned either to the Walsall Canal or the Anson Branch. The pumping station building initially housed two Mather and Platt pumps, which are shown below. They were capable of handling 10.6 million gallons per day.


The electrically driven pumps.

Electricity was generated by a 5,000 kilowatt Brush-Ljungstrom turbo-alternator working at a steam pressure of 180 lb. per square inch. This was directly coupled to two Brush three-phase, 6,600 volt alternators, having a combined output of 5,000 kilowatts, as shown below.


The Brush-Ljungstrom turbo-alternator set.

The power station began producing electricity around 1916, but the official trials of the alternator were not carried out until 23rd May, 1922. They were completely successful, and followed by further trials on November 22nd. The thermal efficiency of the station was found to be 17.49 percent. Further extensions of the three-phase feeders, and four-core distribution cables were soon carried out by Callenders Cable and Construction Company Limited, which improved the supply, and greatly benefitted many of the local factories.

In 1925 the power station came under the control of the West Midlands Joint Electricity Authority which supplied power to much of the West Midlands. In 1944 the Authority decided to build a new power station on the Walsall site, alongside the old Birchills Power Station. After nationalisation of the industry in 1948, Walsall became part of the Midlands Region of the Central Electricity Generating Board. The new power station, called 'Walsall B', officially opened on 30th September, 1949 and had six cooling towers, and six tall chimneys above the generating hall. It burned ‘slack’ coal, a mixture of coal and coal dust which was delivered by road, rail and the canal. As with the earlier power station, cooling water was taken from the canal. There were six main turbo-generators, each producing 34,000 kilowatts. With the addition of two smaller diesel generators and three machines in the old power station, it produced a total of 225,500 kilowatts.

When the new power station began generating in 1949, one of its 34,000 kilowatt machines could supply almost the entire electricity for Walsall and Aldridge. By January 1963, it took four of the station's six main machines to supply the area because of a step rise in demand.


The new power station. Courtesy of John & Christine Ashmore.

The new power station cost £12,000,000, and burned 450,000 tons of coal a year. The coal store could hold up to 135,000 tons. The twelve boilers evaporated 2,400,000 pounds of steam per hour, and were stoker-fired to raise the steam to 875 degrees Fahrenheit at a pressure of 650 lbs. per square inch. There were four distillation plants, capable of purifying 60,000 lbs. of water per hour, to provide a pure supply of water for the boilers.

After use, the steam from the turbines was condensed in the cooling towers so that it could be reused. The cooling towers were 165 ft. in diameter at the base, 100 ft. in diameter at the top, 240 ft. high, and each weighed over 2,700 tons. There were also water-cooled condensers supplied with water from the canal. When the power station ran at full load, the condensers required nearly 10,000,000 gallons of canal water an hour.

Electricity was generated at 33,000 volts, then stepped-up by transformers to 132,000 volts for the National Grid. The power station employed 366 people. By the early 1980s it had become less efficient than its modern counterparts, and so it closed in October 1982. After standing empty for nearly four and a half years, it was demolished in March 1987.


The power station. Photo taken by Richard Ashmore. Courtesy of John & Christine Ashmore.


The power station from Bentley Common. Photo taken by Richard Ashmore. Courtesy of John & Christine Ashmore.


Looking past a lovely old cottage towards Reedswood Park and the power station. Photo taken by Richard Ashmore. Courtesy of John & Christine Ashmore.

In the distance is the once-familiar sight of Birchills power station. The photograph from the 1970s was taken by Richard Ashmore. Courtesy of John & Christine Ashmore.

The power station dominated much of the local landscape. A view from Edinburgh Avenue, Bentley, looking towards Kent Road. The photograph was taken by Richard Ashmore. Courtesy of John & Christine Ashmore.

I must thank John and Christine Ashmore for their help in producing this section.


One of the six 30MW turbo-alternators, which ran at 3,000rpm. at a steam pressure of 600psi. and a temperature of 850 degrees Farenheit.
 


The turbine room during construction.


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