By Asha Gage, IET Archivist
In 1882 The Electrical Power Storage Company (EPS) was established at 4 Great Winchester Street, London with a factory works at 84 West Ferry Road, Millwall. It manufactured the Swan-Sellon-Volckmar accumulator, and it could be said that the EPS was the first concern to manufacture accumulators on a commercial scale.
The Faure Company were in operation before the EPS but shortcomings in the Faure accumulator design became apparent. A revised version, the Faure-Sellon-Volckmar accumulator was an improvement, but this created a problem with regards to the patents. When the EPS was founded in 1882 there was a threat of a lawsuit over the patents but by 1883 EPS had acquired the relevant patents which would be worked in conjunction with the Sellon-Volckmar patents they already possessed. The EPS became the first manufacturer of electric batteries in the world.
Through a series of mergers EPS had by 1921 become Prichett & Gold and EPS Co Ltd. The Millwall plant went to Dagenham where Pritchett and Gold were based. The Chloride Electrical Storage Company acquired a controlling interest in Pritchett and Gold in 1922.
In 1882 early activities of the EPS concentrated on electric lighting in businesses and private houses. Early installations included the London office of the EPS, the Gaiety Theatre and Grand Hotel, Charing Cross, London, the Law Courts, London which accommodated 99 cells in the crypt! These were primarily complete installations comprising in addition to the battery a switchboard also manufactured by the company.
Between 1883-1884, batteries were also supplied to private houses such as Sir David Salomons’s Broomhill residence in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Other early installations included The Royal Palace, Vienna, The Royal Palace of the King of Romania, the seat of Lord Rothschild, the homes of Sir Joseph Swan in Bromley, Kent and that of Sir William Siemens. Professor Oliver Lodge obtained a battery from the EPS in 1883 for use in his laboratory in Liverpool University, with wiring being run to his adjacent residence with a lighting supply for his study and other rooms.
It was not only private consumers who were exploratory with the new system of electric power storage. Public areas also benefitted from this technological development. In 1883 the Princes Theatre, London, used 57 cells for 306 lamps. Other public enterprises included the Great Eastern Railway, Grand Hotel, Liverpool, a torpedo factory, East & West India Dock Co, and the Bank of England.
By 1888 the EPS had supplied a large volume of batteries to many private residences, businesses, public institutions, and Government departments.
Up to 1900 a profitable side-line for the company was the hiring of charged batteries to consumers for the temporary lighting of dances, receptions, and other large-scale functions. Queen Victoria was a customer utilising the batteries for the illuminations during her Diamond Jubilee in 1897.
Temporary batteries were not only employed for dances and receptions, they were also successfully applied on a smaller scale. When the EPS took their employees on their annual outing from the factory in Millwall to Burnham Beaches or Epping Forest in pair-horse waggonettes they were transformed in the evening into ‘Cinderella coaches’ – the head stalls and harness of the horses and the lines of the vehicles were edged by electric lights, fed from portable batteries in the boot. The inhabitants of the Isle of Dogs enjoyed witnessing this annual procession of illuminated chariots. There is more information about the EPS and The Isle of Dogs on the local history blog.
Lighting on trains
The London, Brighton & South Coast Railway recognised the benefits of secondary batteries for train lighting. In 1882 experiments were carried out with cells supplied by the Faure Co which were charged at destination points and stowed beneath the seats. The experiment highlighted the fault with the Faure cells unable to withstand vibration. However, an improved grid design developed by the EPS was more successful.
In 1892 the Metropolitan Railway offered a unique train lighting system when cells were used in their gas-lighted, steam driven underground trains. For a fee of one penny per half hour, a passenger could continue their reading in a seat under an electric lamp. There were four of these electric lamps per compartment in addition to the usual gas lamp in the roof.
Experiments began in early 1882 on electric traction. The initial product was an electric tricycle in November 1882. The battery and motor were mounted on a tray underneath the rider with the power transmitted through a pinion drive to the back axle. It was complete with electric lighting with two suspended Swan lamps. This was possibly the first accumulator driven vehicle and the first mechanically propelled vehicle to be lit by electricity.
Electric tram cars
The possibility of replacing horse-drawn tramcars with accumulator-driven vehicles interested the EPS and offered a new market opportunity. An experimental track with various bends and gradients was laid down in the Millwall works factory in 1883. A modified tramcar containing two tons of cells were arranged on roller mounted trays underneath the seats. The tramcar was capable of a speed of seven miles per hour and negotiated all the curves on the experimental track. It even had additional lamps installed. In March 1883 it was shipped for its first public trial on the West Metropolitan Tramway Company’s track from Gunnersbury to Kew via Turnham Green. The car completed the course with 40 passengers including Sir William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) and Professor Lodge.
By 1887 accumulator-driven tramcars, supplied or equipped by the EPS made their appearance in Vienna and Philadelphia, the latter capable of carrying 100 passengers.
Back in the UK a further successful venture in battery driven tramcars covered the period 1888-1892 on the North Metropolitan lines between the Liverpool Arm, Canning Town, and the Green Gate, London. Eight EPS cars were in use each carrying 52 passengers and averaged 60 miles per day, approximately 30 miles per charge at a maximum speed of 8 miles per hour. It was claimed by the Tramway Co that these cars displaced sixty horses and the costs for the electric traction was favourable.
Another venture for the EPS was to extend their product range into electric launches. The most famous of these early launches was the “Volta”, built in 1885. The hull was composed of Siemens steel and could accommodate 16 passengers. It had a battery of 70 cells used in conjunction with a 4 HP motor giving a speed of 8 miles per hour. A trial run was made from Millwall to Westminster and demonstration trips were given to members of the Houses of Parliament. A year later in September 1886 a Channel crossing from Dover to Calais was successfully completed.
Other satisfied customers included The Royal Gunpowder Factory at Waltham Abbey who appreciated the safety of electric launches from their unique point of view. Two EPS battery propelled boats replaced their steam pinnaces on the River Lea in 1886.
In 1888 a newly constructed pleasure boat, “The Viscountess Bury” was fitted with 200 EPS cells. At 68 foot in length, it was much larger than any other vessel of this type. On its inauguration journey from Kingston Bridge to Sunbury the party of 80 included the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).
An enthusiastic proponent in the future of electric vehicles was Mr Walter Bersey. Between 1894 and 1896 EPS batteries were supplied to his order for propulsion of two delivery vans, a brougham and a landau. There is more information on the IET Archives blog on Walter Bersey and his electric vehicles.
During the first 10 years of battery manufacture, although primary demand was for lighting purposes, the EPS engineers endeavoured to exploit the possibilities of transport, despite the limitations owing to the dead weight involved. There was also the small, yet significant, risk of explosion. One type of cell, known as the T type, was used in tramcars. A defect in the design of the cell was the omission of vents, therefore the batteries were housed in practically gas-tight compartments under seats. On 26 July 1889 an explosion occurred fortunately with no injury to passengers but with considerable damage to the car. The resulting publicity did not engender public confidence. Two further battery explosions in two yachts further compounded this.
After this hopeful start in the development of electric transportation there was a decline in usage with preference for the improved diesel engines. However, with the need for cleaner, sustainable energy sources we are now seeing redevelopment in electric vehicles once again.
Information about the EPS is taken from the comprehensive ‘History of The Electrical Power Storage Company’ by John W Beck AMIEE, July 1938, held in the IET Archives reference NAEST 173.
Featured image above: Millwall works of the Electrical Power Storage Company, 1895.
Images below: electric cars from the EPS collection ref. NAEST 173.