Letter from George S. Tanner
12 July 1954
Dear Mr Mealor,
I see in the Surrey Advertiser that you are collecting information about the installation of Electric Light in Godalming in 1881.
Born in 1868, I was 12 then 13 in November of 1881 so I can remember it, but my memories are mostly on the humorous side.
My father was one of the first to have light in our shop and dining room and generally through the house, old 18 High Street. The rear of the premises up to the actual front part was rebuilt in the early nineties and the front in 1900 so there is nothing remaining of the part then lighted. I rather fancy it was in 1881 that the Water Works company began.
The lamps were much as they are now but slipped into two brass slides like an inverted letter U. In those days we boys often had magnets to play with and the similarity intrigued me, so one day in our showroom when no one was about I took a needle to see if the electricity would act as a magnet and held it across the base of these two slides. The needle vanished and on my finger and thumb were deep white hollows where the needle had been. It had instantly fused. This was never done again as you can imagine.
The wires were not insulated then. The dynamos were at Pullman's Mill and the river gave the power so the wires were brought overhead from there along the bottom of the Vicarage garden. At that time the wooden bridge was out of repair. The present brick bridge (which I remember being built) had taken its use and so it had decayed and become fenced in with a closed fence and the wires were carried along overhead of this, not very high up.
There was opposition as you can guess to anything new and the story goes that two men with their cargo of beer came along one night and one lifted the other up to tear the wires down. But when he grasped them the current imprisoned both.
There were some arc lights. One by the Pepper Box, and one by the Milk Bar and I think one by the Sun and also one by High's in Bridge Street. The lighting was by two pencils of carbon and where the points of these met the light came. Every now and then these carbons were replaced and the bits often thrown down. I had a piece for years; it may be amongst odds and ends now.
The story goes that old Mr Bridger who at one time was Mayor (or several times so) had shares in the Gas Company. He, it is said, liked his liquid nourishment. The arc standard by the Market House was loose and one night he was 'out to get one back' for the Gas Company and so embraced it and shook it and was heard muttering, "B- b- b- 'lectric light!"
When the floods came this upset in some way the water power and so the dynamos were taken to a large shed at the back of the old White Hart and an ordinary traction engine used with a wide strap on its wheel to connect to the dynamo. There was a very nice German here to see after the technical side. I cannot recall his name but strangely something in my mind echoes to the name of Urban. I remember so well, he was in our dining room one day and the conversation turned upon noses and he said that they denoted character and to emphasise it he gave a demonstration with his own nose to express his meaning. Queer how a young mind retains such things, the idea of such a thing was new to me.
I do not recall how the whole thing ended, being sent to boarding school at that time it severed my contact with the town's life. And so we had to return to gas again until the present installation came. I do not suppose all this has much value for your information, but now on the edge of 86 I feel that these little memories should be passed on.
Kind regards. Yours faithfully, George S. Tanner