Cark and District Electricity Company – the mouse that roared

(an article by Les Gilpin in the CIHS Bulletin for April 2019)

The recently renovated farm buildings

Flookburgh Farm is now known as Stockdale Farm and sits off the Square in Flookburgh at the start of Moor Lane. It served its original purpose for 110 years before becoming a privately owned power station and substation for a further 40 years. After years as a builders yard, it is now converted for residential use. It is the use in the electricity supply industry that is the focus of this paper.

Background as a farm. The former farm buildings, together with the farmhouse, are Grade II listed. The listing dates the farm buildings to early 19th century and the farmhouse as being later. The Farm was built around 1803 by William Wilkinson, younger brother of ‘Iron Mad’ John Wilkinson. Although he lived at Plas Grono, Wrexham, William had married a local widow. He played a major role in modernising the French iron industry before their revolution. He had acquired land under the Cartmel Enclosure Act and the buildings completed his new farm. After William Wilkinson’s death in 1808 it passed down through his elder daughter to her husband, Matthew Robinson Boulton of Soho, Birmingham and Tew Park, Oxfordshire. M R Boulton was son of industrialist and Lunar Society founder Matthew Boulton. On M R Boulton’s death in 1842, Flookburgh Farm was put into to a trust for his son MPW Boulton, inventor of the aileron. MPW Boulton and his trustees sold off the farm in 1893 to Mrs Jane Hall, wife of the former miller at Cark. After the Halls ran the farm for 10 years they sold it on to the 8th Duke of Devonshire. As part of the Holker estate it was let to a local tenant farmer.

Change of Use: the Power Station.  In about 1915 the Cark and District Electricity Supply Company Limited was formed to provide electricity primarily for a new wartime venture between Vickers and the Admiralty. They were planning to build a large new airship factory at Flookburgh together with a model village of 500 houses for the envisaged employees. The company would also supply customers across Lower Holker and Lower Allithwaite parishes. Flookburgh Farm was identified as the site of the necessary power generating station and by 1917 the Electricity Supply Company were negotiating with the Holker estate for a lease of the farm buildings, house and an adjacent field (presumably horses would be used to haul the necessary vehicles).

By 1918 the tenant of the farm, Robert Moore of West Plain farm, was renting the farm buildings and house but had sub-let the house and other barns to James Scott. Moore agreed to vacate the farm by May 1918 to allow the Electricity Supply Company take possession, leaving Mr Scott until that November to either vacate the house and barns or make arrangements with the company.

The date when the generating equipment was set up and electricity first supplied is currently unknown. The original plant at Flookburgh Farm consisted of an oil enginepowered generator capable of producing 32Kw of electricity. It appears to have been located in the south range of buildings. The eastern range was sub-let, apparently earning the company sufficient income to offset their annual lease payments. The lease was due to be signed in early 1918 but is actually dated 25 March 1920. The delay was largely due to Vickers and the Admiralty abandoning their plans for the airship factory in early 1918; only 120 houses were completed at their model village. The Model Aero Village would become Flookburgh West and then Ravenstown (and for many years was known locally as Jutland after one of its avenues). Also at that time the company was awaiting Admiralty approval to extend its capital. The Electricity Supply Company spent around £7,000 on capital expenditure by 1921. With the loss of its main customer and with the guaranteed domestic custom much reduced, any attempts to serve Flookburgh and beyond were limited by the inability to raise further capital. This led to the failure of the company. It went into liquidation in March 1923 (creditors meeting held in Bradford) and would be finally wound up in 1929.

One of the original directors and largest creditor of the company, Edgar Cox-Walker of Messrs Cox-Walker, electrical engineers of Darlington, bought out the plant, assets and goodwill. Cox-Walker set up a new company, the Cark & District Electricity Company Limited, registered in 1924. The new company capital of £1,500 and £1,000 in Debentures. The new company took over the lease on Flookburgh Farm, initiated by their predecessors. It had been generating power from late 1923. Through its chairman, Edgar Cox-Walker, the business was set on a firm and profitable footing and by 1926 was looking to expand its limited customer base in Flookburgh, Cark and Allithwaite, with the local parishes considering street lighting.

