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Electric Power in the Isle of Dogs

Many people may be aware of Elon Musk and his electric storage batteries but people may be surprised that this technology has been around for a century and the Isle of Dogs played an important in its development.
At the end of the 19th century, the Electrical Power Storage Company took over the Sun Iron Works which was just off Westferry Road. E.P.S., as it was known, was set up to using patents concerning batteries and accumulators. In 1882, the Electrical Power Storage Company, with about 300 employees, began producing accumulators at the Millwall works. The company also had offices in Great Winchester Street in the City of London.
The early accumulators were supplied to hotels, Law Courts, the Bank of England, Lloyd’s and many theatres. The Millwall works also supplied temporary lighting for functions especially during the London Season, they had a number of royal clients, including Queen Victoria. There was also experiments for a battery-powered tramcars.
One of the more interesting experiments was electric powered boats, a newspaper report of 1882 gives more details.

An  Electric  Launch

Professor Sylvanus P. Thompson writes to The Times :-” Having been one of a privileged party of four, the first over propelled upon the waters of the River Thames by the motive power of electricity, I think some details of this latest departure in the applications of electric science may be of interest.

At half-past 3 this afternoon I found myself on board the little vessel Electricity, lying at her mooring off the wharf of the works of the Electrical Power Storage Co. at Millwall. Save for the absence  of steam and steam machinery the little craft would have been appropriately called a steam launch. She is 26ft. in length, and about 5ft, in the beam, drawing about 2ft. of water, and fitted with a 22inch propeller screw. On board were stowed away, under the flooring and seats,fore-and-aft, 45 mysterious boxes, each about of about 10in. in dimensions. These boxes were nothing else than electric accumulators of the latest type, as devised by Messrs. Sellon and Volokmar, being a modification of the well-known Plante accumulator. Fully charged with electricity by wires leading from the dynamos or generators in the wonks, they were calculated to supply power for six hours at the rate of 4h.p. These storage cells were placed in electrical connection with two Siemens’ dynamos of the size known as D 3,furnished with proper reversing gear and regulators,to serve as engines to drive the screw propeller.

Either or both of these motors could be ‘switched ‘ into circuit at will. In charge of the electric engines was Mr. Gustave Phillipart, jun., who has been associated with Mr. Volokmar io the fitting up of the electric launch. Mr, Volokmar himself and an engineer completed, with the writer, the quartet who made the trial trip. After a few minutes’ rundown the river, and a trial of the powers of the boat to go forward, slacken, or go astern at will, her head was turned Citywards, and we sped- I cannot say steamed-silently along the southern shore, running about eight knots an hour against the tide. At 37 minutes past 4 London Bridge was reached, where the head of the launch was put about, while a long line of onlookers from the parapets surveyed the strange craft that without steam or visible power-without even a visible steersman-made its way against wind and tide.

Slipping down the ebb, the wharf at Millwall was gained at one minute past 5, thus is 24 minutes terminating the trial trip of the Electricity, For the benefit of electricians I may add that the total electromotive force of the accumulators was 96 volts, and that during the whole of the long run the current through each machine was steadily maintained at 24 amperes. Calculations show that this corresponds to an expenditure of electric energy of 31.11 horse power.

It is now 43years since the Russian Jacobi first propelled a boat upon  the waters of the Neva by aid of a large but primitive electro-magnetic engine, worked by galvanic batteries of the old type, wherein zinc plates were dissolved in acid. Two years ago a  little model boat was shown in Paris by M. Trouvé, actuated by accumulators of the Fauro-Plaute type. The present is, however, not only the first electric boat that has been constructed in this country, but the very first in which the electric propulsion of a boat has been undertaken on a commercial scale. Looking at this first practical success, who shall say to what proportions  this latest application may not attain in the next decade?”

Two years later a race took place between Electricity and the electric launch Australia from Millwall to Charing Cross Bridge and back to Greenwich.

The author of the news report was Silvanus Phillips Thompson was a professor of physics at the City and Guilds Technical College in Finsbury, and was elected to the Royal Society in 1891.

After the successful experiments with electric launches, charging stations were set up along the Thames and from 1888, over 50 British boatbuilders are known to have built one or more electric launches. Many of these were made near the Thames in Isle of Dogs and Blackwall yards.
In 1914–15 the EPS company amalgamated with Pritchetts & Gold Ltd of Dagenham Dock and all the Millwall plant went to Dagenham. The former E.P.S. works were occupied for a few years by the Cunard Steamship Company, as Cunard Wharf for storing cargo.
After this promising start to the ‘electric age’, the 20th century saw a decline of this ‘clean’ energy in favour of the improved diesel engines.
However since the 1970s, electric energy in cars and boats has become more popular to help create a more environmentally friendly world.




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