The case of the missing chimneys: Lots Road Power Station

Lots Road Power Station is the overlooked older brother of the flashier and more famous Battersea Power Station. It never starred on an album cover. Unlike their cousin Bankside it hasn’t been turned into an art gallery. But when it was built it was the biggest in the world. For years it provided the power for the tube network. It survived the blitz despite being right on the Luftwaffe’s flight path. And unlike its cousins it sat on a little street by the river among the terraced streets at the industrial fringe of Chelsea.

It started generating electricity in 1905. The four brick chimneys belched out smoke for a good part of the twentieth century though not in this picture, which shows some proud men from the building company perched at the top:

They’re probably not the actual bricklayers.  Not being too good with heights myself my thoughts are of the photographer who must have had to ascend one of the other chimneys to get the picture.

Here’s the station in an aerial view of 1921.

You can also see the railway yard in front of the station where many years later the sumptuous dwellings of Chelsea Harbour were built. Look again at a wider view in 1936.

You can see Chelsea football ground on the right. You can also see the station in the centre of an industrial zone. Gasometers to the north, warehouse and factories on the south side of the river.

Which is fascinating of course. But I know what you’re wondering. What about those chimneys? Well take a last look at them in 1950 across the mud of Chelsea Reach:

In the background you can see Fulham Power Station with its row of four chimneys in line.

Now we move on to 1968:

Just three chimneys now, giving the building an unsymmetrical look. The station had converted from coal-fired to oil-fired generators. But it didn’t end there.

By 1979 a second chimney has gone. The station goes on providing power but the railway lands look quiet. It looks as though activity on the site had reduced to a much lower level. Look back at the 1921 picture. See how far the creek extended then, the barges and the lines of railway trucks. By contrast in the 1979 picture you can see how ready it was for subsequent development.

Lots Road power station stopped generating in 2002. There have been attempts at redevelopment and regeneration. The roof has been removed, a tradition in these cases but whatever unlikely plans exist are as far as I know currently suspended.

Some of these power stations are curiously resilient so who knows what the future may bring for Lots Road? It’s best to remember it at the height of its power, pouring out smoke into the cold air at dusk.

I hope you liked the aerial photos. We have a good many of those in the collection and you might be seeing more of them in the future.

20 responses to “The case of the missing chimneys: Lots Road Power Station

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