Having already replaced the original gas engines with heavy oil engines on taking over the company, the Electricity Company was planning to upgrade the generating capacity to exceed 50KW. At the time they were producing less that amount. This included proposals to install three new engines: one of 10bhp, one of 30bhp and one 50bhp A.C. motor powering the existing generators and balancer. The electricity supplied was DC at 240 volts and 460 volts. They made some alterations at Flookburgh Farm including creating a second floor in at least one of the buildings and adding additional entrances and making up the floor of the southern yard at the site. At some date a showroom was set up; older residents may remember where this was at the farm. The author assumes it was a room in the house, primarily for customers to pay bills.

The Electricity (Supply) Act had been passed in 1919 to enable local authorities set up voluntary Electricity Supply Districts across their areas. Barrow Corporation jumped at the opportunity of taking a lead by proposing the creation of a Supply Area across much of North Lancashire together with parts of Cumberland around Millom and Westmorland around Windermere and Kendal. Discussions took place with what Barrow saw as the current suppliers and local authorities, including Lancaster, where the corporation had recently acquired the Caton Road power station at the former Vickers National Projectile factory, and the long-standing Windermere & District Electricity Company (which had once proposed supplying a large area including the Cartmel peninsula). Barrow proposed that with their Buccleuch Street power station, their planned hydroelectric scheme at Backbarrow and with the acquisition of Vickers’ Cavendish Park power station at Barrow they would be more than capable of meeting any current and envisaged demand for the whole area. Trunk power lines would be laid out to serve the various areas. The other local authorities and electricity companies were not keen and during 1921 an enquiry was held. Apparently such schemes proved unpopular in several areas of England and Wales, with local authorities and local electricity companies being against these ‘voluntary’ mergers. Barrow’s scheme appears not to have progressed. What is significant about Barrow’s proposals is that the Cark company is not mentioned.

The mouse roars. In September 1924 Cox Walker, for the Cark company, confronted Barrow Corporation over its latest plan for extensions of service to Dalton, Ulverston and Grange Urban Districts and to certain parishes within Ulverston Rural District including Lower and Upper Holker and Lower Allithwaite. This had again ignored his company’s existence. He claimed his area had a demand for 50Kw, with the potential to double that in a year. He claimed to have plans to install new engines to power the existing generators. Barrow claimed it was aware of the Supply Company’s failure but were unaware of the new company or its area.

After much correspondence between Cox-Walker, Barrow Corporation and the Electricity Commission (part of the Department of Transport!) the parties agreed that Cark would retain its supply area, defined in its Special Order of 1926. This defined its area of supply as south of a imaginary line from Bigland Scar, north of Holker village, to High Fell Gate cross-roads, close to Grange cemetery. In other words the supply area would cover Ravenstown, Flookburgh, Cark and Allithwaite. Barrow would serve Cartmel. Barrow were reluctant to commit to supplying electricity to the Electricity Company. Barrow Corporation built its trunk power lines alongside the railway from Plumpton to Cark and then over Hampsfell to Grange, and Meathop Sanatorium. Power from Barrow Corporation to Grange urban district notionally commenced in 1926 as the proposed High Tension lines over Hampsfell still being subject to some local opposition at the end of 1928. Negotiations continued until 1927 with the Cark company, the stumbling point being whether Barrow Corporation would buy the Cark company or respect its presence and sell a bulk supply of electricity instead. Barrow had no intention to buy the Cark company’s assets. It expressed reluctance to provide a supply, claiming that it needed authority from the electricity commission to raise additional money to enhance its generating capability.

Eventually common sense prevailed and the Cark company would turn off its own generators at some time in 1927, instead buying its electricity from Barrow. The interface between the two systems was at Flookburgh Farm where a substation replaced the engines and generators. The Electricity Company maintained its own power lines and substations and sold on the electricity to its own customers. Interestingly Barrow’s hightension lines from the Backbarrow Hydro-electric station were routed to join into its Ulverston – Grange lines via Flookburgh. The provision of power and lines by the two bodies on the Cartmel peninsula did cause some confusion for locals as new substations and pole lines appeared – which were Barrow Corporation’s property and which Cark’s? On the border between Lower Allithwaite parish and Grange UDC one side of the road might be Cark’s and the other side Barrow’s.

The War Years and after. The supply from the Cark company was very economically managed. In early 1939 the Lower Holker Amateur Operatic Society were prevented from enhancing the stage lighting for their annual performances. The Cark company were reluctant to exceed agreed current levels from the bulk supply to avoid additional charges from Barrow Corporation. Apparently Mr King, the manager, diverted power from his own house to allow the stage lighting draw the necessary current. All the same a fuse allegedly blew at the Holker Club, where the performance was taking place, causing loss of power for the whole of Cark. Litigation ensued between the company and the electrician supporting the stage lighting as to who was responsible.

