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Battersea Power Station


Until the late 1930s electricity was supplied by municipal undertakings. These were small power companies that built power stations dedicated to a single industry or group of factories, and sold 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 under public ownership. Several of the private power companies reacted to the proposal by forming the London Power Company. They planned to heed parliament's recommendations and build a small number of very large stations.

The London Power Company's first of these super power stations was planned for the Battersea area, on the south bank of the River Thames in London. The proposal for the station was made in 1927, for a station built in two stages, capable of generating 400, 000 kilowatts (kW) of electricity once completed. The site chosen for the construction of the station was a 15 acre plot of land which had been the site of the reservoirs for the former Southwark and Vauxhall Waterworks Company. The site was chosen for its close proximity to the River Thames for cooling water and coal delivery, and because it was sited in the heart of London, the station's immediate supply area.

The proposal sparked protests from those who felt that the building would be too large and would be an eyesore, as well as worries about the pollution damaging local buildings, parks and even paintings in the nearby Tate Gallery. The company addressed the former concern by hiring Sir Giles Gilbert Scott to design the building's exterior. He was a noted architect and industrial designer, famous for his design of the red telephone box, of Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and of another London power station, Bankside, which now houses the Tate Modern art gallery. The latter was resolved by granting permission for the station on the condition that its emissions were to be treated, to ensure they were cleaner and contained less smoke.

Construction of the first phase, the A Station, commenced in March 1929. The main building work was carried out by John Mowlem & Co, and the structural steelwork erection carried out by Sir William Arrol & Co. Other contractors were employed for specialist tasks. Most of the electrical equipment, including the steam turbine turbo generators, was produced by Metropolitan Vickers. The building of the steel frame began in October 1930. Once completed, the construction of the brick cladding began, in March 1931. Prior to the construction of the B Station, the eastern wall of the boiler house was clad in corrugated metal sheeting as a temporary enclosure. The A Station first generated electricity in 1933, but was not completed until 1935. The total cost of its construction came to 2, 141, 550. Between construction beginning, in 1929, and 1933 there were 6 fatal and 121 non-fatal accidents on the site.

A short number of months after the Second World War, construction commenced on the second phase, the B Station. The station came into operation gradually between 1953 to 1955. It was identical to the A Station from the outside and was constructed directly to its east as a mirror to it, which gave the power station its now familiar four-chimney layout. The construction of the B Station brought the site's generating capacity up to 509 megawatts (MW), making it the third largest generating site in the UK at the time, providing a fifth of London's electricity needs. It was also the most thermally efficient power station in the world when it opened.

The A Station had been operated by the London Power Company, but by the time the B Station was completed, the UK's electric supply industry had been nationalised, and ownership of the two stations had passed into the hands of the British Electricity Authority in 1948. In 1955, this became the Central Electricity Authority, which in turn became the Central Electricity Generating Board in 1957.

On 20 April 1964, the power station was the site of a fire that caused power failures throughout London, including at the BBC Television Centre, which was due to launch BBC Two that night. The launch was delayed until the following day at 11am.

Design and specification

Both of the stations were designed by a team of architects and engineers. The team was headed by Dr S. Leonard Pearce, the chief engineer of the London Power Company, but a number of other notable engineers were also involved, including Henry Newmarch Allott, and T. P. O'Sullivan who was later responsible for the Assembly Hall at Filton. Theo J. Halliday was employed as architect, with Halliday & Agate Co. employed as a sub-consultant. Halliday was responsible for the supervision and execution of the appearance of the exterior and interior of the building. Architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was involved in the project much later on, consulted to appease public reaction, and refer to in the press as "architect of the exterior". The station was designed in the brick-cathedral style of power station design, which had been popular when the stations were designed in the 1930s and 1940s. Battersea is one of a very small number of examples of this style of power station design still in existence in the UK, other survivals being Uskmouth and Bankside. The station's design proved popular straight away, and was described as a "temple of power", which ranked equal with St Paul's Cathedral as a London landmark. In a 1939 survey by Architects Journal, it was ranked as a panel of celebrities' second most favourite building.

