London, England

Completing the square

Date January 2010
Posted June 2011
Returning to London's iconic Battersea Power Station
Quietly the two of us crept across the open wasteland, not far from a perimeter cast by bright floodlights that had been dotted here and there amongst the weeds and the dirt. Before us shone the bright white stacks of that giant cathedral to British Industry, Battersea Power Station.

Battersea Power Station, London, England (2006) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

Our entry into this gigantic brick-built husk was, by the standards of coming years, reasonably easy. A wooden board, half flapping in the wind, provided a wide enough aperture through which to fit. My comrade in this endeavour, zero, climbed up into the scaffolding and passed inside. Quickly I followed, looking back to make sure we hadn't been seen. Once inside the stairwell we were free to venture upward.

The doors to the control room, the showpiece of the station, were locked with hasp and padlock. Nearby though there was another way in, squeezing through a small aperture cut into the wall, presumably once used for cable routing or an air-vent. As we'd clambered over some wooden boarding to reach this area, we were now outside of the safety controlled zone. Accordingly we were now exposed to crumbling concrete, rusty girders and one big drop into the darkness below.

Battersea Power Station, London, England (2010) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

Battersea Power Station, London, England (2006) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

This side of the plant, 'A Station', was the first to be built, and at that time the structure only had two chimneys. One of those original stacks we reached the base of via the scaffolding that's been wrapped around the brickwork below it for as long as I can remember. Down below very little was left, save for those control rooms: the boiler house and turbine halls are all but empty. But then that's not what you come here for. The size of the building, its iconic status and the games played to reach its inner quarters guarantee an unforgettable experience.

From the chimney we returned to ground level, hoping to reach the other half of the station, which would required us to cross the expanse of the boiler house. At some point a 4x4 drove past and we could see hi-vis wearing security walking nearby. For some time we stayed still, each hidden at the base of one of the massive vertical girders stretching down from above. It was getting light, we'd been here too long, and maybe been seen. When it appeared that nobody was looking we slipped into the darkness and escaped.

Battersea Power Station, London, England (2010) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

And like that, 'B Station' with its futuristic control panels, had eluded me, and did so until a return visit in early 2010. Somewhere in between these two trips was one of a different nature entirely, an escapade unconcerned with exploration or endless close-up photos of electricity gauges and dials. The story of that night merits its own post, one that will follow in due course.

Returning though brought with it problems similar to those of the previous visits: how not to be seen. The grounds are patrolled and reasonably well secured, and unofficial visitors are simply not wanted. Preferring not to end up running into anyone this little band crouched between piles of broken concrete looking for a way through. Sometime later and we found it, darting between shadows and walls, doorways and ditches. Now inside we could be fairly certain that there'd be no interruption. Once more we took to the stairs.

Battersea Power Station, London, England (2010) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

Battersea Power Station, London, England (2010) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

And so on this night, finally I stepped into the stainless steel wonderland of the B Station control room. Clearly the budget had been less than that available for the opposite side, but Britain was still feeling the effects of WW2. And despite this, the facility is no less interesting, making up for elegant styling with a distinctly space-age feel. Lost in a dreamy state wondering what it would've been like to work here, at least now I could mess with the dials and switches without having to worry about the consequences.

For good measure, and because the night was clear, our little party took to the roof. Staring out from the battlements of this castle there was reassurance (as if needed) that my tampering with the control panels had not caused power outages across the city. The lights continued to shimmer, now unneeding of this silent beast beside the Thames. Down below a security patrol passed by - this our cue to hurry back to the ground and make good our exit.

Battersea Power Station, London, England (2010) courtesy of adventuretwo.net

Few who visit the power station in such a manner leave untouched by its magnitude. Despite the fact it has been gutted and largely abandoned, speculated over and ultimately resigned to uncertainty, the towering structure stands as resolute as ever.

For me the story began passing by on trains into London Victoria 10 years ago, wondering what it would be like to step within such a massive arena that even in the daytime seemed to be pitch-dark inside. It finished now preparing to drop down into the street again. I turned to contemplate the station a last time, satisfied that now this little project was complete.
Make someone happy...