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Home arrow Articles arrow Miscellaneous Articles arrow Battersea Power Station Revisited
Battersea Power Station Revisited Print E-mail
Written by Ian McKenzie   
Thursday, 11 May 2023

Battersea Power Station logoOur thanks to BD regular Ian McKenzie who shares his recollections of Battersea Power Station in London, from 1977, when Animals was released, in 1981, en route to seeing Pink Floyd at Earls Court for The Wall, and then - bringing the story up to date - a very recent visit as part of his birthday celebrations! Ian talks about the refurbished building, including the lift which takes you to the top of one of the rebuilt chimneys, giving you an Algie-eye's view of the surroundings. Needless to say, some of his images and descriptions might be considered spoilers if you are considering a visit - or indeed, if you've been a bit unsure, he might have convinced you it is worth a visit. For more information on visiting the site, and what's there, check out BatterseaPowerStation.co.uk. Now, over to Ian:

Having discovered Pink Floyd in 1976, I can remember the release of the Animals album in early 1977. However, as I was in my early teens and surviving on pocket money, I was unable to afford to buy the album until I was on holiday in July of the same year. Even though I was unable to play the album until I returned home from the holiday, I was completely intrigued by the building on the album cover. I was convinced that this building didn’t actually exist and that the cover was just an elaborate illustration. However, the black and white photos inside the album sleeve certainly looked real enough and at some point over the coming weeks I learned that the building in question was Battersea Power Station in London. Regardless of Animals being one of my favourite Pink Floyd albums, I have also found the building itself to be particularly fascinating.

Fast forward to 1981 and I was in London to see one of the Pink Floyd The Wall shows at Earls Court. I’d also been lucky enough to have seen this show at the same venue the year before, and I decided on my return to try to get a glimpse of Battersea Power Station before heading to the concert in my Pink Floyd tee-shirt and velvet jacket (the height of fashion in 1981, honest). I’d worked out from a map that probably the easiest means of seeing the power station would be from Chelsea Bridge, so I headed south from Sloane Square tube station along Chelsea Bridge Road. I managed to spot the power station before reaching the bridge and I was very impressed to see it in all its glory from the bridge itself. It was a lovely sunny day with a fairly clear blue sky, so I managed to capture a photo or two with my recently acquired Rollei 35mm compact camera [see picture below]. This was the same camera that I used later that evening to capture some photos of the concert itself. These pics can be seen elsewhere on the Brain Damage website - follow this link to see them.

Battersea Power Station - Picture by Ian McKenzie

I don’t recall seeing Battersea Power Station again after that trip in 1981, other than on the television, in magazines or on the Internet. I’ve read many articles over the years regarding the fate of the building following its closure as a working coal fired power station c1983. Certainly, despite it being a Grade II listed building, there have been times when it looked like the power station was destined to be demolished. I’d also discovered that a view of the power station from a very similar vantage point to that of the Animals album cover could be obtained from the nearby Duchess pub on Battersea Park Road. Hence, I was determined to visit this pub one day to see this view before the power station was demolished. As many will already know, for a number of years there was been a massive regeneration of the power station and the area surrounding it in Battersea. I’d been able to keep up with some of the ‘progress’ on this regeneration via Google Street View. Therefore, I was somewhat disappointed to discover that at a certain point in time some of the recent development meant that the view of the power station from the Duchess Belle pub, as it’s now called, had been partially obscured by some newly built apartment blocks. For this reason, I gave up on the idea of visiting this pub when I was in London.

Fast forward again to 2023 and I had a milestone birthday approaching. We were looking for somewhere unique to visit as part of my birthday celebrations and we settled on the recently competed and opened Battersea Power Station project. This gave me an opportunity to dig out the old photos from 1981, but not the velvet jacket, and retrace the trip that I took down to Chelsea Bridge and take some new pictures. However, on this occasion it was actually possible to visit the power station itself, as it’s now full of shops, restaurants, bars, exhibits and something that we had pre-booked, named ‘Lift 109’.

The view of Battersea Power Station from the Chelsea Bridge has changed significantly since 1981 and, unfortunately, much of the building is now obscured by apartment blocks. However, it’s only a half mile walk from the north side of Chelsea Bridge to the power station and, once you’ve walked under the south side of the Grosvenor Railway Bridge, you do get a great view of the north face of the power station and two of its huge chimneys. Inside the power station is just as impressive and, even if you’re not a fan of shopping (I’m not), there is still a lot to see in there. There are exhibits showing its past as a working power station and also various references to its iconic cultural status. I was obviously intrigued to know whether there were any nods to its link to Pink Floyd and its use for, what I consider to be, one of the greatest album covers of all time. Luckily, I wasn’t to be disappointed.

