The old Limavady Power Station

The old power station in Limavady
The old power station

This article is about the original old power station. Recently a lot of work has been done to upgrade the old place - they have even built a new canal and pipe work to supply water to the turbine. However, the wok is still in progress and the power station is closed for the duration.

At the end of the 19th century a gentleman named John Edward Ritter lived in Roe Park House - now the Radisson hotel. He was the son of Edward Frederick Christian Ritter,  a music teacher from Alsace-Lorraine who had secretly married Jane Alexander - one of his students. The couple  went off to Australia to dig for gold. They made a fortune and later returned to the Roe Valley with their five children.

Later their Australian-born son John  married his cousin Elizabeth Jane Smith Stanton who,  due to her brother's death, had inherited the Roe Park estate, which stretched from the Roe Bridge in Limavady all the way to the Carrick Rocks on the west side of the river Roe. Part of the estate included a working water mill at the Largy or Dogleap Bridge.

John Ritter decided around 1890 to install electric lighting in and around his house. He had bought a diesel engine to drive some farm machinery and decided to connect it to his brand new American dynamo. Roe Park house became the first dwelling in Limavady to be illuminated by electricity.

The main generater and control panel

Generator and control panel

Because he owned the old Largy Green watermill, Mr. Ritter soon decided that it should be possible to install an electrical generator there and produce electricity without the need for a  noisy engine and indeed the expense of fuel oil, which must have been hard to come by in those days.

In 1895 he bought another generator and drove it with the original water wheel. The hardest part of the job was to install the overhead wire to Roe Park House, but he succeeded and even installed a telephone connection between the two locations. This was of course the first hydro-electric power station in Northern Ireland.

The machine you see on the right is not the original Ritter dynamo, but a later installation. It dates from 1923, judging from the label attached to the old generator.

Mr Ritter soon realised that if he replaced the old water wheel with a much more efficient water turbine,  he could  generate enough electricity to light up parts of Limavady, as well as his own house. Even though he had to overcome the opposition of both the local council and the local gasworks - which feared competition - he soon connected about 75 houses to his private grid. John Ritter died in 1901 aged only 41 and his wife took over the business.

The main generator
The main generator
If tales of old are to be believed, using electricity in those days was not as straightforward as nowadays. Because not much power was available, every house was connected via a bi-metallic cut-out which was heated and hence activated by the incoming current. As soon as it got too hot, it would disconnect the entire house from the supply - plunging it into total darkness.

This of course allowed the cut-out to cool - which in turn switched the electricity on again - which in turn produced heat which activated the cut-out ...... The only treatment for this repetitive behaviour was to turn enough power off to keep the cut-out steady - a skill readily acquired by the adaptable population of this beautiful valley.

During the first world war the council, who had taken over the  gas company, had difficulty with their coal supply. In those days gas was produced by coking coal. So when the war was over an electricity company was formed which was to produce enough power for Limavady . The town  then  was of course much smaller than it is now.

Both generators in the old Limavady power station
View of both generators
A second generator was installed - seen on the left - and Mr John Irwin, an electrical engineer, was hired to bring the technology under proper control and order.

Quite a few of the old machines can still be examined in the power house - and everything has been kept in very good condition indeed.

On the left is a view of both generators. The one in the back is mounted directly above the turbine whilst the generator in the foreground is driven via a sturdy belt.

The control panel on the right is particularly suited to bring tears to the eyes of an ageing electrician - and reputedly has done so repeatedly. Mimic boards were obviously never heard of and black was a very fashionable as well as practical colour.

Notice the huge glass-covered instruments and the rather fetching cut-outs with brown coils under cut glass.

Those were pioneering days. Generators were called dynamos and what we call frequency these days, was referred to as 'periodicity'. The large blue main generator above could deliver an astonishing 72 kilowatts at 2300 Volts - enough to supply an entire couple of houses in this day and age.

There was in fact a third generator across the river, supplied by a rather large and ugly water pipe which still spans the Roe beside the Dogleap (or Largy) bridge.

An ancient control panel

The once highly advanced switchboard

Salmon eye view of the turbine shaft

The turbine shaft

The power station lasted right through the next war and was taken over by the electricity board when all the local stations were nationalised in 1946. It finally closed in 1963.

It is heartening to hear the rumour that there are plans afoot to start generating power again. Enough, at any rate, to supply the visitor centre and sell the excess to the national grid. Let's hope these plans can be realised.

Mind you, they would need to install a new turbine. What you see on the left is the inside of the old turbine shaft. The square rusty shaft is what connected the turbine to the generator above - and the entire assembly looks - at least to this not inexperienced eye -  definitely worn out!

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