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Open House London 2015: Royal residences, Roman baths and Georgian townhouses

A look inside Battersea Power Station before the developers move in

Battersea Power Station © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Decline of an icon: After 29 years, Battersea Power Station is heading back to life

Battersea Power Station derelict interior © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The decline of Battersea was sped up by the removal of the roof and west wall

Battersea Power Station has come to symbolise many things over the decades – industry, dereliction, Pink Floyd. Since it was decommissioned in 1983, Londoners have witnessed the iconic 1930s landmark lie ruined and neglected over the past 29 years – with the decline of the building sped up following the removal of the roof in the late ’80s (thanks Margaret Thatcher, for approving THAT decision!). It’s no surprise the Power Station has been on English Heritage’s At Risk register for a while.

Growing up in south London, I regularly passed the Power Station on the train or in the car as I made my way back and forth over the River Thames. Throughout my life there has been various plans – and long periods of inactivity – of what to do to the former station and its huge 39 acre site. In terms of the capital, the Power Station’s land overlooking the river is a prime spot of real estate and I think it’s a crime it has been left to rack and ruin for so long. Years of neglect mean the Malaysian consortium who bought the land this year will sadly have to knock down the Grade-II listed chimneys and replace them with replicas.

Battersea Power Station derelict interior © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Glistening: A station was decked out in Art Deco fittings and Italian marble – which still exists today

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Interiors: The Art Deco ‘Cafe Society’ tile work of the staff canteen (left) and the ghosts of the wrought-iron staircases (right)

Of course, the main obstacle of turning this huge space into something usable has been the cost. The Power Station has been owned by various companies over the years and at one point in the ’80s was going to be transformed into a theme park, a prospect which excited me greatly as a child at the time, but in hindsight I’m grateful it didn’t happen. So following the purchase of the estate earlier this year and a £400million plan to transform the building and surrounding area into housing, offices and commercial areas, I’m keeping my fingers crossed this plan actually reaches fruition. Preparatory work has already begun on what is the largest brick building in Europe, with the builders moving in next year to start the 800 residential units, with phase one of the project estimated for completion in 2016.

Battersea Power Station derelict crane © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Rusting away: One of the two cranes on the jetty used to unload coal ships

Although Battersea is one of our favourite landmarks now, when it was being built from 1929 onwards, many complained it would be an eyesore. Londoners moaned it would spew out pollution into the nearby areas and there were even fears it could damage the paintings at the Tate Britain gallery a short distance down the river. In an attempt to appease concerns, acclaimed architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) was hired to design the Power Station. Scott, grandson of St Pancras architect Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878), was famous for designing the red telephone box, the Tate Modern building and Liverpool Cathedral. Construction of the A station started in 1929 and opened in 1933, with the creation of B station beginning shortly after the end of World War II and gradually coming into operation between 1953 and 1955. Once B station was up and running, Battersea had a generating capacity of 509 megawatts and was the third largest generating site in the UK and was the most thermally efficient power station in the world when it opened. Although Italian marble and Art Deco features were used in A’s turbine hall, Britain was too poor after World War II to afford the same lavish interiors for B.

Over time, the equipment became outdated. A Station was closed in March 1975, followed by B Station in October 1983. Following closure, there was talk of demolishing the Power Station, but it had been Grade II listed in 1980 ensuring its survival.

A few years ago, when Battersea was still owned by previous owners, Irish developers Real Estate Holdings, I was lucky enough to get the chance to visit the Power Station up close and see the plans. It was amazing seeing inside a building I knew so well from the outside – the Art Deco tile work, the ghostly wall markings of wrought-iron stairwells long since destroyed and the decorative wall in the old staff canteen. So here’s some of my photos of the striking station before it is transformed into a modern living and working space over the next few years.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Not exactly water-tight: The windows are in varying states of decay


For more blog posts on Giles Gilbert Scott creations, read about the red phone box.

Read about his grandfather George Gilbert Scott’s creations The Albert Memorial or Afternoon tea at The Gilbert Scott review at St Pancras.

For more of Metro Girl’s blog posts on London history, click here.

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London Calling: BT Artbox celebrates 25 years of Childline

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

‘Welcome to London’ by London & Partners by Tower Bridge

The red telephone box is one of Britain’s biggest icons – it’s up there with red London bus, Big Ben, Beefeaters, the Union Jack and Queen Elizabeth II herself. But for tourists arriving in London ahead of the Olympics, may find themselves slightly confused by the bizarre-looking phoneboxes dotted around the capital.

However, these multi-coloured and embellished street furniture haven’t been vandalised, they are simply part of the BT ArtBox project to mark the 25th anniversary of children’s charity Childline. It has invited artists and companies to customise their own replica box, which have been displayed around the city. But don’t get too carried away, these boxes don’t include a working phone should you need one, they’re simply for your viewing pleasure.

