At Battersea Power Station

Photo Credit – John Bolitho

Dear Readers, there are many iconic buildings in London, but Battersea Power Station has had a more chequered history than most. It was designed as a ‘cathedral of power’, like the building that now houses Tate Modern, and the architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was drafted in in the latter stages of construction to give it an Art Deco feel. Battersea Power Station is actually two power stations housed in the same location – Battersea ‘A’ was built in the 1930s and Battersea ‘B’ in the 1950s.

This was a coal-fired station, with over a million tonnes of coal delivered from Wales and the North East by barge every year, and very dirty and polluting it was too, although it was one of the first power-stations in the world to use ‘scrubbers’ to wash the sulphur dioxide from the flue gases. Alas, the effluent was then washed into the Thames, where it was found to be more polluting to the water than the gases would have been to the atmosphere. At its peak in 1965 Battersea Power Station provided 1500 Gigawatt Hours of energy to London, and the waste heat from the generation was heating homes in the Churchill Gardens Estate in Pimlico that I visited on my Pimlico Tree Walk a few weeks ago. It was strange to see the tower of the old Pimlico District Heating Undertaking from the south side of the river.

The Churchill Gardens Estate from the south bank

In 1977 the building featured on the album cover for Pink Floyd’s ‘Animals’. I had always assumed that the pig suspended  between the chimneys was done by some kind of pre-Photoshop trickery, but no, there was an actual inflatable pig who was tethered to the South Chimney. The pig managed to break away in a gust of wind and ‘flew’ into the Heathrow airport flight path, whereupon it was tracked on its journey by police helicopter. The pig eventually landed in Kent, no doubt to everyone’s relief. ‘Animals’ is loosely based on Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’, though it’s a critique of Capitalism rather than Stalinism. The shenanigans in the years after the station’s closure make that rather ironic.

 

The power station was closed in 1986 – it was too expensive to run, and the building was falling into disrepair. There then followed nearly forty years of disputes about what was to be done with it. It was Grade II listed in 1980 by the Environment Minister, Michael Heseltine, but I remember passing the power station on the way from Waterloo for many years, watching as it looked more and more decrepit. At one point it was going to be a theme park, then various property companies considered developing the site, but realised that it would be too expensive. The chimneys in particular were a problem – years of toxic, corrosive smoke had damaged them, but Battersea without its chimneys was just not going to be accepted by Londoners.

At various points, Battersea Power Station was going to be turned into a theme park, a shopping mall, a biomass generator and energy museum, an urban park and a football stadium for Chelsea F.C. Companies pulled out, companies went into liquidation, and things looked pretty bleak. However, in 2012 the site was purchased by a Malaysian consortium. The plans include:

‘…. the restoration of the historic Power Station itself, the creation of a new riverside park to the north of the Power Station and the creation of a new High Street which is designed to link the future entrance to Battersea Power Station tube station with the Power Station’ (Wikipedia)

And so, when I heard that the new Northern Line extension to Battersea Power Station was opening this week, I decided to go along, just to make sure that they were doing everything properly.

The new station is what you might call ‘neo-industrial’ if you wanted to invent a whole new school of architecture. It reminds me of some of the Jubilee Line stations, but these were designed when there was a lot more money about for flourishes and inventiveness.

There is one piece of art above the ticket machines that changes colour.

Outside there’s an interesting roof and a view of the power station.

Battersea Power Station Station 🙂

No inflatable pigs today!

Incidentally, the chimneys are like-for-like replacements after the originals were found to be beyond repair. Two huge cranes that used to move the coal from the barges, and the Art Deco interior of the power station will be restored.

There is lots of quasi-Piet Oudolf prairie planting about.

And there also seems to be a liking for corten steel, which is already rusted. I rather like it too, mainly because I love the deep orange and chestnut colour.

It also blends beautifully with the colour of the Power Station bricks.

The apartments start at £1.1m for a one bed, and go up to £8.5m for a three-bedroom, three bathroom penthouse with a terrace. Blimey! The more expensive flats seem to have at least half of one of those long cathedral windows, from which you’d currently get a view of an extensive building site and the Battersea helipad from which you could presumably make a quick getaway if the urge came upon you.

Opposite there is another suite of apartment buildings that remind me a little of the Fred and Ginger building in Prague, though without the same degree of quirkiness.

There was some more prairie-planting here, and also a group of blonde women with a photographer – I wondered if this was for some images of the flats with attractive people sipping wine, knocking up a salad, looking wistfully out of their full-length windows at the view of London etc etc.

Apparently this is the first time that you’ve been able to walk down to the Thames from the Power Station site as a member of the public since the Power Station was commissioned. You can get an Uber Boat along the river for a mere £7.30 per person ahem. It seems a shame that it isn’t on the main TFL River Boat network. Another piece of shenanigans is that the whole site is in Zone 1 on the tube network, whereas other places which are actually closer to the centre are in Zone 2. One wonders if a deal was done with the property developers to make their homes more desirable.

There are various restaurants and coffee bars on what’s described as . The one that we chose was obviously not geared up for the increase in traffic since the tube station opened, as it was one of the Fawlty-Toweresque occasions when getting a Flat White takes longer than going to Brazil and actually picking the beans, but as all restaurants are facing such challenges with staffing at the moment I shall not name and shame them. Hopefully things will get better over time.

There used to be peregrines nesting at here, and I do believe that I caught a glimpse of one. Fingers crossed! There’s also a thriving colony of starlings on one of the gantries.

Yet more prairie-planting! It’s obviously all the rage!

So it’s nice to be able to get close to Battersea Power Station and admire it from close up. What I’m really looking forward to is getting a look at the inside of the building – it appears that there will be retail outlets inside, so presumably they’ll let the public in to spend their hard-earned dosh. There will also be a riverside park, and it will be interesting to see what they do with that. There’s a new theatre in the railway arches next to the site, and I hope there will be room for some quirky shops and restaurants, not just chains. Let’s see what happens next.

5 thoughts on “At Battersea Power Station

  1. Anne

    I look forward to your next report on the developments. There is acopy of the Battersea Power Station, known as the Old Swartkops Power Station about 11km outside Port Elizabeth.

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  2. Susan

    Thanks so much for this. The power station is a building I’ve always loved, and though I wish it could have had a less commercial use, it’s lovely to see it looking beautiful again. In 2018 I went to a March for Our Lives protest at the new American embassy nearby, but the area was still very much one big construction site, with many streets closed. I’m glad to have a chance for another look through your photos. I hope in the year ahead I will be able to see it all for myself!

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