The hydro power refurbishment, as part of the restoration project at Gayle Mill, is now well underway. The contract was awarded to Gilbert Gilkes & Gordon Ltd of Cumbria in December 2004.
It is appropriate that this company is carrying out the work, as both the historic turbines were manufactured by them on the same site as their present day workshops in Kendal.
The company was initially founded by 3 Williamson brothers in 1856, who established an agricultural equipment supply business to meet the increasing mechanisation of agricultural processes in the latter part of the 19th century.
Professor James Thomson of Queen’s College (now University) Belfast, contacted Williamson Bros. to build his revolutionary Double Vortex Water Turbine. So when Gayle Mill was converted to a sawmill and additional power was required, the 24 foot waterwheel which had powered the spinning of cotton, flax and wool for a century, was replaced, in 1879, by a Thomson Double Vortex Turbine manufactured by Williamson Bros. (acknowledged by Gilkes to be the oldest in-situ working turbine)
In 1881 Gilbert Gilkes bought the Williamson Bros. company and changed the name to Gilbert Gilkes & Co. The 1920 Gilkes Turbine for generating electricity for lighting the mill, carries this name. It was in 1928 that the waterpower business of James Gordon & Co. was purchased, creating the company name of today, Gilbert Gilkes & Gordon Ltd.
Nick Pike, Managing Director of the company, states that “the prospect of having both a Williamson and Gilkes turbines ‘restored’ in a working mill is almost too good to contemplate”.
The engineers working on site are finding much satisfaction in their task, a unique job, working on a unique system (line shafting on original bearings!!) Both turbines are now back in-situ following dedicated refurbishment in the Kendal workshops, after showing signs of years of service, especially the Williamson Workhorse’, 127 years old, which powered all the woodworking machinery and generated electricity for the Hawes Electric Company, for many years, running 24 hours, 7 days a week!!
A third, new turbine has been added to generate ‘green’ electricity for export to the grid. This will also demonstrate Gilkes’ commitment to design and development over the years, as the company celebrates 150 years, and contributes to a history of hydro power under one roof, at Gayle Mill. Hydro power – renewable energy for yesterday, and today, and tomorrow!!