Battersea Power Station

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Battersea Power Station


Battersea Power Station from the river.jpg
Battersea Power Station
Grid reference: TQ28937749
Location: 51°28’54"N, 0°8’41"W
Town: Battersea
Built 1929 (A station)
1945 (B station)

Battersea Power Station is a decommissioned coal-fired power station standing on the south bank of the River Thames, in Nine Elms in Battersea, in Surrey, being redeveloped for other uses. It is considered an iconic sight on this reach of the Thames, which has preserved it from demolition: though it is far from pretty it is was designed by the great design architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and was perhaps the best that could be done for such a vast, functional building.

The building comprises two individual power stations, built in two stages in the form of a single building: Battersea A Power Station was built in the 1930s, with Battersea B Power Station to the east in the 1950s. The two stations were built to a nearly identical design, providing the long-recognized four-chimney layout.

The station ceased generating electricity in 1983, but over the past 50 years it has become one of the best known landmarks on this part of the Thames and is Grade II* listed.[1][2] The station's celebrity owes much to its sheer bulk but also to numerous popular culture references, which include the cover art of Pink Floyd's 1977 album Animals and its appearance in the 1965 Beatles' film Help!

The station is one of the largest brick buildings in the world[3] and is notable for its original, lavish Art Deco interior fittings and decor.[4] The building has remained largely unused since its closure, and the condition of the structure has been described as "very bad" by English Heritage, which included it in its Heritage at Risk Register.[5] The site was also listed on the 2004 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund.[6]

Design and specification

The power station in 1934, with the first phase operational
Battersea power station

Both of the stations were designed by a team of architects and engineers. The team was headed by Dr. 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. J. Theo 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 referred to in the press as "architect of the exterior".[7] The station was designed in the brick-cathedral style of power station design, which was popular at the time.[8] Battersea is one of a very small number of examples of this style of power station design still in existence in Britain, others being Uskmouth and Bankside.[9] The station's design proved popular straightaway, 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 The Architectural Review a panel of celebrities ranked it as their second favourite modern building.[10]

The A Station's control room was given many Art Deco fittings by architect Halliday. Italian marble was used in the turbine hall, and polished parquet floors and wrought-iron staircases were used throughout. Owing 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 consists of a long boiler house with a chimney at each end and an adjacent turbine hall. This makes a single main building which is of steel frame construction with brick cladding, similar to the skyscrapers built in the United States around the same time. The station is the largest brick structure in Europe.[4] The building's gross dimensions measure 525 feet by 558 feet, with the roof of the boiler house standing at over 160 feet. Each of the four chimneys is made from concrete and stands 338 feet tall with a base diameter of 28 feet tapering to 22 feet at the top. The station also had jetty facilities for unloading coal, a coal sorting and storage area, control rooms and an administration block.[7]

The A Station generated electricity using three turbo alternators; two 69 megawatt Metropolitan-Vickers British Thomson-Houston sets, and one 105 MW Metropolitan-Vickers set, totalling 243 MW. At the time of its commissioning, the 105 MW generating set was the largest in Europe.[11] The B Station also had three turbo alternators, all made by Metropolitan-Vickers. This consisted of two units which used 16 MW high pressure units exhausting to a 78 MW and associated with a 6 MW house alternator, giving these units a total rating of 100 MW. The third unit consisted of a 66 MW machine associated with a 6 MW house alternator, giving the unit a rating of 72 MW. Combined, these gave the B station a generating capacity of 260 MW, making the site's generating capacity 503 MW. All of the station's boilers were made by Babcock & Wilcox, fuelled by pulverised coal from pulverisers also built by Babcock & Wilcox. There were nine boilers in the A station and six in the B station. The B station's boilers were the largest ever built in the UK at that time. The B station also had the highest thermal efficiency of any power station in the country for the first twelve years of its operation.



Until the late 1930s electricity was supplied by small, municipal undertakings or were private power stations dedicated to a single industry or group of factories, with any excess electricity sold to the public. It took until 1925 for Parliament to standardise voltages and standards across the many companies and to create a single power grid. The London Power Company was formed by several local generators and set out to build a small number of very large stations:[4] of which one would by sited in the Battersea area, on the south bank of the Thames. The site was chosen for its proximity to the river for cooling water and coal delivery, and because it was in the heart of London, the station's immediate supply area.[7]

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, and of Liverpool Cathedral. He would go on to design another London power station, Bankside, which now houses Tate Modern art gallery.[4] The pollution issue was resolved by granting permission for the station on the condition that its emissions were to be treated, to ensure they were "clean and smokeless".

