The history of the power station Centrales Electraces des Flandres et du Brabant (CEFB) / Electric Centrals for Flanders in Brabant (ECVB) of Langerbrugge goes back to the beginning of the 20th century. In 1911 Baron Floris Van Loo built the first power plant in Langerbrugge, on the west bank of the Ghent-Terneuzen canal. This plant allowed industrial development for the entire canal zone. In that period, the plant housed two turbo alternators of 2 000 kilowatts, running on steam supplied by three Babcock & Wilcox boilers. By 1912 the distribution of electricity had been extended to 17 municipalities in and around Ghent. On February 29, 1912, it was decided to let the lights in public places and roads also burn at night for the safety of the inhabitants. With the completion of the installations, administrative buildings and dwellings (designed by the Brussels architect Eugène Dhuicque), 1913 was the actual starting point of the power plant in Langerbrugge. The plant was called Centrales Electriques des Flandres and Brabant or CEFB for short and was officially put into use in June 1914. During the First World War the turbine hall was badly damaged. Despite the fact that all walls were still straight, all installations were completely destroyed. However, the damage was even greater because the Germans had destroyed a large part of the high-voltage installations throughout the region during their withdrawal and had destroyed or stolen underground cables. Barely a month later, the power station again supplied electricity thanks to an enormous effort to get the country back in shape industrial and therefore economically. Many European countries chose to nationalize the electricity sector after the end of the First World War. In Belgium, however, the power plants remained in the hands of the private sector, but this did not mean that the government had no say and could not control the productivity of the power stations. The plant saw a huge capacity increase between 1919 and 1924, with the installation of new boilers and improvements to the existing installations.
In the 1920s, the first Garden Districts in Belgium came into being, in imitation of England. The realization of a new, ideal living environment in the green surroundings of the cities was a new concept for housing that was gradually conquering the Western world. In the shadow of the Langerbrugge power station, the garden district “Herryville” was founded in 1929, named after the founder-director Leopold Herry, designed by architect Eugène Dhuicque who had previously designed the buildings of the power plant. Herryville was built in English cottage style and was meant for the central staff of the plant. The district has an entrance gate that leads to the former director’s residence. The garden village and the plots of the former concrete velodrome (1930-1995) have been protected as village views since 1996. The velodrome was built for the importance of sport in your spare time – the workers worked a 48-hour week with 6 days of 8 hours per day – to be promoted to the workers of the power station and for years was the most important track in Belgium and was used for training for World Championships and the Olympic Games. In 1935 there were more than twenty independent electricity companies in Belgium. The importance of relaxation after working hours was increasingly being promoted by the theater with theater and cinema performances, concerts, city trips, … Special discounts were provided for the workers in certain shops and cinemas, group discounts for activities and excursions, …
In the autumn of 1939 a large part of the young workers left for the front, so that the remaining employees had to keep the central running with the absolute minimum in terms of relaxation and rest periods. The power station decided in 1940 to send parcels to prisoners of war. At the end of the war, 5 widows and 6 orphans were financially supported. The central also ensured that, during the Christmas period, every family with workers at the front received presents.In 1941, the workers were given the free plots of land around the plant to grow their own food, because with the rations during the war there was very little to eat, and the plant naturally benefited the workers from gaining energy to to work. The workers planted potatoes, vegetables, and smokers even planted tobacco plants. There were even books written with information about agriculture and the necessary seeds to successfully make their own vegetable garden. The courtyard of the Velodrome was also transformed into a large vegetable garden.The first years after the Second World War were known by scarcity. Soap, bicycle tires, clothing, literally everything was a shortage. The demand was huge on a limited supply. This caused huge price increases. However, the plant organized group purchases for basic goods, which meant that the price that the workers had to put on the table differently went down. Soon the plant also started selling wine and spirits and opened a small store.
In 1949, the economy gradually returned to normal, allowing the vegetable gardens in the middle of the velodrome to disappear and there was place again for FC CEFB, the local football team of the power plant.In the 1950s there was a difficult period for the power plant. Coal prices rose sharply due to the Suez crisis, forcing Belgian electricity manufacturers to use new energy sources such as oil and pitch.In 1956, the power plant was transferred to the hands of Ebes (Sociétés Reunis d’Energie du Basse de l’Escaut), which already owned three other power plants at that time. By 1960 the competition grew enormously between the Belgian electricity companies. The two largest companies, Ebes and Intercom, fought in many parts of Belgium for every customer of electricity they could get.Under pressure from politicians, an agreement was reached on 21 November 1974 that would create three major energy suppliers. The first supplier was the already existing Ebes, the second one was the result of a merger between Intercom and Interbrabant and the third supplier arose from the cooperation of Electrogaz, UCE-Linalux-Hainaut, Esmalux, Gas de Namur and Ebes or Oisquercq. This was later renamed to Unerg.In 1959, a plant was started up that burned coal, fuel oil and natural gas as fuels. The current plant consists of two units: a boiler and a counter pressure steam turbine with alternator (Group 20), started in 1974 to supply steam to the Langerbrugge paper mills, and a gas turbine with alternator and a recovery boiler with afterburner (Group 30).
The Energeia Museum opened on the premises of the power station in 1986. This museum was preserved steam engines and steam turbines are exhibited, along with many documents and books from 1900 to 1960. The museum was completely open to the public and very popular in its early years.In 1990 there were talks between the three Belgian suppliers, from which a large merger between Ebes, Intercom and Unerg arose. Electrabel was born. While Intercom and Ebes were fully integrated into the new company, Unerg maintained a few more plants in its own name. It later changed its name to Powerfin, in order to continue expanding its activities abroad.
After changes in the agreements on public relations, the management of Electrabel decided in 2000 to close the Museum Energeia. In 2001, no less than 180 running meters (or 3584 records) were moved to archives to ensure safe storage.The obsolete power plant halted its production in 2001 after a new, smaller factory was built that supplied electricity for general consumption and process steam to the surrounding companies StoraEnso, Kronos, and Algist Bruggeman, but on 1 January 2010 steam production was halted for the companies StoraEnso and Algist Bruggeman, as a result of which the backpressure steam turbine, gas turbine and recuperation boiler no longer serve a purpose.
But the end of the electricity production in Langerbrugge, apparently got a painful outcome when in 2012 the demolition of the plant started. The older buildings were completely destroyed, including all installations and the more modern buildings are currently being dismantled. Nothing of its historical value was retained. Despite the fact that a large part of the archive in the Energeia museum had already been moved to another location, a whole bunch of paperwork and machines remained behind. Unfortunately, (copper) thieves already got their chance to strike their battle, so that all exhibited machines, including a 1912 compound steam engine that was previously in perfect condition, had been destroyed on their search for copper and other useful materials. The Brown Boveri turbines were completely disassembled and copper was removed. Measuring equipment and control panels were stolen. Almost all museum pieces, including a whole section classified as monument – transformers, control switches, alternators – have been completely destroyed. The remaining documents from the former Ebes archive from 1900-1960 were destroyed. It is clear that the historical value for the new owner of the site, Langerbrugge Projects, was not a priority at all.
The potential of the impressive turbine hall, the machines on display and documentation in the museum were clearly of no importance during the decision to rethink everything. Where is the role of the Immovable Heritage Agency, then ask yourself. The Flemish Society for Industrial Archeology had recently sounded the alarm in connection with the chaotic situation of the plant, but the damage had already been done. Perhaps a windfall for Langerbrugge Projects, so that they can break down more for future projects because nothing more of the power station needs a protected status.
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