DARWEN’S biggest industrial undertaking — a private £2million power station — went into operation in 1965.
It was built at Goosehouse at Eccleshill, for the town’s biggest employers, Wall Paper Manufacturing, to produce and supply all the steam and electricity needed for its six factories in the town and at Lower Darwen.
The company employed 3,000 workers and Belgrave Mill had grown to be the biggest wallpaper producing plant in the world. It was first established in 1840, when Charles and Harry Potter adapted a calico printing machine for the first experiments in printing wallpaper.
As a result, Darwen became the first place where wallpaper was printed by rollers.
In 1964, the plant produced 20 million rolls — enough wallpaper to girdle the earth five times.
Its new power station was unique, with steam being sent out to factories through three miles of steel pipeline, generated from consuming 400 tons of fuel oil a day.
The company’s private power station came from a long-cherished dream of the managing director of WPM in Darwen, John Watson, who was also chairman of its paper division.
Initially the idea had been planted in the war years, when production at Belgrave Mill had temporarily switched to munitions.
A frequent visitor there during the forties was a Col Alan Monkhouse from the Ministry of Supply, who told Mr Watson about district heating schemes he had seen abroad.
He assured Mr Watson that Darwen, in its long valley, was ideally shaped for adopting such a scheme, so he began talks with the local authority — with the then mayor and chairman of the electricity committee, Ald James Braithwaite, becoming equally enthusiastic.
The result was that, after spending £900 on a survey, a plan was formed that Darwen should be surrounded by hot water pipes providing central heating on tap.
The idea was that, instead of the steam from the electricity works going to waste, it would be piped to local factories, then later to cinemas, churches and other major buildings and eventually into local houses.
Nationalisation put an end to the initial scheme but 20 years later Darwen’s biggest-ever industrial venture successfully brought it to life.