The A Station's interior was given many art deco fittings by architect Halliday. The control room was given art deco fittings, Italian marble was used in the turbine hall, and polished parquet floors and wrought iron staircases were used throughout. Due to a lack of available money following the Second World War, the interior of the B Station was not given the same treatment, and instead the fittings were made from stainless steel.

Each of the two connected stations consist of a long boiler house with a chimney at each end and an adjacent turbine hall. This makes a single main structure which is of steel frame construction with brick cladding. This is similar to the skyscrapers which were built in the United States around the same time. The station is the largest brick built structure in Europe. The building's gross dimensions measure 160 metres (520 ft) by 170 metres (560 ft), with the roof of the boiler house standing at over 50 metres (160 ft). Each of the four chimneys are made from concrete and stand at a height of 103 metres (340 ft). The station also had jetty facilities for unloading coal, a coal sorting and storage area, control rooms and an admin block.

The A Station generated electricity using three turbo alternators; two with a rating of 69 megawatts (MW) and one with a rating of 105 MW. This gave the A Station a generating capacity of 243 MW. At the time of its commissioning, the 105 MW generating set was the largest in Europe. The B Station had a generating capacity 260 MW, which brought the site's generating capacity of 503 MW.


Coal transportation

Coal was usually brought to the station by collier ships, and unloaded by cranes, which are still intact on the station's riverfront

The station had an annual coal consumption of over 1, 000, 000 tonnes. The majority of this coal was delivered to the station from coal ports in Wales and North East England by collier ships. The jetty facilities used two cranes to off load coal, with the capacity of unloading two ships at one time, at a rate of 480 tonnes an hour. Coal was also delivered by rail to the east of the station using the Brighton Main Line which passes near the site. Coal was usually delivered via the jetty, rather than rail. A conveyor belt system was then used to take coal to the coal storage area or directly to the station's boiler rooms. The conveyor belt system consisted of a series of bridges connected by towers. The coal storage area was a large concrete box capable of holding 75, 000 tonnes of coal. This had an overhead gantry with a conveyor belt attached to the conveyor belt system, for taking coal from the coal store to the boiler rooms.

Water system

Water is essential to a thermal power station, as water is heated to create steam to turn the steam turbines. Water cycled through Battersea Power Station's systems was taken from the River Thames, upon whose banks it had been built. The station would extract an average of 340, 000, 000 gallons of water from the river each day. Once the water had been through the stations' systems, the water was cooled and discharged back into the river.

The waste heat of the water was also implemented in a district heating scheme. After the end of the Second World War, the London Power Company took the opportunity to introduce the new innovation in the Battersea station. A district heating scheme (better known now as "cogeneration") benefitted some 10, 000 people. It provided hot water and central heating to newly redeveloped areas within Pimlico, on the opposite side of the river.


The reduction of sulphur emissions had been an important factor since the station was in the design stages, as it was one of the main worries of those who protested the construction of the station. The London Power Company began developing an experimental technique for washing the flue gases in 1925. It used water and alkaline sprays over scrubbers of steel and timber in the flue ducts. The gases were subject to continuous washing, and with the presence of the catalyst iron oxide, sulphur dioxide was converted into sulphuric acid. Battersea Power Station was one of the first commercial applications of this technique in the world. This method of washing was stopped in the B Station in the 1960s, when it was discovered that the discharge of these products into the Thames, was more harmful to the river than the gases would be to the atmosphere.

Closure and redevelopment


The fact that the station's output continued to grow, coupled with increased operating costs, such as flue gas cleaning, led to Battersea's demise. On 17 March 1975, the A Station was closed after being in operation for 40 years. By this time the A Station's was co-firing oil and its generating capacity had reduced to 228 MW.

Three years after the closure of the A Station, rumours began to circulate that the B Station would soon follow. A campaign was then launched to try and save the building as part of the national heritage. As a result the station was declared a heritage site in 1980, when then Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Heseltine, awarded the building Grade II listed status. (This was upgraded to Grade II* listed in 2007.) On 31 October 1983 production of electricity at Station B also ended, after nearly 30 years of operation. By then the B Station's generating capacity had lowered to 146 MW. The closure of the two stations was put down largely to the generating equipment becoming out-dated, and due to the preferred choice of fuel for electricity generation shifting from coal toward, oil, gas and nuclear power. Since the station ceased generating electricity, there have been numerous proposals and attempts to redevelop the site.