Battersea Power Station - Picture by Ian McKenzie
 
Battersea Power Station - Picture by Ian McKenzie
 
Battersea Power Station - Picture by Ian McKenzie
 
Battersea Power Station - Picture by Ian McKenzie
 
Battersea Power Station - Picture by Ian McKenzie
 
Battersea Power Station - Picture by Ian McKenzie
 
Battersea Power Station - Picture by Ian McKenzie
 
Battersea Power Station - Picture by Ian McKenzie

I discovered several references to Pink Floyd on some of the wall panels inside the building and also briefly on the large video screen by the entrance to the Lift 109 attraction. Lift 109 is a 360 degree glass lift that takes you directly up inside and to the very top of the north west chimney of the power station. Before ascending this lift, there are a number of interactive exhibits and various information panels regarding the building’s former use for generating electricity and also it becoming a cultural icon, for which some of the credit is given to its use on the cover of the Pink Floyd Animals album. The use of Battersea Power Station in television, cinema and music are also explained, including the Hipgnosis designed album cover for the 1977 Hawkwind album Quark, Strangeness and Charm. It would seem that this particular album cover was photographed either in the Control Room A or Control Room B of the power station. Both of these control rooms still exist, with the latter now being a cocktail bar and looking remarkably like the cover for the Quark, Strangeness and Charm album. I understand the older, but grander, Control Room A is only accessible for special events, though it can be partially seen from a distance through glass windows from certain vantage points in the power station.

Battersea Power Station - Picture by Ian McKenzie
 
Battersea Power Station - Picture by Ian McKenzie
 
Battersea Power Station - Picture by Ian McKenzie
 
Battersea Power Station - Picture by Ian McKenzie

After the interactive exhibits, you proceed as a group into a multi media room where there are several interactive projections on the walls. The projected images are accompanied by music that has to have been inspired by early Pink Floyd (well, in my head anyway). You proceed from here up to a conventional lift followed by a large spiral staircase within the chimney. You then enter the glass lift which travels upwards inside the chimney moving past circles of neon lights whilst listening to some music that must have been inspired by Pink Floyd’s On the Run together with U2’s Where the Streets Have No Name (well, in my head again). It takes less than a minute to reach the top of the chimney (which is 109m high….hence, the name!). The 360 degree views across London from here are superb and, for us Floyd fans, being able to get a ‘pig’s eye’ view of the power station and its surroundings is a bit surreal. You remain inside the lift at the top of the chimney for about 8 minutes before it descends back down through the chimney to then pick up a conventional lift which takes you to the exit that, inevitably, takes you through the gift shop. Whilst it’s not exactly a gift shop full of Pink Floyd ‘stuff’, as had been the case for the Their Mortal Remains exhibition in London, there were a couple of Floyd related items in there. There were copies of the 2018 remix of Animals available and also a table full of ‘Stress Pigs’. Some of these pigs had mysteriously migrated over to where these Animals CDs and vinyl albums were on display, probably to remind folks as to why the pigs might be there in the first place.

Battersea Power Station - Picture by Ian McKenzie
 
Battersea Power Station - Picture by Ian McKenzie
 
Battersea Power Station - Picture by Ian McKenzie
 
Battersea Power Station - Picture by Ian McKenzie

All in all, the power station was a great place to visit, with the Lift 109 attraction being the highlight of our trip. Whilst the high end shops in particular make the place a giant monument to consumerism, the fact that the great building was not just completely flattened is a huge bonus. It is definitely a shame that many of the views of the power station are now obscured by apartment blocks, but it’s almost certainly the sale of these that has funded the rebuilding and preservation of the building itself.

Well worth a visit and, other than the Lift 109 attraction, it’s free. Furthermore, if you really do want to buy a Stress Pig for £4, you can still go into the Lift 109 gift shop without having to buy a ticket for the lift!

UPDATE: BD visitor Vaughan read this, enjoyed it, and "wanted to share my own memories of the place. I hope you'll find the account interesting.

"I visited London in 1985 to visit a friend who had moved there from the U.S.. The train from the airport to Victoria Station went right by the power station (which I didn't even see at that point; nor had it even occurred to me to look for it while in London). Abbey Road Studios was high on my list, but I'd completely forgotten about the power station.

"Well, one day, my friend and I were walking around a graveyard in Hampstead - beside a church in Church Row - when we came to a clearing, from which you could see much of the city.

"I saw four familiar chimneys in the distance and immediately decided to set out on a quest. (My friend made fun of me for wanting to see a big, abandoned building.)

"When I got to the site, I spoke to the security guard who was stationed there. He was very friendly and was familiar with Floyd's legacy. He also gave me a book about the power station titled 'Landmark of London'. The book also had a postcard in it!

"Needless to say, I got the last laugh on my friend, who was completely dumbfounded when I showed him the postcard and book. His jaw dropped and he shook his head in disbelief. I made it a point to look for the power station on the way back to the airport. What a stunning sight it was!"

 
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