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London’s Lost Power Stations and Gasworks – review

Battersea Power Station

Battersea Power Station

London has an insatiable appetite for power.

For most its modern life it has been marked by colossal chimneys.

These structures are the kind of erections Ayn Rand glorified but which most people prefer to ignore, like they do sewers.

Ben Pedroche has an interest in London’s “mega sized power stations”, the industrial giants that closed decades ago as the power network changed.

Battersea and Lots Road are obvious examples, but Pedroche lists so many lost stations it makes you wonder if complaints about tall buildings ruining our skyline are really justified when it’s been ruined so many times over by tall chimneys.

But then power generation is always controversial. Anyone with an interest in the countryside will have noticed the windfarm debate.

In the 1940s plans for Bankside Power Station caused a stink because of fears it would obscure St Paul’s Cathedral opposite.

The building faced being knocked down after falling derelict but was given a new lease of life as the home of the Tate Modern.

Most of London’s great power stations were indeed lost, however, and architectural snobbery combined with their reputation as “dirty” had a lot to do with that.

Barely a trace remains of Hackney Power Station (opened 1901), the subject of political controversy twice in its lifespan; in the 1920s officials were accused of misusing revenue from running it, and in 1972 the miners strike forced it to shut.

Other local buildings featured are the Great Eastern Electric Light Generating Station in Shoreditch (now The Light Bar) and Haggerston’s gasholder frames.

Interestingly, Pedroche states hydraulic power in London was kick-started as early as 1812 when the idea of green politics would probably have baffled people.

There is also some good gear on the future of our derelict industrial sites, which can be put to innovative uses. There were, for example, plans some years ago for a giant trampoline in one of the King’s Cross gasholder frames, though these have now sadly been ditched.

London’s Lost Power Stations and Gasworks by Ben Pendroche is published by The History Press. ISBN 9780752487618. RRP £14.99

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