Thursday, February 22, 2024

Once a Power House

Last fall we were part of a group that traveled abroad on a Shades of Ireland tour, focused on that country. However, extras included a 3-day pre-extension to London and/or a 3-day post-extension to Edinburgh. We booked London, Ireland, and Edinburgh and saw as much as possible. This post focuses on one of the most visited sights in London.

Battersea Power Station today 
Battersea Power Station is a decommissioned coal-fired power station located on the south bank of the River Thames in Nine Elms, Battersea in the London Borough of Wandsworth. It was built by the London Power Company (LPC) to the design of Leonard Pearce, Engineer in Chief to the LPC and CS Allott & Son Engineers. The station was one of the world's largest brick buildings notable for its original, Art Deco interior fittings and decor.
Andrew & Kath, Us at Battersea Power Station 
During our London visit, we were treated to a visit to Battersea Power Station by long-time UK friends, Andrew and Kath. 
We took a glass lift to a viewing platform atop the power station’s landmark white chimneys to see sweeping views across the river from a height of over 330 feet.
Views from Battersea Power Station viewing platform
The Start
For nearly six decades from the 1930s to 1980s, Battersea Power Station was a working power station. At its peak, it produced a fifth of London’s power, supplying electricity to some of London’s most recognizable landmarks, such as the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. The station was one of the world's largest brick buildings, notable for its original Art Deco interior fittings and decor. 

Until the late 1930s, electricity was supplied by municipal undertakings, small power companies that built power stations dedicated to a single industry or group of factories, selling any excess electricity to the public. These companies used widely differing standards of voltage and frequency. In 1925 Parliament decided that the power grid should be a single system with uniform standards and under public ownership. Several private power companies reacted to the proposal by forming the London Power Company (LPC) to heed the recommendations and build a small number of very large stations.

The LPC's first super power stations was planned for the Battersea area, on the south bank of the River Thames, London. In 1927, a proposal was made for a station built in two stages capable of generating 400 MWs of electricity. The site was a 15-acre plot of land which had been the site of reservoirs for the former Southwark and Vauxhall Waterworks Company. It was chosen for its proximity to the River Thames for cooling water and coal delivery; it was in the heart of London, the station's immediate supply area.

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott 
The proposal sparked protests from those who felt that the building would be a large eyesore as well as concern that pollution could damage local buildings and parks. The pollution issue was resolved by granting permission to build the station on condition that its emissions be treated to ensure they were clean and smokeless.

The company hired Sir Giles Gilbert Scott to design the building's exterior. An industrial designer, Scott was a well-known architect, referred to in the press as architect of the exterior. He is famously remembered for his design of the iconic British red telephone box, which is still in use today. 

The station was designed in the brick-cathedral style of power station design popular at the time. Battersea is one of a small number of examples of this style of design still in existence in the UK today. The station's popular design was described as a temple of power, which ranked it equal with St Paul's Cathedral as a London landmark. 

Battersea Power Station A, 1934
The first stage, Battersea Power Station A, was built between 1929 and 1935. The second, Station B was built between 1937 and 1941. Construction was halted during WW II.
 RAF pilots used the plumes of white vapor from the chimneys to guide them home in fog. The German Luftwaffe also used the plumes for navigation, which many believe is why the power station avoided extensive bombing.

Station A's control room had many Art Deco fittings. Italian marble was used in the turbine hall, and polished parquet floors and wrought-iron staircases were throughout. After WW II ended, construction resumed on Station B, which was nearly identical to Station A on the outside. Due to a lack of funds after WW II, Station B's interior wasn't done the same, fittings were made from stainless steel. It was constructed directly to its east as a mirror, giving the station its familiar four-chimney layout. The space within the main Boiler House was vast enough to fit St Paul's Cathedral inside. There were nine boilers in Station A station, six in Station B, which were the largest ever built in the UK at that time. 
Battersea Power Station, Stations A and B
The construction of Station B brought the site's generating capacity to 509 MW peak capacity, making it the third largest generating site in the UK then. It was also the most thermally efficient power station in the world when it opened.

The End
In March 1975, Station A closed after 40 years in operation. Three years later, rumors began that Station B would follow. A campaign was launched to save the building as part of the national heritage; it was declared a heritage site in 1980. In October 1983, production of electricity at Station B ended, after nearly 30 years of operation. The station's generating capacity had fallen to 146 MW. 

Battersea's demise was caused by output falling with age, outdated generating equipment, preferred choice of fuel for electricity generation shifting from coal toward oil, gas and nuclear power and increased operating costs.
The power station's roof was removed in a plan to convert it into a theme park
Former turbine room in ruins after station was decommissioned
After being decommissioned, the power station
 fell into serious ruin. It condition was described as very bad by English Heritage, which cares for over 400 historic buildings, monuments and sites, and which included it in the Heritage at Risk Register. Various proposals to renovate the building included a theme park, shopping mall, football stadium all fell apart. In 2012, a Malaysian consortium bought the 42-acre site to develop it with residences, restaurants, office space, shops and entertainment spaces. 
Plans were approved and redevelopment started in a few years. Most of the building's interior scaffolding was removed with work done to refurbish the original 1930s features. Original chimneys were replaced with replicas, two have steam emitted from a new gas-powered energy center.
Station B Controls at Battersea Power Station 
The Redo
In October 2020, after 4 years of construction, nearly 40 years after the lights went out, Battersea Power Station opened its doors for the public to explore the iconic building and its first shops, bars, restaurants and leisure venues, including Electric Boulevard, a pedestrian street. 
Apartments around Battersea Power Station today
Today, Battersea Power Station has been featured in or used as a shooting location for films, TV programs, music videos, video games as well as for sporting, cultural and political events. One of its earliest film appearances was in the 1936 Alfred Hitchcock film, Sabotage, made before construction of Station B. Scenes from the 2008 Batman film, The Dark Knight, were filmed at Battersea. 

