Meeting Report: The Built Heritage of Dumfries and Galloway's Hydroelectric Power

Date: 
31 March 2012
Speaker(s): 
David Fleetwood (Historic Scotland)

Scotland's Hydro Heritage was the subject of David Fleetwood's talk to Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society at their annual meeting in Galloway, which this year was held in Kirkcudbright. Its sub-title was Two Dam Deer in reference to the coat of arms of the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board (NoSHEB).

David, an employee of Historic Scotland, has been involved in a study looking at buildings in Scotland with a view to listing or de-listing any man-made structure of which there are 47,540 registered in Scotland. He has looked at 350 sites in an 18-month period. In the case of HEP structures it is difficult to decide how special they are on the first visit but at the same time he quickly fell their under spell.

The early architects and engineering pioneers behind these schemes were Sir William Murray Morrison (1873–1948), Sir Edward MacColl (1882–1951) and James Williamson (1881–1953).

These are the first phase developments: 1891 Fort Augustus; 1896 Foyers; 1909 Kinlochleven; 1925–27 Falls of Clyde; 1929–34 Lochaber; 1933 Tummel Bridge and Rannoch; 1934–36 Galloway.

James Williamson's brief for the design of the Galloway scheme imposed a respect-for-amenity clause and a panel was appointed to oversee that it met the criteria. This was a private scheme built with private capital. Williamson saved on using expensive materials by using composite materials. Though unadorned, its smooth arches still take aesthetics into consideration. Sir Alexander Gibb was the consulting engineer.

To quote the Historic Scotland publication, Power to the People, "The Galloway Scheme was a pioneering development using run-of-the-river technology, specifically designed to be highly responsive to spikes in demand on the national grid. It was a significant achievement, something which many sceptics had thought would not be possible. The design is highly efficient with water having been used up to four times to generate power by the time it reaches Tongland at the bottom of the scheme."

The passing of the Hydro Electric (Scotland Act) in 1943 nationalised the system. Tom Johnston served as Chairman of NoSHEB 1947–1959 and Secretary of State for Scotland 1941–45. The following were the schemes carried out subsequently: 1944–59 Sloy/Awe; 1951–58 Tummel Valley; 1952–63 Affric/Beauly; 1957–61 Conon Valley; 1957 Great Glen; 1960 Loch Shin; 1961 Breadalbane; 1965 Cruachan; 1969–75 Foyers (conversion to pumped storage).

Sloy was the first scheme planned by NoSHEB. Fierce opposition led to a Public Inquiry. However, the bold Classical Modernist design went ahead. HM Queen Elizabeth was invited to open it. Late in the day a pertinent question was asked: "Where is the ladies' toilet?" They had a week in which to create one. It has been used only once!

David, in dealing with each major development in turn treated his audience to a splendid pictorial PowerPoint presentation and to a wealth of information. He also had an impressive array of literature to pass on.