The Generator House
Cliveden's electric past
In 1896, Lord Astor commissioned the Generator House for Cliveden as he was looking for something to replace the outmoded Gas Yard. It was the latest technology for the time and allowed the mansion to shine with bright electric light. It was described in the Gardener’s Chronicle (June 22 1885):
‘...another “improvement” is the electric light for which we noticed a shed to hold an enormous steam boiler, and the necessary machinery is being constructed at a point in a dell not far distant from the mansion. How bizarre this all seems to us in this quiet retreat! We think any means of lighting preferable about such grounds as these, as this glaring searchlight.’
Unfortunately this is the only historic reference and this makes the archaeological recording of the building all the more important.
After mains electricity came to Cliveden in the late 1940s, the Generator House was decommissioned and gradually fell into disrepair, leading to 50 years of gradual decay.
A dilapidated state
The Generator House volunteer team did a fantastic job of clearing the interior, exposing historic floor surfaces, engine mountings, flywheel pits and ducts for pipes and cables.
They recovered a number of interesting artefacts relating to the operation of the generator house, including sections of marble screen from the original switchboard with labels on and glass cups and rods from the glass cell batteries that were charged in the ‘accumulator’ room.
Conserving a valuable example of industrial heritage
Looking to the future, the first phase of restoration is due to start in early 2018. This involves stabilising the walls, replacing doors and windows and adding a completely new roof to make the building watertight.
During this project, a viewing platform by the Orangery Café will be available for you to see the conservation in action. They'll also be historical interpretation for you to read more about the family of engineers who worked inside the Generator House, including a daughter who fixed the dynamos and charged the huge glass batteries.
Check back to find out more details about this fascinating project.