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
The first phase of restoration has already begun. This involves stabilising the walls, replacing doors and windows and adding a completely new roof to make the building watertight. We've created a viewing platform (opposite the Orangery Café) for you to see the conservation work in action. There's also 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.
Fundraising this project
To ensure the future of the Generator House, we're aiming to raise £50,000: this will gurantee the stabilisation needed to ensure the buildings integrity. We'll achieve this through huge amounts of support from visitors, volunteers and supporter groups. Specifically, we've installed an interactive coin drop, an exhibition in our second-hand bookshop, daily talks, a mini generator house for children and selling raffle tickets.