AN ESTIMATED 8,000 homes across the town were plunged into darkness last night following a major power cut.

The power to homes and businesses around Old Town, Eastcott and Wichelstowe went out at 5.10pm and, although power was returned to some houses within 10 minutes, many were left without power for several hours.

A spokesman for Southern Electric said they had received thousands of calls within minutes from concerned residents at 5.15pm, but by 7.30pm 7,500 homes had had power restored.

Many local business owners were left in the dark, upset at the potential loss of earnings.

Erica Fowers, manager of The Core on Devizes Road, said they risked losing hundreds of pounds worth of stock, and had customers walk out.

“We were looking at losing three fridges full of fresh fruit and vegetables, which is very expensive. That would be about £300 or £400 worth of stock, and we can’t replace them.”

Marya Marriott, owner of the Cakes and Ale cafe, said: “It’s going to cost us a fortune. All the staff were there ready to work. We’ve only been open for six or seven months. Thursday night is a key night for any business offering food.”

Not all diners decided to leave straight away. Parties at Pizza Express on Bath Road happily stayed on eating by candlelight, as staff waited on standby for the power to return.

Chef James Lakey said: “We had to keep the customers in if we could. If it was to come back on in 10 minutes we could get back to work, but if the oven temperature dropped it would have taken too long to regain it.

“All the customers who were here stayed, and the only problem was our tills were down so we could only accept cash payments.”

The lights came back on just as the Swindon Arts Centre was considering cancelling its performance of Lend Me A Tenor, due to start at 7.30pm. The show was delayed until 8pm to allow emergency generators to load up and recharge the centre’s lights.

Old Town resident Paul Hayes, of Kimmeridge Court, was forced to administer his 90-year-old mother’s medication by candlelight.

A spokesman for Southern Electric said: “Swindon was affected by a power cut at 5.05pm, which affected just under 8,000 customers. We had staff on site by 7.15pm to investigate the fault. We successfully re-routed the network and within an hour we had 7,500 customers back on – 360 customers were expected to be back on by 9pm.

“Engineers were still investigating the cause, but our priority has been getting the network back on as quickly as possible.”