100 Years of the Edinburgh Electrical Society

The Edinburgh Electrical Society opens up its archives to CABLEtalk to reveal pride in its past and hope for the future

One of Scotland’s most revered electrical associations is about to celebrate its 100th anniversary – amid concerns about its long-term future.

The Edinburgh Electrical Society began life in 1919 as The Electric Club. It was formed after the use of electricity became more widespread and the technology involved became of interest not just to universities, but to professionals involved in the sector.

The Society, as it soon renamed itself, was founded with a simple objective; ‘to afford members an opportunity to increase their knowledge of the practice and theory of electrical engineering by lectures, reading of papers, discussions and visits to works’. Current Secretary Alex Lumsden said: “The objectives set out by the members 100 years ago are still the same today.

“The intention was to have meetings about subjects that were of interest even to those who have had little opportunity of learning electrical practices.”

There have been hundreds of meetings, visits and events since the first get together was held in the Free Gardeners Hall in Picardy Place. In a move that guarantees its place in the recorded history of the capital, the Society’s activities are documented in files now stored in Edinburgh Central Library. They show the initial meeting took place on 12 November 1919, with members paying an annual subscription of five shillings – today it’s £10 a year.

Two weeks later, the first committee was formed. Mr T S Munnoch was the inaugural President, while the name The Edinburgh Electrical Society was adopted. Eighty people attended that meeting, which also saw the first lecture. Given by Mr J M M Munro, the subject was ‘Electricity Supply from Water Power in Scotland’.

Throughout the years, members have visited sites ranging from Burton’s biscuit factory to St Fillans Hydro station and Hunterston and Torness nuclear power stations.

High point

One of the Society’s busiest periods was the war years of 1939-45. The average attendance was 53 with one meeting attracting 75 people.

Soon after came the high point for membership with 360 people signed up in 1952. These days there are just 38 members, with an average of 15 attending lectures during 2018/19.

Encouraging and rewarding apprentices has always been important to the Society. Until recently it presented an annual apprentice award that’s been much prized by those who received it. Similarly, in the 1990s the Society began the practice – since discontinued – of issuing Continued Practical Development certificates to people who attended the group’s lectures.

As well as remembering its past, the Society is always keen to look to the future. Alex said: “We keep up with the latest developments and it’s interesting to hear from graduates how wind, wave and hydrogen energy systems are being developed. It’s fascinating to see the changes that have taken place even just in the present members’ lifetimes.”

Looking back on 100 years of records, two themes are clear – concerns over funding, and the need to survive by prudent control of the purse strings.

Assuming there’s positive news at next year’s AGM it’s hoped the Society’s second 100 years will be just as eventful as its first.

Looking back and moving forward

For a significant part of their long and varied careers, Alex Lumsden and Ian Dale have been enthusiastic supporters of the Society.

Alex, the organisation’s secretary, began his working life as an apprentice with James Kilpatrick in 1959. He’s been employed by firms such as Steensen Varming Mulcahy, Blyth and Blyth, and RMJM and posted to projects in Dubai, Hong Kong, Libya, Kuwait, Yemen, Bangkok and Russia.

His involvement with the Society dates back to the 1970s. “When I first joined it was the done thing, “ he said. “It helped you establish yourself in the industry and it was something you proudly added to your CV.”

Ian is the Society treasurer. His career started in the 1950s and he also lists Steensen Varming Mulcahy as a former employer. He moved to local government and spent time with Edinburgh Corporation, Lothian Regional Council and Midlothian Council.

He said: “A colleague advised me to join the Society as I ‘d meet interesting people.” Ian and Alex both believe one of the Society’s biggest achievements has been its aility to attract high calibre speakers – most of the industry’s local leading lights have addressed members at some point.

However, they also know that today it has its challenges. “Continuity is the main consideration,” Ian explained.

“Younger people have other ways to gain knowledge and feel part of the industry.

“And they often work long hours which means they don’t have the time to attend meetings and visits.”

Recently, there’s been some success in gathering new members - four came on board in 2018. Ultimately, decisions on the future will be made at the Society’s AGM in April 2020.

“We’re really keen to continue,” said Alex, “but we need the input and enthusiasm of younger people.”

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