Construction of the first phase, the A Station, began in March 1929. The main building work was carried out by John Mowlem & Co]],[12] and the structural steelwork erection carried out by Sir William Arrol & Co. Other contractors were employed for specialist tasks.[7] Most of the electrical equipment, including the steam turbine turbo generators, was produced by Metropolitan-Vickers in Trafford Park, Manchester.[4] The building of the steel frame began in October 1930. Once completed, the construction of the brick cladding began, in March 1931. Until the construction of the B Station, the eastern wall of the boiler house was clad in corrugated metal sheeting as a temporary enclosure.[7] The A Station first generated electricity in 1933, but was not completed until 1935.[7][13] The total cost of its construction was £2,141,550.[7] Between construction beginning in 1929 and 1933, there were six fatal and 121 non-fatal accidents on the site.[14]

After the end of the Second World War, construction began on the second phase, the B Station. The station came into operation gradually between 1953 and 1955.[4] It was nearly 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, making it the third largest generating site in the United Kingdom at the time, providing a fifth of London's electricity needs (with the remainder supplied by 28 smaller stations).[15] It was also the most thermally efficient power station in the world when it opened.[4]

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.[4] 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 11 am.[16]



The station had an annual coal consumption of over 1,000,000 tons. The majority of this coal was delivered to the station from coal ports in Glamorgan and the Tyne by coastal collier ships, designed with a low-profile superstructure, fold-down funnel and masts to fit under bridges over the Thames above the Pool of London, which moored at jetties beside the power station, and where cranes could unload two ships at a time, at a rate of 480 tons 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 to the jetty, rather than by rail. A conveyor belt system was then used to take coal to the coal storage area or directly to the station's boiler rooms.

Water for the boilers was taken from the River Thames to be cycled through the system. 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 station's systems, the water was cooled and discharged back into 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.[7]


The station three years after closing

In time the station's output began to fall and costs increased, such as flue gas cleaning, and this led to Battersea's demise. On 17 March 1975, the A Station was closed after being in operation for 40 years.[17][18] By this time the A Station was co-firing oil and its generating capacity had declined to 228 MW.[18]

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 to save the building as part of the national heritage. As a result, the station was declared a heritage site in 1980, when it was granted Grade II listed status.[17] This was upgraded to Grade II* listed in 2007.[1] On 31 October 1983 production of electricity at Station B also ended, after nearly 30 years of operation.[18][19] By then the B Station's generating capacity had fallen to 146 MW.[18] The closure of the two stations was put down largely to the generating equipment becoming outdated, and the preferred choice of fuel for electricity generation shifting from coal toward oil, gas and nuclear power.[7] Since the station ceased generating electricity, there have been numerous proposals and attempts to redevelop the site.


The station roofless in the late 1980s
  • On closure the Central Electricity Generating Board planned to demolish the station and sell the land for housing, but were prevented by its listed status.
  • In 1983 a consortium led by developer David Roche[20] and the owner of Alton Towers won a competition proposing an indoor theme park, with shops and restaurants, at an estimated cost of £35 million. Though it received planning permission and work began, the scheme fell through in 1989.
  • In 1993, the site and its outstanding debt of £70 million were bought by Parkview International for £10 million,[21] with a view to a £1.1 billion project to restore the building and to redevelop the site into a retail, housing and leisure complex.[22] Several schemes were floated until relations broke down with the council over whether the corroded chimneys could be demolished and replaced rather than be repaired, as the Twentieth Century Society demanded.
  • In 2006, Real Estate Opportunities bought the station for £400 million with plans to build 3,400 homes across the site.[23] This plan fell through and it was put up for sale in 2011.[24]
  • In 2008, Chelsea Football Club were reported to be considered moving to a new purpose built stadium at the power station. The proposed stadium was to hold between 65,000 and 75,000 fans and feature a retractable roof. The proposals were designed by HOK Sport, the same company who designed Wembley Stadium. This failed with the collapse of the REO scheme in 2011.
  • In 2012, the administrators sold the site to SP Setia and Sime Darby for £400 million to develop the site.[25]
  • In January 2013, the first residential apartments went on sale.[26]
  • Apple Inc announced a plan to locate its new London headquarters in Battersea Power Station, becoming the largest office tenant with 1,400 staff across six floors in the central boiler house.[27]

In popular culture

The iconic power station

Battersea Power Station has become an iconic structure, being featured in or used as a shooting location for many films, television programmes, music videos and video games.

  • Sabotage (Alfred Hitchcock, 1936) shows the station before the construction of the B station.[28]
  • The Battle of Britain (1969) - It appears during the first daylight attack on London sequence in the 1969 film, Battle of Britain: in the film as in real life Battersea Power Station was used as a navigational landmark by the attacking Luftwaffe bombers
  • The Meaning of Life (Monty Python, 1983) - The interior of the A station's control room was used for the "Find The Fish" segment of the film.[29]
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four (Michael Radford's 1984 film). A close-up can be seen as stand-in for the exterior of a London railway station.
  • The Dark Knight, the Batman film (2007) - the power station was used as a filming location for the Batman movie,. The station's stripped, empty interior was used as a setting for a burnt out warehouse.[30]

The station appears repurposed as the Ark of the Arts in the film Children of Men, serving as a vast storage warehouse for cultural treasures. The Battersea Power Station also made a short appearance in the BBC One television series Sherlock, during a scene in the first episode of the second season, titled "A Scandal in Belgravia."

