Now derelict and facing an uncertain future, the four majestic chimneys of Battersea Power Station remain as one of the best loved landmarks for Londoners.
At the turn of the century, electricity was supplied in a rather haphazard manner to London businesses. Numerous companies were involved, each running a confusing array of incompatible systems, and any surplus power was made available for the community. This highly inefficient arrangement finally drove Parliament to decree that electrical generation should be supplied by one unified public company.
Although not publicly owned, the London Power Company was formed to deal with the issue, and the first proposals for Battersea 'A' were accordingly drawn up. Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (who also designed another familiar feature synonymous with Britain - the red telephone kiosk), and constructed from brick around a steel frame, the building slowly rose up along the Thames shoreline. Producing some 400,000 kilowatts, the station commenced production in 1933. Battersea Power Station is, in fact, two units joined together: the original 'A' station was a single long structure with a chimney at each end, and the 'B' station constructed in 1953 gave London its famous four-chimney, skyline silhouette. The site still remains as one of the largest brick built structures in Europe, and with the opening of the 'B' station the capacity was increased to 509 megawatts, the third largest in the UK.
In 1975 the 'A' station was closed for generation after 42 years. Amid fears that the closure of the 'B' station was also imminent, action was taken to preserve the building as part of our national heritage. The beautiful Art Deco control room in station 'A' with its Italian marble turbine hall, polished parquet flooring and wrought iron staircases, finally convinced the Secretary of State to award the building a listed Grade II status, ensuring that it could not be demolished or changed without Government consent.
Power generation ceased completely at Battersea Power Station in 1983 leaving the electricity board with the problem of what to do with a power station that could not be demolished. Various suggestions were submitted and planning permission was granted to turn the site into a theme park. However, this has proved unworkable to date as the surrounding infrastructure would be unable to cope. A state of 'stalemate' now exists between developers, Government and the local community.
As the boilers and turbines were removed in 1988 through the roof, which has never been replaced, Battersea Power Station has been left very vulnerable to the elements. As we move into a new millennium, still nothing has been done to ensure the integrity of the building, but there has been plenty of talk and speculation. Plans to demolish and rebuild the four chimneys were approved by Wandsworth council towards the end of 2005, and work is expected to commence on this project in spring 2006.