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Electricity Arrives 1953

The Big Switch On

by Ruth Gerring

The electricity board had been working round the clock,
To bring electric power to their outlying flock,
They’d put in all the wires, and put up all the poles,
Levelled all the wheel marks, and filled in all the holes!

The residents of Charney Bassett were an excited bunch,
Looking forward to eating illuminated lunch,
Down in Basil’s bottom field, high up an electric pole,
There was the main switch, the switcher oner’s goal!

With a group of dignitaries, of the local elite,
(Dressed in their best suits,) to bring, light and heat,
The switch oner marched over fields green,
Followed by dignitaries, frightfully smart and clean.

Past Basil’s chickens, pecking in the dust,
Intent upon their mission, to bring light or bust,
A light rain had started, and chicken dust became,
A bit of a quagmire, but our heroes still sought fame!

They had to be ready, at the precise hour,
For every villager, were waiting for their power,
The time was set for evening, exactly at six,
Everyone was poised, tautly watching ticks!

Basil and his wife sat in their kitchen in the dark,
Waiting for illumination, to leave its mark!
Six o’clock came and went, but darkness remained,
Nancy looked at Basil, somewhat pained!

Basil shrugged his shoulders, tried the switch again,
And for the next few hours, he tried in vain!
Basil said ‘Don’t worry, I’ll climb on my bike,
See if I can discover the electrician’s plight!’

Reggie the Hereford bull, was looking for a fight,
He had the dignitaries lined up, in his sight,
Down the field he charged letting out a bellow,
Only fair to say the elite turned yellow!

Reggie stomped and shouted, intent to guard his herd,
Underneath the hen house their voices unheard,
Cowered the elite, they lay there in the mire,
Even the mayor, with his spare tyre!

‘Come on old son’ Basil said and Reggie at once calm,
Allowed himself to be led back to the farm,
The Elite emerged a rather sorry sight,
Their nicely ironed shirts no longer white!

With the switcher oner, finally set free,
At last electric light came to Charney B!

The Day Electricity came to Charney Bassett as told to Ruth Gerring by her father Basil Sharpus who farmed Poplar Farm (on the left side of the Denchworth road just past the two bridges when leaving the village).

The S.E.B (Southern Electricity Board) had been working in and around Charney Bassett for months. They had dug deep holes in gardens and fields for the electricity poles. Big ‘cotton reels’ of wire had been strategically placed around the village and beyond while wire from them had trailed everywhere. Men had climbed poles whistling and shouting and clumped in and out of houses putting in wires, switches and meters. Most people began to wish they had never wanted ‘the electric’ to arrive as the disruption continued.

Finally the news came the ‘grand switch on’ would take place at 6pm in the evening just before dusk. There was a short speech and then the suited officials from the Electricity board headed for the main junction box, which was situated in one of Dad’s farthest fields. The villagers returned home to their light switches fingers poised!

6pm came and went nothing happened!

7pm still nothing.

By 7.30pm with the dusk darkening Dad thought he’d better go and investigate so he got on his bike and peddled off towards the farm. Parking his bike in the farmyard he walked down the fields towards the main junction box.

Dad said is all he could see was a row of white worried faces looking out from underneath a chicken house as his very angry Bull rampaged around them. The bull pawing bellowing and rubbing his head along the ground getting grass and weeds caught up in his horns. Periodically he would charge at the chicken house lifting it slightly off its wheels and leaving a dent in the tin side. Every time that happened the men would retreat further underneath and bury themselves deeper into the dust and dirt.

Dad walked up quietly to the bull and said ‘Come on old son’. At the sound of Dad’s voice the bull became immediately calm and allowed Dad to catch him and lead him away towards the farm yard. There was a relieved gasp from underneath the chicken house, and then slowly the men emerged looking rather dishevelled covered in chicken dung and dust.

At last Electricity came to Charney Bassett!

Footnote – The Bull became calm when he saw Dad because Dad had reared him from a week old calf.

As recorded in the Smallholders’ Minutes:

June 1950 Electricity.

Southern Electricity Board propose to construct within the next nine to twelve months an 11,000 Volt overhead line which will serve the village of Charney Bassett. Certain cottages and farm buildings would fall within the area of low tension supply contemplated. Approximate estimate £1844 to serve eight outlying Holdings subject to guarantees by the tenants of minimum annual payments for five years. Resolved: Arrangements be made for the electrical supply to be connected to the Council’s Holdings in this area. (September 1950. All tenants willing to co-operate.)