Photo by Dawn O'Connor
One of the station's most memorable uses was for the cover photograph of Pink Floyd's 1977 album, Animals. It sold millions of copies worldwide and was officially launched at an event at the power station. A December 1976 photo shows the power station with an inflatable pink pig floating above it. The inflatable tethered to one of the power station's chimneys broke loose from its moorings and drifted into the flight path of Heathrow Airport.

Touring this iconic power station was definitely a highlight of our brief visit to London. We are thankful that our friends suggested this outing, which might have been one we would have overlooked.
If you have a London visit planned in your future, Battersea Power Station might be a site to include for the views alone. There's a cost to access the tower viewing platform, but the 360-degree views were wonderful on the thankfully clear day of our visit..


MadSnapper said...

I have never seen a photo or heard the name of this place. what an awesome thing to visit. those apartments are gorgeous. i would love to see the inside . i like the idea of the steam coming out of the fake towers. so glad you listened to your friends. this is is awesome

Marie Smith said...

I have heard the name and will keep it in mind when we next get to London.

Linda G. said...

We visited the Niagara Parks Power Station and Tunnel while in Niagara Falls Canada recently. The power station and tunnel are impressive too. Thanks for sharing London’s power station. I hadn’t heard of it.

Tom said...

...Dorothy, I would love to visit England, but the countryside would be my choice. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

Marcia said...

Quite a view of the skyline from up there.

Sandra said...

Wow, you really get the feeling of the size and scope of London from up top!

photowannabe said...

That tickled my funny bone to think of seeing a pink pig flying at the airport.
What fascinating architecture can be seen from the Power Station. Quite amazing and not the usual sights attributed to England.

Emma Springfield said...

The view is exquisite and I learned a lot. Going up in a glass elevator is where I draw the line. I would be scared to death.

Salty Pumpkin Studio said...

Great post, thank you
Fascinating place. The mishappened building is beautiful in a very chic modern way.

Pamela M. Steiner said...

How very interesting! I've never heard of this building before and certainly wouldn't have thought of it as being something so "tour-worthy". Thank you for "enlightening" us with this "powerful" history. (puns intended). You do find the most "shocking" stories to write about! It's just "electrifying"! LOL. Thank you!

Bijoux said...

It looks and sounds like it was transformed into some very beautiful and useful spaces. There is always a lot of outcry here every time a rubber factory is taken down, but it's also a fire hazard and dangerous to leave massive buildings decaying. I'm glad you enjoyed the tour and learned so much history.

Eggs In My Pocket said...

Sometimes, the strangest things you would think not to wander into are the best places to check out! Such wonderful views! I love your group photo!

DUTA said...

Very nice photo of the two couples of friends!
I must admit that until reading this post, I've never heard of the Power Station. Thanks for sharing such an amazing piece of information.

Michelle said...

We were in London a few years ago, but didn't go here. I wish we had! What an interesting place with great views.

My name is Erika. said...

This was an interesting read. Battersea Power Station has been in lots of books I read, but I haven't visited it. You get some great views from it, and since I don't know how many people from the US visit it, it looks like a unique place to visit. hugs-Erika

Barwitzki said...

Thank you for your interesting article about the legendary power station in London. It is wonderful that this old industrial building has been redeveloped and a great cultural asset has been preserved. I got a special connection from the Pink Floyd record Animals... which I had in my hands so often... it was like a little aha experience. Thank you.
Many greetings and have a happy weekend.

Jeanie said...

This is really interesting, Dorothy. Love the history, of course, and I'm glad your time there was well worth it. I had heard about it but knew little of it so thanks. (And love the photo of the four of you!)

CrystalChick said...

I'd never heard of Battersea Power Station, so it was interesting to read about it, and it's redevelopment! Seeing the photo of PF's album Animals reminded me I had at least seen that much before. lol
So glad you got to take the tour. How nice of your friends to suggest it! Wow, those views really must have been pretty cool.

baili said...

Wow what a wonderful story of Battersea power station ❤
Enjoyed each bit of your sharing dear Dorothy!
330 feet highet provides good view wow
Thank you for sharing the history and how station supplied power to the city for sixty years. Indeed with age and old equipment performance is weakened.
Great decision to turn the site into different public attractions. These glimpse show briefly how much it has for film industry .

Amazing that you enjoyed old friends company while exploring the site :)
Hugs and blessings

Jon said...

What a wonderful display of unique architecture. All the photos are great....and I love that traditional red phone booth.

DeniseinVA said...

What a great read and thanks for letting me know about the flying pig. That was fun to see!

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

I wish I did (have one planned).... we spent quite a long time in London but it has been way too long ago and we did not go up the tower.

Rob Lenihan said...

Wow, what an incredible facility. That must've been an incredible tour.

And its so wild that filmmakers have been using the place as a location for so many movies--not to mention Pink Floyd's album cover.