The Electrical Precinct

The historic Electrical Precinct tells the story of the extraordinary expansion of Johannesburg after the discovery of gold. Within two years of the chaotic development of the mining camp of Johannesburg, the Electrical Precinct became associated with generating power in the form of both gas and electricity when the first gasworks was established here.

In 1902, the new British administration granted the Johannesburg Municipality a concession to develop an electrical tram network which created the demand for a power station. The First President Street Power Station was built in 1906 on the site of the existing gas and electrical works. A massive explosion destroyed the magnificent new station 18 months later. It was then turned into a shop for repairing machines and electrical parts.

The Second President Street Power Station was quickly erected to meet the city’s power requirements. The Newtown Compound built in 1913 housed black workers for the power station. White staff lived in superior accommodation.

As the demand for electrical power increased rapidly during and after World War One, a new station was approved. By 1927, the Jeppe Street Power Station was in operation with further extensions being made until 1939.

The Electrical Precinct remained the main supplier of Joburg’s electricity until the early 1940s when the Orlando Power Station was built in Soweto.  In the 1960s, the Station was converted into a maintenance workshop and the workers’ compound eventually closed its doors in the mid-1970s. The Second President Street Power Station was demolished in the late 1980s and is now the SA Breweries Museum.

The transformation of the Electrical Precinct into a cultural precinct involved clearing the central area. The cooling towers imploded with a mighty crash one day in 1985. Newtown never looked the same again.

"The Electrical Precinct tells the story of the social relations that emerged in the context of racial segregation, urbanisation and industrialisation, including those between workers and employers. The buildings along this trail are containers of these stories." Sue Krige, historian, 2009.
 

Did You Know?

Did you that from about 1911 Mary Fitzgerald Square became the meeting point for both black and white strikers? Even today strikers can be seen gathering on the square.