Battersea Power Station has lay dormant since the 31st October 1983, A Station having closed on the 17th March 1975. In 1980 it was declared a heritage site by Michael Heseltine and awarded a Grade II listed status. Since then a number of proposals for the sites future have been suggested, including the creation of a theme park! A seven phase redevelopment plan is now underway, that will include internal and external restoration of the Stations art deco features. But in order to fully explain the importance of the site we need to look beyond its iconic architecture.
On completion of A Station (1934) there existed two chimneys (after the 1950s B phase it would become the largest brick building in Europe). Battersea replaced a localised system of electrical production and distribution dating from before the First World War. The London Power Company Ltd faced many difficulties in building the new plant but the result was an engineering triumph: containing the largest turbine in Europe (for c20 years).
Coal was delivered daily by six steamers, off-loaded by cranes onto conveyor belts and then either stored in the Coal House or transferred to the Boiler House. These belts were a small but significant engineering triumph, they ran forwards and backwards thereby maximising efficiency (conveying between 240-400 tons per hour). The whole site was encircled by rail tracks ‘serving for the effective marshalling of full and empty coal trucks for ash removal’ and the delivery of goods to the Turbine Hall and Workshop Store. The sites success was largely down to these different elements of engineering coming together to create a fully integrated delivery process: the lifeblood of 243MW of power production.
Thousands of workers were employed to construct and run the Stations’ mechanical heart. The Turbine Hall housed three cylinder turbines. Each one had its own set of feed water heaters, evaporators and pumps that formed a unit assembly. Placed down the centre of the Hall they ran 24 hours a day to provide light and electric to thousands of homes. Factories depended upon them to supply light and to power their electric motors. The turbines were so big that they had to be transported from Manchester to Battersea in sections, set up in position and fitted together in-situ. Therefore, they had not been fully tested prior installation, relying instead on engineers to craft the gears and parts with minute accuracy and precision. The hall itself runs 475 feet long and 80 feet wide, a glass roof rising to an apex 100 feet above. Down either side of the hall are a long row of fluted columns that were faced with marbled tiles, the walls being faced with the same tiles made to resemble blocks of masonry. The floors are made from oil-proofed compressed mosaic. Handrails are made from specially processed steel, designed to retain lustre and provide natural light. The centre of the Station was a combination of electrical, mechanical and civil engineering, as well as interior design, materials science and architecture.
In approximately three years the famous buff chimneys reached 337 ft. 6 inches. Each chimney, if it put on its side, would be large enough to serve as a tube station: each is 28 feet in diameter at the inside of the base, tapering to 22 feet at the top. Thus a tube train could run through it, a platform could be built and passengers would find a loftier than normal station.
The Company’s own plaque summarises their achievement and import of the Station:
‘On St George’s Day in the year of the centenary of Michael Faraday’s great discovery this stone of commemoration… was placed as a landmark in the development of Larger London’s light and power and to serve as another memorial of the scientific heritage derived from famous Englishmen’. (23 April 1931)
The lasting appeal of Battersea Power Station is its combination of the mechanical alongside the design; a symbiosis of machinery and architecture.