  • Doctor Who has used the power station several times. 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.

The Battersea Power Station Community Group think one of the main reasons for the power station's worldwide recognition is that it appeared on the cover of Pink Floyd's 1977 album Animals, on which it was photographed with the group's inflatable pink pig floating above it. The 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, drifted into the flight path of Heathrow Airport. Police helicopters tracked its course, until it landed in Kent.[31] Video footage of the photoshoot was used in the promotional video for the song "Pigs on the Wing". The album was officially launched at an event at the power station.[31]

In recent years, the power station has been used for various sporting, cultural and political events. Since 22 August 2009, the station has been used as a venue on the Red Bull X-Fighters season.[32] On 13 April 2010 the station was used as the venue for the launch of the Conservative Party's 2010 general election manifesto. Between 6 and 7 May 2010, the station site was used by Sky News in their coverage of the election.

Recently, Spanish poet Eduardo Moga has written about the building;[33] and a picture of it by Joel P. has been used as the cover for another Spanish writer's short tale: David Ferrer's La verdad sobre Mr. Henry Baker (cuento de Navidad).[34]

See also

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Battersea Power Station)


  1. 1.0 1.1 Battersea Power Station upgraded to Grade II*' - Rory Olcayto 5 October 2007
  2. National Heritage List 1357620: Battersea Power Station
  3. Ackroyd, Peter: 'Thames: The Biography', page 216 (Knopf Doubleday 2008)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 'History of the Construction' - Battersea Power Station Community Group
  5. 'Latest plans for Battersea power station revealed' Robert Booth in The Guardian 20 June 2008
  6. World Monuments Fund – Battersea Power Station
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 [ Putting Battersea on the map] (archived)
  8. [ Utilities and communications buildings selection guide]; Heritage Protection Department, English Heritage
  9. Shoreham Power Station on My Brighton and Hove
  10. "Our Best Buildings: A Poll of Laymen", The Manchester Guardian, 9 June 1939, p. 12
  11. "Turbine, Battersea Power Station, 31 January 1935" (ASP). Science and Society Picture Library. Retrieved 25 January 2011. 
  12. Mowlem 1822 – 1972, p.6
  13. "Frequently Asked Questions". Battersea Power Station Community Group. 11 May 2000. Retrieved 9 March 2009. 
  14. [Gilmour, J: Battersea Power Station (Accidents) - Hansard 1 May 1933
  15. Battersea Power Station: Electrifying design, BBC, Design Icons, 7 November 2013
  16. "BBC2 opening night". Archived from the original on 10 October 2012. Retrieved 11 March 2009. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Heritage Building: Battersea Power Station Community Group
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 Redmond: Coal-fired Power Stations - Hansard 16 January 1984
  19. Competition - Battersea Power Station Community Group
  20. Watts, Peter (2016). Up in Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. Paradise Road. pp. 192. ISBN 978-0-9935702-0-9. 
  21. "Brief history and introduction". Battersea Power Station Community Group. Archived from the original on 25 February 2009. Retrieved 10 March 2009. 
  22. Battersea Power Station: A timeline: Felix Lowe in The Daily Telegraph, 20 June 2008
  23. "Iconic landmark is sold for £400m". BBC News. 30 November 2006. Retrieved 30 November 2006. 
  24. BBC News – 'Battersea Power Station in London on sale', 24 February 2012
  25. 'Malaysia's Sime Darby, SP Setia Set to Buy London's Battersea': The Wall Street Journal 7 June 2012
  26. Watt a view! Inside the planned penthouse flats at Battersea Power Station where the most expensive will cost a cool £6MILLION each' - Daily Mail 10 January 2013
  27. 'Apple to create London home at Battersea Power Station'BBC News 28 September 2016
  28. 'Sabotage': Alfred Hitchcock
  29. Find the Fish – Monty Python's The Meaning of Life - YouTube
  30. "Horrified residents phone police as Batman crew create 200-foot flames at London landmark", Daily Mail
  31. 31.0 31.1 Pink Floyd - Battersea Power Station Community Group
  32. 'Red Bull X-Fighters in London: Robbie Madison interview' - The Daily Telegraph 21 August 2009
  33. Eduardo Moga, Corónicas de Ingalaterra. Un año en Londres (con algunas estancias en España), Sevilla: La Isla de Siltolá, 2015; Eduardo Moga, Corónicas de Ingalaterra. Una visión crítica de Londres, Madrid: Varasek Ediciones, 2016.
  34. David Ferrer, La verdad sobre Mr. Henry Baker (cuento de Navidad), Ávila (Spain): non-commercial edition, Dec. 2016.