North Tees Power Station, Billingham Reach. 1967

This picture shows a steam locomotive shunting coal wagons at the former Power Station at Billingham Reach in August 1967. There were at one time three generating stations on the site A, B amd C. The original A was built by the North Eastern Electrity Supply Co. I believe the building on the left is the B station, and the one in the centre C. The B station was demolished shortly after this picture was taken, the C station was at this time operational. The locomotive is an 0-4-0 saddle tank built in the North East by Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns. Photograph and information courtesy of Mr David Bate.

18 thoughts on “North Tees Power Station, Billingham Reach. 1967

  1. Extracts from this thread have been used in the Wikipedia descriptions of North Tees Power Station, including Harry Rhodes’ comments about removal of the A station rotors for “testing to destruction”.
    I have not come across any other reference to these investigations and wonder if anybody can supply further information on this topic.

  2. Grace’s Guide has recently added scanned copies of “The Engineer” to its portfolio of online information about Britain’s industrial history. The issue dated June 13, 1924 is of particular interest as it contains (on pages 658, 664 and 665) a further description of North Tees ‘A’ Power Station. A bonus is that reasonable quality copies of the photographs used in the article can be downloaded.

  3. I was of the third generation in my family to work at North tees power stations – my grandfather Thomas Easby, ‘A and B’ stations (boiler operator/turbine driver, my father Bob Easby ‘B and C’ stations (boiler operator then foreman), and myself at ‘C’ station, as an auxillary plant attendant, we all worked for the CEGB (Central electricity generating board). North Tees ‘C’ had seven superheated boilers which operated at 950 psi pressure at 550c degrees superheated steam outlets, this was produced from pulverised coal and oil burners within the furnaces, this was produced to feed four parson 60 meg hydrogen cooled steam turbines. I left ‘C’ station in 1979 and joined BP with whom I am still with today. I learnt the basics at North Tees which has stood me well all these years and which I am very greatful for.

  4. I recently visited Tyne & Wear Archives in Newcastle to see what I could find in their Merz and McLellan archive. The catalogue made reference to a photograph album for North Tees between 1917 and 1930 but the book delivered to me only contained pictures of Newport Power Station. One of the archivists has "examined a significant quantity of the Merz and McLellan photograph albums" without finding one relating specifically to North Tees A and B. It is possible that Merz borrowed the album back and returned a different one in its place or that the album has been misnumbered and will only be found when the collection is reclassified. The archivist’s search has now been abandoned and there is no immediate prospect of locating this album. My time was not entirely wasted as I did find a couple of albums of photographs showing the construction of North Tees C. There was also a couple of albums of small index prints that contained (amongst many other subjects) copies of the photographs used in the "Engineering" article mentioned above and also a couple of external views of the earlier Port Clarence power station.

  5. Thanks for this info on the North Tees A. First just to make it clear, the temperature of 400 I gave for the inlet temperature of a non-reheat plant was in degrees Celsius. This corresponds to 752 Farenheit. I am curious as to how the temperature limits for the cast iron turbine cyclinders were made. Presumably this came from conventional steam engine practice.

