A last look at the landmark overlooking the Thames before it is brought back to life as a new neighbourhood of London…
On 31 October 1983 the generation of power at Battersea Power Station ceased forever. If you were around in 1983 it’s possible your Betamax videocassette recorder or Commodore 64 was powered by the last watts of electricity from James Theodore Halliday and Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s giant brick masterpiece.
Derelict for much of its existence since its closure, and a victim of several failed proposals for redevelopment, the site welcomed thousands of visitors as part of Open House London weekend last month. I was fortunate to get in; I was also eager enough to get there before the gates opened and to queue for over two hours – it was worth it.
In the RIBA’s collections in the British Architectural Library are historic photographs, drawings and books (view some of them on RIBApix) that anyone can access to find out more about this landmark in Battersea and its architects. I used these as reference in preparation for my visit, but those images were of a fully-functioning power station in its prime belching smoke. What I was to see in person was radically different.
Entry into the site that weekend was from the riverfront at Chelsea Bridge, past the jetties supporting the two rusty cranes that once received the British coal, carried by ships on the Thames, used at Battersea. Once inside the building, entering between the two chimneys facing the Thames, I walked through the boiler house and there I saw the extent of the dereliction caused by the removal of the roof in the 1980s.
From here, all four chimneys defining each corner and the interior side of the crumbling walls could be seen. The presence of hundreds of excited people in the same space gave a jovial atmosphere to a scene of sombre industrial abandonment.
Many visitors (me included) were taking pictures of the same things: the instantly recognisable chimneys, the great expanses of stained brick walls, panoramic views of the turbine halls and the reflections on puddles of water.
The turbine halls on either side of the boiler house are in better condition, sadly without the machinery that once gave these spaces a purpose (see previous blog post by Jonathan Makepeace).
Much of the site around the power station has been cleared, with some parts partially landscaped with wild flowers.
If you want to get a view of the whole site, climb the Accumulator Tower (also open during Open House) in Churchill Gardens estate on the opposite bank. You’ll get a fine view of the whole city and discover the unique way homes on the estate was once heated using waste hot water from the power station.
In contrast to the long queues at Battersea, over at 66 Portland Place waiting times were less. It’s a public building and, to celebrate Open House, building tours were offered by RIBA staff to reveal hidden spaces and the history of the RIBA’s Grade II listed headquarters. Tours are available throughout the year and the building is open Monday to Saturdays. Everyone is welcome to visit.
Did you go and see Battersea during Open House or do have memories of the station? Share your thoughts with us.
Images by Wilson Yau