Power to the people

Cabbies pass it every day of their way to the Wyndham Grand Hotel or when taking a shortcut through Chelsea Harbour with hardly a glance in its direction and like its younger sibling Battersea downriver, Lots Road Power Station lies dormant awaiting redevelopment; this disused industrial building is the world’s oldest thermal power station and almost certainly the first steel-framed building in Britain.

[A]t the turn of the last century Edwardian’s decided, rather sensibly, that smoke filled tunnels with steam locomotives carrying passengers on London’s Underground was not the way to go, and electric driven trains was the way forward.

The bohemian painters of Chelsea objected to the removing smoke from the tunnels populated by the workers and instead discharging the pollution over their green and pleasant riverside residences. But built it was and for the present stands testament to Edwardian engineering at its very best; 220 piers supporting brickwork on a German steel frame; 453ft long, 175ft wide, 140ft high; chimneys 275ft tall; originally its 64 boilers drew water from an artesian well 500ft deep, supplemented by 60 million gallons a day drawn from the Thames via a single pipe wide enough for a horse to walk through.

At first the electricity was used to power the District Line but as demand grew and as the Underground network was extended it was burning 500 tons of coal a day; later it converted to oil and then to natural gas running eight newly installed Rolls-Royal Avon turbines.

Eventually electricity would be more cheaply obtained from the National Grid than generating the network’s own power at Lots Road and so this industrial dinosaur has now lain dormant for decades. The power station’s attractive location standing on the bank of the Thames opposite one of London’s most beautiful Georgian churches, St. Mary’s, Battersea, has made it a victim of more ubiquitous luxury flats.

Now a development planned by Sir Terry Farrell hopes to provide about 800 residential apartments and penthouses units in riverside towers of 37 and 25 storeys and the conversion of the historic Lots Road Power Station. The development will see a signature waterside restaurant, cafes, retail units and offices together with a leisure complex. Planning permission has been granted and development is underway.

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