  6. The magazine “Engineering” published a two-part article titled “The North Tees Power Station” in 1924. The first part (in volume 117, pages 753 to 755 and plates LXXV, LXXVI and LXXVII if you want all the pictures) gives a general description of the design of the station and the significance of its novel features. The second part (volume 118, pages 57 to 59) gives a simple steam and water diagram of the North Tees “A” turbines and covers basic thermodynamic theory to demonstrate the improvements from the earlier NESCO showpiece plant at Carville. These articles include summaries of the design data for the turbines, which include HP turbine stop valve pressure of 450 psi gauge (32 bar absolute) and temperature 650 deg F (340 deg C). Reheating occurred at a pressure of 65 psi gauge (5.5 bar absolute), raising the steam temperature from 350 deg F (177 C) at the HP turbine exhaust to 500 deg F (260 C) at the LP turbine inlet. The original intention had been to reheat to 650 deg F, which would have required the use cast steel for the LP turbine cylinder casings; unfortunately use this material was not possible during the first world war and the alternative of cast iron cylinders restricted the hot reheat steam temperature to 500 deg F. The condenser pressure was 29.25 inches of mercury relative to a defined pressure of 1 bar as the equivalent of 30 inches Hg , which converts to an absolute condenser pressure of 25 millibars. The total unit MCR output of 20,000 kW, at 0.75 lagging power factor, was delivered by two 10,000 kW generators coupled in tandem. All this information is very interesting, but I wonder exactly what these machines achieved in practice. At least four performance test reports were prepared for the three Metropolitan-Vickers machines at North Tees A and B stations, the last one of these covering tests on units 1 and 2 in September 1933, presumably after conversion from 40 to 50 Hz operation. The discussion in this thread has awakened my curiosity and I can see myself visiting various museums and archives in an attempt to locate further information!

  7. I definitely got this wrong in thinking that North Tees B was the plant which used reheat. So thanks to Peter Pigg, and others, who have put me right. And as Peter Rigg says, the operating pressure of 450 psi (30 bar)of North Tees A would have made reheat essential on this type of plant. The principle aim would have been to avoid water droplet formation in the turbines, just before the condenser. The alternative would have been to adopt a very high superheat temperature of over 400 deg, which in 1919 would have been quite impractical. We don’t seem to know the actual superheat temperatures and reheat pressures in this plant. Has anyone any information about this?

  8. My earlier contribution to this thread stated that North Tees A was the first power station to use steam reheating commercially; that statement is correct and well documented. For example, in a book called “Metropolitan Vickers 1899-1949” (at least two copies of which are freely available on the Internet), John H Dummelow wrote on page 60:
    “In 1917 there came two turbines of revolutionary design. They were the first two-cylinder impulse turbines to be made in this country, they employed a steam pressure of almost double the previous maximum, and they were the first commercial units to use steam reheating between the cylinders. The turbines were rated at 20,000 kW 2400 r.p.m., and were installed in North Tees power station. The pressure specified by the consulting engineers, Merz & McLellan, was 450 p.s.i.g. at a time when pressures of 180-200 were in general use. Here was the first step towards ‘super pressures’. Three-stage feed-water heating was employed, giving a final feed temperature of 300°F.”
    This extract also mentions two other novel features of this plant: the high steam pressure and the early use of regenerative feed heating; the equipment at North Tees A was very advanced for its day.
    Further information is available in a paper by D. W. Pattendon titled “Early Electricity Supplies on Teesside”, contained in the 1985 issue of The Cleveland Industrial Archaeologist (number 17). The Stockton Reference Library online catalogue lists a copy of this magazine as one of their holdings.

    I wonder if the design and layout of the plant contributed to the mistaken belief that there was no reheating of steam at North Tees A. As built, the only control of the steam flow was at the high pressure turbine governing valves – there were no interceptor valves to control the steam flowing from the reheater to the low pressure turbine. Protection against steam contained in the reheater causing turbine run away after load loss was provided by a relay operated valve to dump steam to the condenser. Dummelow possibly refers to problems with this arrangement during initial operation on page 103 of his book:
    “Following experience obtained at North Tees a 38,500-kW reheater turbine for Japan was provided with effective protection against overspeeding on a sudden decrease in load (due to expansion of steam in the system beyond the control of the governor).”
    My researches so far have not revealed either the nature of any such problems at North Tees nor the steps taken to overcome them.

  9. My Dad, John Clarkson, Fitter – my Grandad, George Clarkson,Boiler/coke (I think) and commissionaire. and my God Father, Arthur Tumilty (Foreman), all worked at North Tees Power Station.