At some point around 1941 Edgar Cox-Walker appears to have sold the company to a Hertfordshire consultant electrical engineer, Alec Avis and his family. The second world war saw significant expansion of the Cark company’s customer base when, in 1941, it provided power to the RAF and Army camps built on Winder Moor, below Flookburgh. A dispute arose between the company and John Rawson, builder of Cartmel, over the apparent quality of work carried out on several jobs in 1941. It appeared that Mr Avis used Rawson’s men, without agreement, to carry out work relating to the camp supply which did not help the company’s case in court.

Two of the final acts of the Cark & District Electricity company were: i) to renew their lease of Flookburgh Farm in August 1945, the original lease having expired in October 1944; ii) to formally agree wayleaves for 1100 yards of underground and surface lines across the Holker estate, eventually signed in January 1948.

The Cark & District Electricity Company survived until nationalisation of the Electricity industry. It was subsumed on 1st April 1948. Shareholders had their Cark shares exchanged for British Electricity shares. The North Western Electricity Board took responsibility for the lease on Flookburgh Farm and adjacent field. They gave up the lease on Flookburgh Farm in February 1957. By that time there were two tenants using some of the barns: Robert Benson, builder, who also rented the field, and Messrs H & G Hudson. Subsequently, through the 1960s and 70s, Flookburgh Farm became a builders yard for Robert Benson, who lived at the farmhouse.

Known management and staff of the two companies include:
For the Cark & District Electricity Supply Company Limited
G B Fordati (1917, 1920) Negotiated with the Holker estate of Lord Richard Cavendish on behalf of the Cark & District Electricity Supply Company Limited. The only G B Fordati found on Ancestry is George Basil Fordati (1871–1928) of Weybridge, Surrey and, after the Great War, Liss, Hampshire. He also maintained accommodation in Westminster.
For the Cark & District Electricity Company Limited
Edgar Cooke Cox-Walker MIEE. Director. 1867-1962 Darlington-based owner of a noted electrical engineering firm founded by his father.
F S Wrightson, Secretary (1924, 1927). Lived at Bolton-le-Sands.
Ella Cox-Walker (Director in 1936). Second wife of Edgar Cox-Walker.
John T E King. 1885-1949. Resident Engineer and Manager at Flookburgh until the early 1940s. He was resident at the farm. Appears to have moved to the Barrow area after sale of the company to the Avis family.
Marjorie M King, Book Keeper. 1899-1985. Wife of J King.
Alec Avis, 1889-1955. Director by 1941. In 1939 living at Letchworth, as ‘Consultant and Advisory Engineer, Electric Distribution for the Town’. Presumably working for the Letchworth Electricity Company. Moved to south Devon at some point after nationalisation. In a 1947 letter he signed himself as Secretary to the company.
Helen Gertrude Avis, Director. 1896-1979. Wife of Alec Avis and Mother of Richard.
Richard Alec Avis, 1941. 1922-1962. Director and Engineer from around 1941, second child of Alec and Helen Avis. Moved with parents to Devon. The Avis family were all living at Flookburgh by 1941 and until at least nationalisation. They must have bought the company from the Cox-Walker family.
C A Ansell, secretary in 1945.
Eric Leck, electrician at the electricity works in 1939, lodger at 1 Market Street, Flookburgh. Thomas Martin, electrician at the electricity works in 1939, lodger at Chapel House, Flookburgh.

Lancashire Archives:
DDCA/22/16, Cavendish of Holker, Letters addressed to Lord Frederick Cavendish, including one from William Wilkinson
DDCA/ACC12005/Box 26/198 Conveyance papers Flookburgh Farm
DDCA/ACC12005, Cavendish of Holker (various boxes) Correspondence 1923-4 Cark and District Electricity Company
London Gazette:
4 May 1923 Cark and District Electricity Supply Company Winding up
27 April 1926, 28 September 1926 Cark and District Electricity Company Special Order
Cumbria Archives, Barrow
Various files regarding Electricity supply in North Lancashire and South Westmorland, including some uncatalogued correspondence between the Cark & District Electricity Company and Barrow Corporation.
Wikipedia: MPW Boulton of Tew Park, including family history.

(Page created 12/04/24)