Theme park proposal

The station's roof was removed in the late 1980s

Following the station's closure, the Central Electricity Generating Board had planned to demolish the station and sell the land for housing, but because of the building's Grade II listed status, they had to pay the high cost of preserving the building. In 1983 they held a competition for ideas on the redevelopment of the site. It was won by a consortium including Alton Towers Ltd, which proposed an indoor theme park, based around Britain's industrial history. At a estimated cost of 35 million, the scheme was risky and would require over 2 million visitors a year to make any profit. The scheme received planning approval in May 1986 and the site was purchased by John Broome for 1.5 million in 1987. Work on converting the site began the same year.

The project was halted in March 1989, due to lack of funding, after costs had quickly escalated that January, from 35 million to 230 million. By this point huge sections of the building's roof had been removed, so that machinery could be taken out. Without a roof, the building's steel frame work has been left exposed and its foundations have been prone to flooding.

In March 1990, the proposal was changed to a mixture of offices, shops and a hotel. This proposal was granted planning permission in August 1990, despite opposition from 14 independent organizations, including English Heritage. Despite permission being granted, no further work took place on the site between 1990 and 1993.

Parkview proposal

In 1993, the site and its outstanding debt of 70 million were bought from the Bank of America by Hong Kong based development company, Parkview International, for 10 million. Following resolution of creditors' claims, it acquired the freehold title in May 1996. In November 1996 plans for the redevelopment of the site were submitted and outline consent was received in May 1997. Detailed consent for much of the site was granted in August 2000, and the rest in May 2001. The company received full possession of the site in 2003. Having purchased the site, Parkview started work on a 1.1 billion project to restore the building and to redevelop the site into a retail, housing and leisure complex.

Parkview's project plan, called simply "The Power Station", was masterminded by architect Nicholas Grimshaw. The scheme proposed a shopping mall, with 40 to 50 restaurants, cafes and bars, 180 shops, as well as nightclubs, comedy venues and a cinema. Cosmopolitan shops would have been sited in the A Station's turbine hall, and label name shops in the B Station's turbine hall. The boiler would have been glazed over and used as a public space for installations and exhibitions. A riverside walkway would also be created, running continuously along the riverside from Vauxhall to Battersea Park.

Parkview claimed that 3, 000 jobs would be created during the construction of the project, and 9, 000 would be employed once completed, with an emphasis on local recruitment. The Battersea Power Station Community Group campaigned against the Parkview plan and argued for an alternative community-based scheme to be drawn up. The group described the plans as "a deeply unattractive project that has no affordable housing anywhere on the 38-acre (150, 000 m2) site, no decent jobs for local people and no credible public transport strategy". They also criticised how appropriate the project was in its location, and proposal of other large buildings on the site. Keith Garner of the group said "I feel that there a real problem of appropriateness. They need a completely different kind of scheme, not this airport-lounge treatment. What you see now is a majestic building looming up from the river. If you surround it with buildings 15 storeys high, you don have a landmark any more."

In 2005 Parkview, English Heritage and the London Borough of Wandsworth claimed that the reinforcement inside the chimneys was corroded and irreparable. Wandsworth Council granted permission for them to be demolished and rebuilt. However, the Twentieth Century Society, the World Monuments Fund and the Battersea Power Station Company Ltd commissioned an alternative engineers' report that claimed that the existing chimneys could be repaired. In response, Parkview claimed to have given a legally binding undertaking to the council to provide certainty that the chimneys will be replaced "like for like", in accordance with the requirements of English Heritage and the planning authorities.

REO proposal

The power station seen from the South Eastern railway

On 30 November 2006, it was announced that Real Estate Opportunities, led by Irish businessmen Richard Barrett and Johnny Ronan of Treasury Holdings, had purchased Battersea Power Station and the surrounding land for 532 million (400 million). REO subsequently announced that the previous plan by Parkview had been dropped and that it had appointed the practice of the Uruguayan-born architect Rafael Violy, of New York as the new master planner for the site. The engineers Roger Preston & Partners and Buro Happold were retained on the design team.