  10. I am deeply indebted to Derek Wade for his comments regarding North Tees Power Station ‘B’ and his Father, Harry Wade, Turbine Attendant Extraordinaire. I spent many pleasant and informative hours with Harry, and our eternal cups of tea in the little cabin cum office that was located between Generating Sets B2 and B3. This ‘Office’ provided a good view of the instrument panel,and the slightest flicker on a gauge would send us out to investigate the cause. Sometimes we would be accompanied by another Attendant ‘Bimmer’ Turnbull, R.N. I would have described Derek’s Turbine Hum as more of a howl and like Harry, I was fortunate in having, in those days, hearing that was attuned to the slightest variation in sound. Not the case today, as in gale force winds this morning, a twenty foot section of my side fence blew down and I did not hear a thing until my neighbour called on me. But returning to the old ‘B’ Station, Derek, I consider it a privilege to have known your Father, and have wondered on the occasion, over the last, almost fifty years what had happened to him. Thank you for the memories. I became disappointed by the lack of promotional opportunities as it had been intimated that I was in line for the next vacancy for an Assistant Shift Charge Engineer. This did not happen, and so I returned to Ships and the Sea. I later migrated to Australia, and after fourty four years I have decided that I might stay here.

  11. On behalf of my father Harry may I wish Harry Rhodes well. Although Pop has long departed this place, he spent his working life from the 1930 ish to the mid 60’s working at ‘B’ station. I served my time at ‘C’ Station as did my brother Joseph.
    If my memory serves me well then ‘B’ Station was where PF firing was trialed for the first time in the world.
    I can not recall anything about ‘C’ Station having hydrogen cooled alternators / generators – and I did see them stipped out a few times; including once after a rotor bar refit when something loose was left in!
    Harry’s comment about ‘watch your vaccuum, mate’ brought to mind a short period after I became a qualified engineer and was Assistant Shift Charge Engineer over my father- who had worked there all his life. Pop could listen to those turbines hum and tell you if anything at all was wrong and all over a mug of tea and a Woodbine or three! His only qualification was life and at ‘B’ mine never was a patch on his. One of his favourite sayings was, like Harry’s -‘Watch the vaccuum come up and get it right lad before yer let the steam in’.

    • I’ve just found Pictures Stockton again after a fairly long time lapse and I think that when Derek Wade mentions “something loose left in” he is probably referring to an infamous incident in, I think, winter 1961/2, when either No. 1 or 2 generator was returned from C.A. Parsons after being rewound and it tripped with a solid electrical fault after about 12 hours running. This was caused by a pinch bar being left in one of the stator slots during the rewind (it was varnished in) and being a conductor, got hot enough to become welded in and damage adjacent windings. The generator had to be stripped and returned to Parsons who managed to effect a repair in something like 3 weeks. Not long after this I was at Parsons as part of my training and, seeing the complexity of the rewinding process, could hardly believe that the repair could be carried out in such a short time. Incidentally, the generators were certainly hydrogen cooled – to reduce internal windage losses as hydrogen has a much lower specific gravity than air. There was a complicated procedure in place when the generators were opened up so that there was no possibility of an explosive air/hydrogen mix. This achieved by the hydrogen being replaced by, I think, nitrogen before the casing was opened. Although it’s all a long time ago for my geriatric memory (!), I’m pretty certain that there was a Joe Wade at NTC in my brief time there and I think he had a (possibly younger) brother. Could this be Derek Wade ?

    • Unfortunately North Tees ‘B’ did not pioneer the use of pulverised fuel (PF) in power plant. That honour goes to Oneida Street Station (also known as West Wells Power Plant) in Milwaukee, where tests to prove the value of using PF and satisfactory operation were carried out between 1918 and 1920. The first significant use of PF in the UK was in a 1926 extension to Barking ‘A’ Power Station.

      An Aerofilms photograph taken in May 1930 and located at shows the two early North Tees stations, with ‘B’ as built with only chain grate boilers. There is very little, if any, evidence of the PF boilers eventually added to ‘B’ station; there may be some information in the Merz and McLellan archives, which are available for reference in Newcastle Record Office.