Artbox Trafalgar © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Lauren O’Farrell’s woolly ‘Dial M For Monster’ (LEFT) and Mandii Pope’s ‘Big Ben’… with the real Big Ben and Elizabeth Tower in the background

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

‘Shocking Conversation (front) and London Calling (back) outside City Hall

With the use of telephone boxes on the rapid decline since the popularity of mobile phones, I think the ArtBox project is an ingenious way to celebrate this iconic structure that draws so many tourists to pose inside them, as well as raise awareness and money for Childline. Following their display around the streets of London, they are to be auctioned off.

Before we find out about some of the Artboxes I have come across, a quick history about the real things. The first public telephone box was designed in 1920 for the Post Office and named K1 (Kiosk No.1), based on the same idea as the Police Telephone Boxes and Posts. However, the London Metropolitan Boroughs weren’t too impressed with the design and so the Fine Arts Commission judged a competition to find a more attractive and practical design. The winner was a London-born architect named Giles Gilbert Scott (who later designed Battersea Power Station) who came up with a classical style with a dome on top – inspired by Sir John Soane’s mausoleums at St Pancras Old Churchyard and Dulwich Picture Gallery.

So with the K2 design chosen, the Post Office chose to make it red so it easily to stand out to the public searching the streets for a payphone.  Various different models followed, the K3, K4 and K5, but it is the K6 one which is most famous today.

Sir Giles designed the K6 model in 1935 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of King George V. The model was rolled out across the country with the amount of public phone boxes in Britain rising from 8,000 in 1930 to 19,000 in Silver Jubilee year, rising even further to 35,000 by the time World War II broke out.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Fred Butler’s ‘Mobile Phone’ on The Strand outside Charing Cross Station (left) and London & Partner’s ‘Welcome To London’ by Tower Bridge (right)

Today, with a majority of the boxes owned by BT and a lot less attractive, modern phone boxes instead and the widespread use of mobile phones, you will find the red telephone boxes aren’t in such demand as they used to be. The days of queuing for a phone box and huffing and puffing when you’re stuck in a line behind a right chatterbox appear to be long gone.

With the BT ArtBox auction having gone live on eBay on Monday 16th July (ending Sunday 22nd July), there isn’t much time left to check out the boxes on show.

Many tourists are likely to come across the two on a traffic island in Trafalgar Square – Mandii Pope’s ‘Big Ben’ and Lauren O’Farrell’s ‘Dial M For Monster’. A short hop away outside Charing Cross Station on The Strand is Fred Butler’s Mobile Phone, designed to look like a vintage mobile. With actual buttons, it creates nostalgia for a design already outdated by Smartphones.

Another popular tourist spot where the public will come across the ArtBoxes is in Potter’s Field Park – the green expanse outside City Hall on the south bank of the River Thames. Right beside the base of Tower Bridge is London & Partner’s ‘Welcome To London’ box, a white box covered in speech bubbles with different languages to represent the multi-cultural melting pot that is London.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

‘London is drowning and I live by the River’: Peter Anderson’s ‘London Calling’ (left) and Aboud & Aboud’s ‘Shocking Conversation’ (right)

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Inspiration: Giles Gilbert Scott looked to Sir John Soane’s design of the mausoleum at Dulwich Picture Gallery for his K2 design

Less than a minute’s walk to the East of City Hall are two ArtBoxes – Aboud & Aboud’s ‘Shocking Conversation’, which looks like an unfinished box which has been partially dunked in red paint. It has been described as the colour is ‘draining out’ of the box.

Next to it stands Peter Anderson’s ‘London Calling’, which features iconic images of Joe Strummer and The Clash from the 1980s.

While most of the ArtBoxes are in and around the City and West End, some are dotted a bit further out, including Westfield Stratford, Canary Wharf and Ravenscourt Park. Just outside the West End are two located in and outside the Royal Albert Hall.

The ArtBox outside, entitled ‘Ring-A-Royal Phonebox’ created by children’s TV presenter Timmy Mallett, has a royal theme, which is very apt considering the origins of the concert venue and the fact the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge live a short walk away in Kensington Palace. Each side of the box contains some of the most popular members of the Royal Family – the Queen herself, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. Kate Middleton is recognisable with her glossy brown hair and blue dress and is pushing a pram – significant to the pressure she is under to produce a royal heir. The Queen is accompanied by one of her beloved Corgis, while Prince Harry is pulling Usain Bolt’s classic pointing pose – so the ArtBox is both celebrating the Royal Jubilee, while making a nod to the Olympics.

  • The BT Artbox exhibition is on around London from 18 June until 16 July 2012.
© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Timmy Mallett’s ‘Ring-A-Royal-Phonebox’ outside the Royal Albert Hall starring the Duchess of Cambridge, the Queen and Prince Harry


Read about another Giles Gilbert Scott creation, Battersea Power Station.

Or to learn about his grandfather Sir George Gilbert Scott’s creation, the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens.

For more of Metro Girl’s history blog posts, click here.

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