They announced their 4 billion plans in 2008. They include reusing part of the station building as a power station, fueled by biomass and waste. The station's existing chimneys would be utilised for venting steam. The former turbine halls would be converted to shopping spaces, and the roofless boiler house used as a park. An energy museum would also be housed inside the former station building. The restoration of the power station building would cost 150 million.

A plastic built "eco-dome" is also to be built to the east of the power station. This building was originally planned to have a large 300 metres (980 ft) chimney, but this has now been abandoned in favour of a series of smaller towers. The eco-dome would house offices, and aim to reduce energy consumption in the buildings by 67% compared to conventional office buildings, by using the towers to draw cool air through the building. 3, 200 new homes would also be built on the site to house 7, 000 people.

An essential part of the regeneration is an extension of the London Underground to service the area. The proposed extension would branch from the Northern Line at Kennington and travel west to Nine Elms and Battersea. The proposed extension would cost 350 million and would be funded by REO and other significant land owners in the Nine Elms area, making it the first privately funded extension of the London Underground.

In June 2008 a consultation process was launched, which revealed that 66% of the general public were in favour of the plans. At an event at the station on 23 March 2009, it was announced that REO were to submit the planning application for their proposal to Wandsworth Council. REO hope for construction to begin in 2011, with completion of the project by 2020.

Cultural impact

Battersea Power Station, seen from a tourist boat on the River Thames

Battersea Power Station has been featured in many forms of media and culture: it can be seen on several album covers by rock and pop groups, in a number of music videos, and has appeared in many films and television programmes in its more than 70 year history.


Album artwork

The Battersea Power Station Community Group think one of the main reasons for the power station's worldwide recognition is due to it having appeared on the cover of Pink Floyd's 1977 album, Animals, where it was photographed with the group's inflatable pink pig floating above it. The photographs were taken in early December 1976 and the inflatable pig was made by the Zeppelin Airship company. The inflatable pig was tethered to one of the power station's southern chimneys, but broke loose from its moorings and, to the astonishment of pilots in approaching planes, rose into the flight path of Heathrow Airport. Police helicopters tracked its course, until it landed in Kent. Video footage of the photoshoot was used in the promotional video for Pigs on the Wing. The album was officially launched at an event at the power station.

The Pink Floyd image has been parodied and paid homage to, for instance on:

The cover of The Orb's 1991 album, Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld.

The back cover of Les Claypool's Frog Brigade's 2001 album, Live Frogs Set 2, which is a full cover of Pink Floyd's Animals.

The station can also be seen on various other pieces of album artwork, including:

The booklet art for The Who's 1973 album, Quadrophenia.

The photograph on the sleeve of Hawkwind's 1977 album, Quark, Strangeness and Charm, is of the B Station's control room.

The cover of Jan Hammer's 1988 12" single of "The Runner (marathon mix)".

The back cover of Morrissey's 1990 album Bona Drag.

The background art for the cover of the 2001 Petula Clark boxed set, Meet Me in Battersea Park.

The cover of London Elektricity's 2005 album, Power Ballads. Silhouettes of the station's coal cranes were used on the cover of the group's Hanging Rock single.

A photograph on the inside case of Muse's 2009 album, The Resistance.

Music videos

The power station has often been used as a shooting location or as a back drop in music artists' promotional videos. Such uses include:

Footage from the photoshoot of the cover of Pink Floyd's Animals is used in a video for their 1977 song "Pigs on the Wing". During the song "Money" at their 2005 Live 8 performance, the power station was briefly shown when the camera panned out away from the stage.

The Jam shot the promotional video for their 1978 single "News Of The World" on the roof of the power station. Photos from the shoot featuring the station also appear on the sleeve of the "Snap!" compilation album.

Tori Amos filmed the video for her 1996 single "Talula" inside the station.

A scene from Bill Wyman's promotional video for his 1981 single, "Je Suis un Rock Star", shows the station in the background.

The station appears in the 1997 music video by American pop band Hanson, for their song "Where's the Love".

It was rented by Bruce Dickinson in 1999 to be a film location for the video to "Man Of Sorrows".

The band Biffy Clyro shot the music video for their 2010 single, "Many Of Horror", at the station.

Television and film

The station was used in the opening scene of Alfred Hitchcock's 1936 film, Sabotage.