  12. A great deal is being written about the North Tees Power Stations ‘A’ ‘B’ and ‘C’ and I wonder if any of the Gentlemen writing did work at any of these Stations. I spent several years employed at the A and B Stations with the occasional stint at what was the new C Station. I was one of the select body of men called ‘Fitter Drivers’ who were responsible for the operation of the Generating Sets together with the Auxiliary and Anciliary machinery. There were only five of us and we were all former Merchant Navy Marine Engineers with Turbine experience. During my years there I worked with Ernie Sedgewick, Jack Godley, Jim Douglas and one other whose name I forget. Usual manning was for one Driver to man both the A and B Stations, with possibly a spare man to help out at busy times. The A Station was held as a ‘Reserve’ in case of a heavy demand for electricity and ceased operation in 1959. This Station had two Metropolitan Vickers Turbines and between them they only pushed out about twenty two megawatts, if I remember correctly. There was no reheat sytem in A Station. Eventually Metro Vickers stripped the rotors out of the machines and took them away for testing ‘To Destruction’ in an attempt to discover why these old rotors worked more efficiently than the modern ones. This situation was not without it’s humour, as we received a call to bring these ‘Sets on line’. This a year after the Turbines had been deactivated. It caused a frustrated chuckle.
    The B Station was equipped with two Charles Parsons Turbines and one Metropolitan Vickers Set. Each Turbine drove two Alternators in tandem. There was a reheat system but it was never brought into operation during my years there. There was great excitement when both Stations were called upon to provide power, as the Driver had to race between the Stations bringing them up to speed. As an old Seagoing Turbine man, I loved the way that those Turbines screamed joyfully, as they were wound up to their operating speed of three thousand revolutions a minute. Ah! The feeling of power! The rest of the shift would be spent in checking the operation of pumps and logging the temperatures and pressures of the various pieces of equipment. “Watch the Vacuum mate”. And the folks at home could safely switch on another bar of their electric fires, or burn another slice of toast. Spare a thought folks! Spare a thought!

    • I have just realised, whilst reminding myself of the detail of some contributions to this thread, that further clarification of the provision of steam reheating at North Tees is necessary. There is no doubt that ‘A’ station is accepted as the first commercial use of reheat, but the machines at ‘B’ and ‘C’ stations were not fitted with steam reheating equipment.

  13. I think Peter H Rigg may be wrong in thinking that North Tees A used reheating. The A station was built in 1919, which was too early for reheat to be considered. But as far as I know North Tees B, commissioned in 1934, was the first to use reheat. As regards the 40Hz frequency this was used in much of the ICI site until the fifties and caused problems when new electrical equipment had to be ordered.

  14. North Tees A station was also technically advanced for its day. The turbines were the first in commercial service to use steam reheating between the cylinders and the steam pressure was much higher than in earlier machines.

    The first commercial use of hydrogen cooling for generators was at Littlebrook B power station in Kent. North Tees C would certainly have followed on very close behind.

    My grandfather William (Billie) Ritchie worked at all three of the North Tees power stations. He lived for a while in one of the company houses in West Avenue, Billingham before moving to Norton. These company houses were among the first to be built with electric lighting and cookers from new.

  15. All three of the North Tees Power Stations were built, or in the case of “C” station, started, by NESCO – originally the Newcastle on Tyne Electricty Supply Company, later the North East Supply Company, and taken over by the British Electricty Authority on nationalisation. The “B” and “C” Stations had various technically advanced features for their time – pulverised fuel for “B” Station, and, I believe, the first ever hydrogen cooled generators in the “C” Station. ICI had its own power station which generated at 40 kilocycles per second(now Hertz) and the original North Tees also generated at this frequency, but was converted to 50 Hz at the time that the national grid was built by the then Central Electricity Board. There were 3 frequency changers in “A” Station (effectively motor-generator sets) which continued in use for many years to provide a continuing back-up supply to the ICI complex.

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