By 1800 the early use of direct water power was in decline and coal fired steam engines were making the earlier ’water-wheel’ technology obsolete. However during the 19th century there was a re-birth of water power based on the early work of a young French engineer Benoit Fourneyron. In 1832 Fourneyron patented a new more efficient water-wheel, the same year that Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction. This became the first successful water turbine, a name which comes from the Latin turbo, something which spins. The name was attached to Fourneyrons invention by one of his teachers Claude Burdin. Tests showed that Fourneyron’s turbines converted as much as 80% of the waters energy into mechanical output with a much faster spinning rotor than earlier wheel based water technology. The first of these new turbines was installed at the small town of St Blasien in 1837.
Within a few years the American engineer James Francis began exploring the concept of inward-flow radial turbines which ultimately led to the modern water turbine. A further 50 years of development led to the installation of the world’s first full scale hydro powered power station, though still using a conventional water-wheel, which was opened Godalming in Surrey in 1881. In America the first use of moving water to produce electricity was a waterwheel on the Fox River in Wisconsin in 1882, two years after Thomas Edison unveiled the incandescent light bulb. The last 20 years of the nineteenth century saw an explosion in the building of electricity power stations at a rate seldom matched in any industry, many of the smaller plants being hydro-plants.
The Titterstone Hydro scheme was certainly in place by 1885 making it an early example of such a small scale hydro generating scheme. However if the 1883 date for the Titterstone scheme is correct then it would seem to be one of the earliest in the country and given the 1882 date for the first such scheme in America, one of the earliest applications in the world. It seems probable that John Mackay junior came into contact with the concept of small scale hydro electric generation while studying for his masters at Edinburgh University in the late 1800s and initiated the scheme on his return to the Titterstone Quarry.