As part of our involvement in The Made in Greater Manchester Project, Rochdale Local Studies has chosen to focus on The Rochdale Electric Company (REC).  REC was incorporated on 31st January 1898 by a local business man Mr William Dobson Watson.

William was born into a wealthy local family who ran a successful silk manufacturing business.  However, from an early age William showed an interest in the newly emerging area of electrical engineering.

Whilst on holiday with a friend in 1896 the vague outline of a coin fed meter was created which then gave rise to a “friendly competition” between three rivals to create the best penny-in-the-slot meter which could measure electricity outage.

Following a two year intensive contest, the Watson Slot Meter was awarded first prize by, the then pre-eminent electrical company, Ferranti and REC was formed to manufacture and sell the meter.

This pre-paid meter was the first electrical pre-payment meter ever to be put into commission on a commercial scale in England (and paved the way for today’s electric meters).

However, the life of the penny pre-paid meter was relatively short lived due to swift technical innovations in the electrical engineering field. REC therefore diversified into electrical equipment including generators, dynamos and motors.

The collection contains a work book recording where the REC’s equipment was installed, this included major industries within the area such as Turner and Newall, many of the local cotton mills as well as Rochdale Infirmary.

Our volunteer, Zoe Bamford, was tasked with archiving the material from REC, part of which included several early periodicals on electrical engineering and transmission dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century along with three fine examples of early twentieth century thermometers. The collection also hosts numerous photographs of electrical componentry; trying to identify motors, dynamos and generators was a difficult task for someone not au fait with electrical engineering!


Thank you to Janet Byrne and Zoe Bamford for producing this excellent blog post!