In the show's history, it has appeared numerous times in the British science fiction series Doctor Who. It appeared briefly in the episode The Dalek Invasion of Earth in 1964, which saw the station in the 22nd century with two chimneys demolished, and a nearby nuclear reactor dome. It appeared again in the 2006 Doctor Who episodes "Rise of the Cybermen" and "The Age of Steel" as the base to which Londoners are drawn to be converted into Cybermen.

It appeared briefly in The Beatles' 1965 film Help!, with a caption identifying it as "a famous power station".

The station is seen in the 1967 science fiction film The Projected Man.

The A Station's control room was used as the location for the "Find The Fish" segment of Monty Python's 1983 film The Meaning of Life.

It was used as the external faade of the Victory Mansions in Michael Radford's 1984 film adaptation of George Orwell's novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Scenes of Stanley Kubrick's 1987 film Full Metal Jacket were shot inside the power station.

A stylized image of the station appears in the title sequence of Agatha Christie's Poirot, which began airing in 1989.

The power station was the location for a weather changing machine in the children's sci-fi series "The Tomorrow People" in 1994 in the episode "Monsoon Man".

The station stood in for an Eastern European military camp in the 1994 MacGyver TV movie, The Lost Treasure of Atlantis.

In Ian McKellen's 1995 film adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III, the derelict power station stands in for Bosworth Field in Richard's final battle scene.

In the "Knightsbridge" episode of Neil Gaiman's 1996 television series Neverwhere, the station appears as the aboveground landmark for the London Below Floating Market.

A computer generated version of the power station appeared briefly in the background of a 2006 episode of the ABC television series Lost entitled "Fire and Water", sporting an identifying sign saying "Widmore Construction". This was the first introduced of one of the show's principal antagonists, Charles Widmore.

In Alfonso Cuarn's 2006 film, Children of Men, the station appears converted as the "Ark Of Art" in 2027. The building contains art treasures salvaged from nations whose governments have collapsed and preserved for a "posterity". It contains a shattered and rebuilt Michelangelo's David, and Picasso's Guernica. An inflatable pig is tethered to the exterior of the building, a reference to the Animals album cover.

In May 2007, Battersea Power Station played a central role in episode 5 of series 4 of the BBC TV series New Tricks.

In October 2007, the power station was used as a filming location for the Batman movie, The Dark Knight. The station's stripped, empty interior was used as a setting for a burnt out warehouse.

Starting in December 2007, the interior of the power station was used in the film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Other uses in culture

The "Advanced Power Plant" structure in the 1996 PC game Command & Conquer: Red Alert closely resembles the power station.

The station is featured in the 1999 video game, Grand Theft Auto: London.

A brown version of the power station can be seen in the 2001 video game Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies, in the mission "Invincible Fleet".

In recent years, the building has played host to concerts and to performances by the Cirque du Soleil. In 2000, the company voiced plans to permanently convert the building into an "urban circus".

In 2004, photographer Vera Lutter used the station in several pieces of her work. She created the photographs by turning shipping containers into giant pinhole cameras and placing them in front of the building for several days.

Between the 8 October and 5 November 2006, the Serpentine Gallery took up residence in the power station for the exhibition China Power Station: Part I. It displayed the work of "an extraordinary and vibrant new generation of Chinese artists and architects".

On 23 and 24 October 2008, the station was used for the Channel 4 Freeze event. The event included a snow jump and music performances.

The 2009 video game Colin McRae: Dirt 2 allows the player to race through the disused power station.

The 2009 BBC Radio 4 radio play, The Mouse House, features a storyline centred around Battersea Power Station.

On 22 August 2009, the station was used as the venue for the final round of the Red Bull X-Fighters 2009 season.

See also

Energy use and conservation in the United Kingdom

Energy policy of the United Kingdom


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External links

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Categories: 1935 establishments | 1983 disestablishments | Coal-fired power stations in England | Buildings on the Buildings at Risk Register | London infrastructure | Tall buildings and structures in London | Buildings and structures in Wandsworth | Grade II* listed buildings in London | 1939 architecture | Redevelopment projects in London | Art Deco buildings in London | Power stations in London | CHP plants in England | Former power stations | Power stations on the River Thames

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