We all have local heroes, Sheffield makes it easy to pick one of the famous ones, but others float below the horizon. Top of this list is John Tasker, a true pioneer in electrical engineering. At this point you may laugh and say “who is John Tasker and what has he given to our city?”; the answer is – floodlit football matches for the first time!
He was born in Devon in 1819 and moved to Pond Hill, Sheffield in 1829 as a shoe maker and Introduced gutta-percha (for dental fillings) and India rubber to Sheffield. He saw a market supplying leather belting and also developed the engineering side of the business which expanded rapidly, taking larger premises in Station Road – eventually becoming Tasker’s Engineering Co
In 1878 Sheffield was only lit by gas lighting and dim and dangerous after dusk. John decided, how about a Floodlit football match using the new electricity. If it came off it could lead to him lighting the city streets. He did have a secret weapon though, he had just become the lord mayor. It was to be played at night before a crowd of 30,000 to show how areas could be lit safely, and make them pay for the privilege. The teams were selected by the Sheffield football Association, eager to get in on the act. This was 3 years before Godalming, the first town in England with street lighting, so it was some feat. With four thirty-foot poles, each with an arc light on it and a portable engine set up behind each goal. Each end of the pitch had Two Siemens dynamos, one for each lamp, thus pioneering floodlit football at Bramall lane for the first time in the world.
Eight years later, good old John saw Sheffield have its first public electricity supply, running off a generator in his engineering and repair shop at 29 sheaf street. We all know how diamonds shine under arc lights so guess what, his first customer was H l Brown for their display windows.
Some may know I worked for British Telecom, and that’s why he becomes top of my hero list with the telephone number of 1. Seeing he founded the first provincial telephone exchange at number 32 Angel Street, he got to pick his own number. He formed the Sheffield Telephone exchange and Electric light Company. In his Office in Sheaf Street he had a model of the royal coat of arms signifying his Royal Warrant from queen Victoria for the installation and maintenance of telephones at Balmoral and other royal properties. He was also given a silver telescope for his work at Sandringham. Luckily, he was around to provide the illumination for the building site at lodge moor for the new hospital in 1888. This allowed for the rapid 24-hour building work to take place to keep up with the need for wards for the smallpox epidemic.
The Telephone interests were sold to the National Telephone co, and the electricity company then became the Sheffield Electric lighting and power company. On the 5th June 1894 the first electric motor turned in this city. It was a 4 horse power unit and was used to operate the bellows of the organ in what is now the cathedral, it was only a parish church at the time. On the 1st January 1898 the company was bought by the Sheffield Corporation, they then bought the generator that powered the Paris exhibition to meet the city’s expanding needs.
Power was in great demand so high power cables were placed under the streets and new transformer technology was needed to create the voltage required. The first Stalloy transformer was built for Sir Robert Hadfield for his Steel works along the river Don. In 1913 the Labour MP for Attercliffe Joseph Pointer went about the start of the split from the supply and fitting of electrical goods. It became too popular, a power supply that was great for steel production. Edgar Allen’s steel works at Tinsley had the first Herault single phase furnace fitted in 1910. However, in 1899 electricity was needed for the trams, so we built Kelham island supplying power for the Nether Edge to Tinsley tramway, the first electric tramway in our city, now Kelham is one of our city’s museums. The outbreak of war saw a rapid need for power down the steelworks so every man and his dog were given a spade to dig the roads up to lay cables. At weekends they slaved away and got cash in hand at the end of the day, “a bit of weekend work”.
A problem arose when both the public and the arc furnaces fought for the energetic little electrons, the oven or the furnace. To get round this, a phone link was set up between the Departments officers in commercial street and the large smelting works allowing the smelting to be regulated. This is the worlds first load control of the grid. Ironically the last areas of Sheffield to receive power were the more affluent areas of Dore, Norton, Totley, Beauchief and up to Dronfield woodhouse in 1924. We got connected to the national grid in 1934. So, when you walk down a safely lit street, make a phone call or watch a night match at Bramall lane think of John Tasker, our cities hidden pioneer and hidden hero.
Do you have more information about this that we could add? Are any of the facts wrong? Please get in touch if so.