The Installation of Electricity and Water

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Electricity first came to the Penallt area between 1955 and 1957. Canvassers from the Electricity Board called on every householder to ask if they wanted to have electricity; many refused at first but most did, in fact, decide to have it by the time the work began. It was done free of charge, but householders had to guarantee to use £25 worth of electricity during the first year, and farmers a good deal more. This led some farmers to leave their lights on all night to insure that they got through their quota!

The supply line was a branch taken from the Chepstow-to-Monmouth line, leaving it just north of the Five Trees road junction via Ty Mawr and The Narth. The team who did the installation was 60 strong and came from Abergavenny. Installation went without hitch or incident, but there was some excitement crossing Pwllplythin Wood from Tregagle to The Crown inn. No one wanted trees to be cut down to make room for the equipment, so in the end rockets such as those used to set up breeches-buoys as sea were used to take the lines over the wood. Eventually lines were taken across the Wye near Cae Dee to link up with the Monmouth circuit to provide an alternative supply should there be a fault on the line.

The Penallt lines are all of copper, which is very durable, but expensive; modern lines are steel-cored aluminium at half the price. When the poles were erected farmers wanted them sited in the hedges to keep the fields clear. Nowadays they prefer the poles to be well away from hedges to give hedge-trimmers a clear run.

In 1971, with the growth of the village, certain changes were made. That part of the line crossing what is now Pentwyn Park was put underground and the original transformers were replaced by larger ones. The mains supply comes in at 11,000 volts and is reduced to 240/250 to each household.

The chief causes of power failure are lightning, birds and the branches of trees. There are automatic switches at the Lydart bends which switch on power again three times after each 30-second failure; if it fails a fourth time, the controllers at Cwmbran consult their computer to locate the fault and send out a repair team. Helicopters have revolutionised the job of tracing faults, saving time and much foot-slogging.

Gales in 1984 brought down power lines; when the present poles have to be replaced, the distances between them will be reduced to provide better support. Also, the distance between the overhead wires has been increased so that a bird sitting on one cannot touch another and cause “shorting out”. This change has no doubt been welcomed by the bird population and by those with electric clocks on their automatic cookers!

Before the advent of piped water, villagers used streams, springs and bucket wells, with three and four cottages sometimes sharing a single well. Tanks were also installed – some underground – to collect rain water from roofs. Pipes were laid in 1954 and 1955, The Narth having pipes of asbestos and the rest of the area cast iron. (Today, they are of plastic.) Penallt’s water comes from Mainsprings Reservoir, north of Trellech. At first, it held 150,000 gallons but this proved inadequate and it was enlarged to hold 300,000. Water is pumped up from Monmouth and, to sterilize it, chlorine is added at the pumping houses. There are pressure valves to help cope with gradients and some boosting of pressure to make the water run up-hill. A “break-pressure” tank can be seen near the Old Church.

During the laying of the water mains, a digger slipped down a bank and landed in growing corn. The farmer was furious but accepted on the spot a £5 note offered by the supervisor, and then watched the rescue of the unfortunate digger with great humour! The crop was apparently not permanently damaged. Farmers’ water supply was metered but everyone else was charged according to the rateable value of property served.

Most people were well satisfied with a sink and one tap in the house for about two years but one elderly couple “didn’t hold” with new ways, finally agreeing nevertheless to have one tap in the kitchen but no sink! Months later, they were found still filling a bucket every morning, albeit from their own tap, and dipping from it all day, as of yore. Indeed, there are still at least three cottages without electricity and water – and one with a two-seater “little house” outside.

The coming of electricity and water made a tremendous difference, of course. Better light meant brighter spirits, work after dark became possible and farmers could handle larger herds – all aids to village prosperity.

(Grateful thanks are due to Mr Tunnicliff of the South Wales Electricity Board and Mr Hardwick, late of Monmouth Rural District Council, for ready help in compiling these notes.)

[from: Penallt - A Village Miscellany]