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Battersea Power Station, Wandsworth

Description: Battersea Power Station

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 14 October 1980
English Heritage Building ID: 207028

OS Grid Reference: TQ2894577506
OS Grid Coordinates: 528945, 177506
Latitude/Longitude: 51.4818, -0.1444

Location: Lambeth, Greater London SW8 4NJ

Locality: Wandsworth
County: Greater London
Country: England
Postcode: SW8 4NJ

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Listing Text


14-OCT-80 Battersea Power Station


Former electricity generating station. Built in 2 principal phases: 1929-35 and 1937-41, completed 1955. Built by the London Power Company to the design of Leonard Pearce, Engineer in Chief to the LPC, CS Allott & Son Engineers: the architects were J Theo Halliday and Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.

MATERIALS: Steel frame clad in brown Blockley bricks laid mainly in English bond; reinforced concrete roofs; that to the boiler houses currently (2005) missing; pre-cast concrete chimneys; metal-framed Crittall windows.

PLAN: approximately square on plan, comprising 2 independently-operating power stations: Station A, the western half and Station B, the eastern half. Laid out on a symmetrical plan, comprising a pair of long central boiler houses with large square pavilions - the washing towers - to each corner, surmounted by chimneys, flanked by a pair of lower, set back, turbine houses; these in turn are flanked by set back blocks containing switch houses and other ancillary spaces. Entrances to SW and SE. A vast underground coal store lies between the building and the river.

EXTERIOR: Symmetrical elevations. A low horizontal string-course of fluted concrete encircles the entire building denoting its base. Strongly articulated parapets to all elevations. Low pitched lanterns to roofs. The central, recessed, bays of the riverside (N) and S elevations have tall windows which light the boiler houses, and a fluted parapet which continues around the tower sides. The towers are the key to the composition. Their front and rear elevations are tripartite with a central projecting bay with vertical fluting, diminishing at the top. The upper parts are stepped back in a ziggurat formation as bases for the chimneys. The upper side elevations of the boiler houses are blind with lesenes demarcating the bays, and have set-back fluted parapets. The side elevations have small vertical windows and rows of transformer bays below. The S elevation of Station B is heavily fenestrated and does not match its counterpart. The chimneys are designed as fluted Doric columns and have 2 shaft rings at the top. Entrance to Station A has splendid bronze doors designed by Halliday depicting Energy personified; these are currently (2005) in storage.

INTERIOR: Internally, the principal interest lies in the functional plan form and the spaces outlined below. The central boiler houses are currently (2005) a roofless shell and await refurbishment.
Station A: Directors' entrance hall and staircase faced in grey Napoleon and Black Belgian marble and staircase; lift enclosure with steel-framed glazing and bronze doors. Marble Directors' tablet of 1933. The central boiler houses have no features of note. Machinery and floors removed from the boiler and turbine houses. Turbine House A has elaborate Art Deco finishes of biscuit-coloured faience with a blue mottled effect and darker blue string courses. The wall bays are defined by giant fluted pilasters with black faience bases; above these a steel crane gantry runner acts visually as the architrave, with faience relief panels above. The W side has 6 steel-framed oriel windows and 2 balconies at the upper levels to enable overlooking from the control room at the upper level of the adjacent switch house. Control Room A overlooks the turbine hall and has sumptuous Art Deco interior; the walls are lined with grey Ribbon Napoleon marble with fluting around the windows in Belgian Black marble. The ceiling is divided into 8 bays, each coffered and glazed with cellulose-coated decorative lights set in a steel frame, with original Holophane light fittings; and has a Vitruvian scroll frieze along the cornice soffit. It retains its original L-shaped control panel and walnut-veneer furniture.
Station B: The layout follows that of Station A with certain modifications. The turbine house is clad in blue-grey faience and follows the same bay rhythm as Turbine House A, but in a much more austere, stripped classical manner. Control Room B opens directly onto the turbine house; it is faience clad and retains its original stainless-steel control panels arranged in an arc. Ceiling supported by 2 pillars with octagonal faces on square, tapering bases. The upper control room, added in the 1950s, overlooks the turbine hall and retains control desks and panels. The switch-gear room also retains equipment.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: To the N on a jetty parallel to the river wall there are 2 cranes which were used to unload coal from collier boats. While of lesser significance, they were integral parts of the original complex and are now rare riverside features.

HISTORY: Battersea was designed to be constructed in 2 stages, planning permission being granted subject to the efficacy of the proposed 'gas washing' system. This linked the boilers to the towers, using water and alkaline sprays to remove sulphur from the gases. Station A was built 1929-35 and Station B 1937-41, the fourth (SE) chimney was added in 1955. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was commissioned as consulting architect in 1929, after construction had begun, to refashion the exterior to appease adverse public reaction. Battersea was the first British power station to rationalise large-scale electricity distribution under the National Grid (established 1927-33), supplying almost a fifth of London's electricity on completion. It was also a masterpiece of industrial design with a major architectural quality, over and above that seen in contemporary national grid stations: 'a harmonising of engineering structure with architectural expression' (Architect and Building News, 13 January 1933). Although Scott's role was to remodel a preconceived design - he did not regard Battersea as one of his best works - his brickwork envelope is one of the building's triumphs. The bold but subtle design, with detail concentrated at the upper levels, embodies Scott's advocacy of 'contrast between plain surfaces and sparse well-placed ornament just where it is needed and nowhere else'. For the first time, a contemporary architectural character was stamped on the power station as a building type, setting the standard for the next generation of 'brick cathedrals' of the 1940s and '50s. Halliday's Art Deco interiors are a remarkable translation of the jazz-age cinema aesthetic to serve a functional, industrial space and were a visitor attraction in their time. Since first built, Battersea has held iconic status as one of London's most prominent riverside landmarks and has remained in popular culture ever since, appearing on the cover of Pink Floyd 1977 album 'Animals' and in countless images of London. Station A was decommissioned in 1975 and Station B in 1983 and the building has stood derelict ever since. It is due (2005) to be converted for a range of new uses.

SUMMARY OF IMPORTANCE: Battersea Power Station is of outstanding interest on architectural grounds as a monumental example of an inter-war utilities building, designed by a leading architect of his day. The interior retains elements of high importance but has undergone considerable alteration, including the removal of all machinery. The upgrading takes into account the degree of loss, and recognises the building's powerful architectural and historic significance.

The Architect and Building News, 13 January 1933, pp 32-37
Architects' Journal, 2 November 1933 pp 563-9; 11 January 1934 pp 65-6
Glyn Boyd Harte and Gavin Stamp, Temples of Power, 1979
Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 2: South, 1983, pp 672-3
Inskip & Jenkins Architects: Battersea Power Station Conservation Plan, 2000

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.