Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

Battersea Power Station

So what do red telephone boxes, Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and the Tate Modern gallery have in common? They were all originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1860), a noted architect and designer. The sad comparison is that Battersea now stands derelict and unused, while his other major power station, Bankside, has been transformed into the magnificent Tate Modern building, which I will be passing tomorrow.

Battersea Power Station
Battersea Power Station

The first parts of this building were started in 1929 and when it was finally opened in 1939 it was the largest brick-built building in the world. Battersea also proudly possessed the largest steam turbine in Europe, with a generating capacity of 105 Mega Watts. Soon after the war the capacity was increased to 500MW and the power station enjoyed its hay-day.

Progress rolls inexorably forward and soon newer power stations were opening that generated more efficient power and at considerably lower running costs. Battersea was rapidly becoming a liability. Station A became redundant in 1975, and the last electricity was generated from Station B in 1983.

For some people of a certain age the image of the Battersea will be forever imprinted on their minds with a giant inflatable pink pig floating above the four chimneys. This was the famous LP cover for the Pink Floyd album “Animals” released in 1977. They had some real fun and games shooting this, because on the second day of shooting the inflatable pig broke free from its moorings and caused havoc with the Heathrow air traffic control system until it finally came to earth again in a field somewhere in Kent.

There are currently several different ideas of what could be done with the building, including developing it as a technology centre, but now it stands forlornly by the side of the Thames, waiting for new occupants to bring it back to life.

The detour is another drudge around the noisy, dusty streets of Nine Elms. Apparently named because at one time there were nine glorious elm trees that graced the area, but now the only thing that gives any benefit whatsoever is a well placed Tesco Express that sells refreshing cans of pop, of which one is quickly downed to ease the body through the grim surroundings.

Prince of Wales Drive is the rather grand name for the road running past the power station. It also runs past the famous Battersea Dogs Home, and a few yaps can be heard as I pass by. There is something very strange about the pavement. There is a marked cycle lane upon it. All very well, but when the cycle lane approaches a lamp post it swerves around it, reducing the pedestrian walkway by half, but keeping the cycle lane. So to stop the local lycra-louts from smashing into a cast iron lamp post Wandsworth Council sends them into the pedestrians instead. Where do they find these people?

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