G.B. Shaw—-playwright & enthusiast for alternative energy sources

Shaw 1949Found in a copy of Evelyn August’s entertaining Black-Out Book (1939) is a slightly damaged clipping from the Letters page of the Times newspaper published sometime between 1947 and Shaw’s death in 1950.

In it Shaw voices incredulity at the failure by Government to exploit the energy from waves:-

‘ It is now many years since I arrived at the northern edge of Scotland and looked across the Pentland Firth to the Orkneys, estimating the sea journey at about half an hour. When I embarked on the hardy little steamboat with my car I found out what the Pentland tide rush meant. We were swirled away like corks in a millrace to John O’Groats House and back again through Scapa Flow in three hours and a half; and I was told that it would be a fortnight before my car could be taken back to the mainland.

   When I at last got back I explored the coast along to the west and found there several flumes like the Kyle of Tongue, ready-made by Nature , through which the tide rushed twice a day carrying thousands of tons of sheer power both ways.

   But nobody was doing anything about it. When I asked the engineers why, they said they did not know how to capture more than a negligible percentage of water power. I told them they had better find out, as to my knowledge the Severn flow drove many cloth mills; and a flour mill owned by my father had its speedy upright and heavy grindstones kept thundering away by a little stream to which the Kyle of Tongue was oceanic.

     But they went on grubbing for power in coal mines, and now that the atomic bomb and Mr Shinwell’s prayers have wakened them up they are dreaming of nuclear energies, frightfully dangerous and enormously expensive. They do not seem to know that our tides, almost unique in the world, exist.

     My suggestions usually take 30 years to attract any attention. By this time an engineering ( missing text) to Thurso and the Kyle of Tongue is a bit (over )due.

     The (climate) is delightful. Almost subtropical, thanks to the Gulf Stream. Not at all Scottish. Ask Sir Archibald Sinclair.’


Although experiments to unleash the potential of wave-power began in 1799, no concerted efforts were made until the oil crisis of 1973 prompted action from government. So, it looks as if Mr Shaw had been a bit of a technological seer all those years ago.

Incidentally, the Mr Shinwell mentioned by Shaw was Emmanuel Shinwell ( 1884 – 1986), the Minister for Fuel and Power who nationalised the Coal Board in 1947. [R.M.Healey]

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