Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Battersea Power Station

Battersea Power Station was the first in a series of very large (for the era) electrical generators set up in England in order to nationalize the grid.

During the 1920s electricity supply was being set up by small companies who built stations dedicated to a single industry or group of factories, and sold off any excess power to the public. However, each company used their own equipment which led to all sorts of small plots where standards differed. One could not generally purchase an electrical applicance and know that it would work where one lived.

Parliament finally decided that the power grid should be a single system under public ownership. This sparked a storm of protest from those who thought that the government should not be involved, and in the end it would be another 30 years before nationalization was completed.

In the meantime the private companies saw the writing on the wall and decided to clean up their act, and several formed the London Power Company in 1925. Their plan was to build a smaller number of very large stations and sell the power to anyone who wanted it. Their first plant was planned for the Battersea area on the south bank of the River Thames in London.

This sparked off more protests from those who felt the building was too large and would be an eyesore, and those who were worried about the pollution. Ignoring the later, the company addressed the former by hiring Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, a noted architect and industrial designer (also famous for the design of the red telephone box, and of Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral).

The resulting design is a steel-framed building with brickwork hung from the outside, similar to the skyscrapers being built in the US at the time. Construction started in 1929 and was completed by 1939. The original plant had a single long hall with a chimney at either end. From 1953-55 a second identical (from the outside) Station B was constructed right next to the original, which became known as Station A. This gave the station its familar four-chimney layout. Far from being an eyesore, the station has since become one of London's most famous landmarks and is generally loved.

In 1975 Station A (now quite out of date) was shut down, with rumors that Station B would soon follow. Intense public pressure mounted to save the buildings, notably Station A's Art Deco interior. In 1980 the station was declared a heritage site, and in 1983 production in Station B ended as well. At that point it was unclear what to do with the building, so a contest was held to look for the best ideas. The winning bid was to construct a theme park inside the grounds (which are huge) and work started on the plan in 1988. The start consisted of cutting huge holes in the roof, through which the machinery was hoisted out to be sold. At that point the project folded: the buildings have remained in this state to this day.

Battersea Power Station features in the much parodied artwork of Pink Floyd's 1977 album Animals. (The large pink inflatable pig seen floating above the power station "broke loose" from its moorings and reportedly ended up in a garden in south London. These problems led to there being no usable single photo of the pig in situ, and the sleeve was a composite image.)

In recent years, the building has occasionally played host to music concerts, and performances by the Cirque du Soleil (in a nearby marquee). In Ian McKellen's film of Shakespeare's Richard III, the derelict power station surreally stands in for Bosworth Field in Richard's final battle scene.