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Electricity in 1729

The world in the 21st century is unimaginable without electricity. So it owes a lot to experiments undertaken in the Faversham area early in the 18th century.

These were the first to demonstrate conclusively that electricity can be transmitted as a 'current'.

The scientist responsible for the practical proof was Stephen Gray. He was no professional, but an amateur who had made his living as a dyer in Canterbury and then retired to sheltered accommodation at Londonï¿œs Charterhouse. Here he had time to experiment, but not enough space.

Otterden Place


Through a friend, John Flamsteed, the Astronomer Royal, he knew John Godfrey, an amateur astronomer, who lived at Norton Court, just outside Faversham. He persuaded John to allow him to undertake his experiments there.

On 14 May 1729 he successfully got electricity to travel 24 feet. Not content, he got it to travel 32 feet two days later, and 52 feet three days after that. He had proved his point, but wanted to see if current could be transmitted still further.

There wasnï¿œt room at Norton Court, so through John he arranged with Granville Wheler, at nearby Otterden Place, to could continue his experiments there. Here he started in the Long Gallery (still extant) and managed to increase the distance to 80 feet (2 July 1729).

Eventually, on 14 July, in a barn in the grounds and running his line to and fro, he extended the distance to 666 feet, proving that current could travel long distances.