In 1898 Barnes Urban District Council applied for a provisional order to generate and supply electricity to the district. Permission was granted and the Barnes power station was built on Mortlake High Street. In 1900 Mr CS Davidson, Borough Electrical Engineer, was appointed to supervise the development of the Barnes Electricity Works. Electricity was first supplied to the district in May 1901.
By 1912 there were 2,886 customers; 12 years later this had risen to 4,879. Residents in a street would be canvassed by an electrical contractor offering to wire their houses. In the 1930s this cost £1 per point for lighting and £2 per point for power. Once a certain number agreed to have their homes connected to the local supply, cables would be laid and linked to the houses. When a whole street was electrified, the gas streetlamps were converted to electricity. In 1924 there were 678 public electric streetlights. During the 1930s plans were drawn up of every street in the district indicating the position of all electric cables, joints and duct runs that had been laid.
The works comprised an engine house, boiler house, coal-store offices, test room and battery room. In the early decades of the 20th century customers could hire appliances from the Works but there was little in the way of a display area and customers had to negotiate the roaring steam turbine generators in order to view the cookers, wash-boilers and water heaters. Later in the 1930s a designated showroom was created, and cookery demonstrations were given. Small appliances such as electric fridges, irons and kettles were then also available to buy.
Employees from the Electricity Works designed the municipal illuminations for major events such as Charter Day in 1932 and the opening of Chiswick bridge a year later, and for the coronation of George VI.
The British electricity supply industry was nationalised in 1948 and Barnes power station continued to supply electricity until it was decommissioned in 1959. The equipment was removed, but the buildings were retained, and they now house the Old Power Station, which includes a youth centre and offices.
For further details of the Barnes electricity works see Fred Windsor's fascinating and detailed account of what it was like to work there from 1930 to 1937.