Photo of Linton Lock Hydro across the river Ouse
A newly renovated and working Linton Lock and hydroelectric generating plant © Historic England DP143652
A newly renovated and working Linton Lock and hydroelectric generating plant © Historic England DP143652

Ancient Technology Brings Linton Lock Hydro Back to Life

A listed former hydroelectric power station in North Yorkshire uses 2,000 year old technology to bring back to life a building that was pioneering 100 years ago and is now helping to address the green power challenges of the 21st century.

Linton Lock was built in the 18th century on the north bank of the river Ouse in North Yorkshire. Its construction included a weir on the river’s south bank to help control the flow of water. Both the lock and weir are listed structures.

In response to rising coal prices after the First World War the York Corporation decided to build a hydroelectric power plant, which was opened in 1923. After the implementation of the National Grid, power was increasingly sourced from larger generating stations fed mostly by coal, and Linton Lock Hydro was abandoned in 1962.

In 2000 Linton Lock Hydro was designated a scheduled monument, as an early example of rural hydroelectric power generation. Unused and decaying, the site was going to be added to the Heritage at Risk Register when developers JN Bentley asked Historic England’s Yorkshire office about its possible conversion back into a working power station.

Historic England (then English Heritage) were engaged in all aspects of the project from feasibility studies, archaeological recording and historic assessment to being closely consulted on design details and agreeing sensitive changes to the structure’s original fabric.

JN Bentley Ltd undertook the repair and conversion of the site’s existing turbine house for it to be brought back into use producing electricity. The project was carried out on a commercial basis, so it was vital that the restored power plant would generate enough electricity to justify the investment in renovation. Simply reusing the original type of turbine used on the site could not produce enough power to be economical, and there is no commercially available modern replacement. 

Working closely with our Yorkshire team, the developers instead chose to install two Archimedes’ screws in a striking example of a modern development using ancient technology. The Archimedes’ screw dates back to Ancient Egypt and uses water to turn a screw-shaped surface inside a pipe. If screw pumps are turned (for instance by people, a windmill or animals such as cattle) they scoop up water which is in turn pushed up the tube by the rotating screw until it pours out from the top. Conversely, if water is fed into the top of an Archimedes’ screw it will force it to rotate, and this rotation can in turn be used to drive an electric generator.

Aside from power generation, materials were chosen that respected the original design of the building. For instance, where upper parts of the structure needed to be dismantled, original bricks were reused on the outside of the building whilst inside, new bricks matching their design as closely as possible were used. Light steel framed windows were also chosen to match the original windows which could be seen in historic photographs.

The scheme brings back a working hydroelectric generating plant to the site, re-establishing the historically significant original purpose of this semi-derelict building, and new life has been given to a scheduled monument which was very close to being added to the Heritage at Risk Register. Linton Hydro now feeds power into the National Grid on a commercial basis, and can generate up to 380 kilowatts of electricity – enough to power the equivalent of 450 homes.

The scheme also includes other social benefits to the local community. The site is popular with canoeists, and as part of the redevelopment a canoe slalom has been installed to run alongside the turbines. Work with local schools on issues around climate change and the history of generating electricity, and opening to the public on Heritage Open Days bring further benefits to the local community. The Linton Lock scheme also intends to sell a proportion of the electricity that it generates to a nearby sustainable free range chicken farm at a mutually beneficial rate, enabling them to meet their energy requirements from a local renewable source and reduce their energy bills.

Linton Hydro shows how sensitive restoration in line with a structure’s original function can secure the heritage of the future using innovative ideas of the past in a commercially viable yet highly sustainable way.