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Top five: Abandoned London Power Stations

3 July 2013 | London Calling

Discover the fascinating stories behind London's industrial heritage with these five abandoned power stations.

London is haunted by the remains of it’s industrial heritage. Many buildings have been lost, while others stand forgotten and abandoned. Power stations in particular made for some of the biggest inner-city buildings during their heyday, and several of them once lined the banks of the Thames. Some disused power stations are familiar to all Londoners. There’s Bankside, home to Tate Modern since 2000, and Battersea Power Station, without doubt one of London's most iconic buildings. There are plenty of other hidden remains though, each with their own fascinating back story, and often in areas not usually on the tourist trail.

Acton Lane

Located between Harlesden and Willesden Junction, the power station at Acton Lane opened in 1899 and was used for supplying electricity to parts of central and west London. Closure came in the early 80s, but this wasn't to be the end of its life just yet. Derelict industrial buildings like factories, gasworks and power stations provide the perfect backdrop for a movie scene, music video or photo shoot. The abandoned Acton Lane site was used in scenes for Aliens in 1986 and Batman in 1989. The Batman scenes filmed there include the part where Jack Nicholson’s character falls into the vat of acid and becomes the Joker. Today nothing much remains of the power station, but it’s memory lives on in two of the biggest blockbusters of the 1980s.

Croydon

The TFL Tramlink that runs from Wimbledon to Croydon is hardly the most inspiring of pleasure routes, but there are a few hidden gems along the way. Hundreds of people get off the tram everyday at the stop named Ampere Way for a retail park that's dominated by IKEA. Next to this you can find two huge brick chimneys, and these are now all that remains of what used to be Croydon Power Station. The area was once a thriving hub of industry that included factories and an airport that acted as London's main aviation hub before the opening of Heathrow. The power station opened in 1896, with various new buildings and extensions added over the years. Final closure came in 1984, followed by demolition in the 90s. The chimneys were retained as a local landmark, although they now have the dubious distinction of being topped off with IKEA’s yellow and blue branding.

Greenwich

Long before the streets of London became congested with thousands of cars; trams and trolley buses were how most Londoners commuted above ground. They were powered by electricity, but with no National Grid in the early 1900s, the various different council-owned tram companies had to produce their own power. A large power station was constructed in Greenwich which opened in 1903. By the 1930s the power station had been combined with another major site at Chelsea Creek (see below) to power London's entire tram and Underground railway network. The Tube is today powered by the National Grid, but the Greenwich facility is retained for emergency backup, and can be brought into use in a matter of minutes if need be. The gothic building is still largely intact and can be found along the Thames Path, close to Greenwich's many historical sites.

Bond Street

The Bond Street area of central London has been synonymous with high-end fashion for decades, but it also played a major role in the development of London's electrical supply history, thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of a man named Coutts Lindsay. He opened an art gallery on Bond Street in 1877 that was used to showcase artwork deemed too experimental for the larger galleries. Coutts decided that his visitors deserved electric lighting, and so he purchased his own generating equipment. His business was soon the envy of the area, and Coutts was able to start selling power to other shops. It was such a success that he opened the Grosvenor Power Station in 1885, which was later downgraded to a sub-station fed by London's first mega-sized power station at Deptford (now demolished). The small sub-station still exists today, on Bloomfield Place.

Lots Road

London's Underground railways had largely left behind the days of steam-powered trains by the turn of the 20th century. Electricity was now the most efficient way to power the Tube, and the major companies therefore had to build their own power stations. American tycoon Charles Yerkes built a huge station on Lots Road at Chelsea Creek in order to power what today are the District, Northern, Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines. When the entire network was unified in 1933, Lots Road was used to power the entire system, and did so until being decommissioned in 2002. Today this magnificent building stands abandoned but mostly intact. Its design and scale are similar to the more famous Battersea Power Station nearby, with both buildings having suffered from several botched attempts at redevelopment.

 

All of the sites listed above are included in 'London's Lost Power Stations and Gasworks', out now.

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