Inside Greenwich Power Station

Something a bit special for all you Secret Greenwich fans today, folks. I was absolutely delighted to be contacted yesterday by Peter, who had read about our futile attempts to get inside Greenwich Power Station, our speculations about what might be inside that giant hall – and my Phantom fantasies about the secretive turret that surely must at least contain a Mrs Rochester-style lunatic from a Gothic romance…

Peter tells me “About a year ago now I had the privilege of having what may have been the last tour of the power station before health and safety intervened and put so many barriers in the way of said tours that they may never happen again. A group of us were given a short presentation of the history of the Power Station and got the grand tour that followed, with access to all those little glory holes you never normally see when on a guided tour.”

Peter took some photos while he was there, and thought we’d like to see them. He apologises for the quality; the light levels were low, but IMHO he has nothing to worry about – for me, who has never seen any pictures of the interior, it’s a revelation to see something so beautiful on our very doorstep, and yet completely impossible to view unless you actually work there.

I mean – just look at this wonderful high ceiling, with the giant, vertigo-inducing gantry spanning it. Presumably the original turbines would have taken up more room than the present ones. “Big rooms of empty space,” admits Peter, “a small staff and 7 gas powered Rolls Royce jet engines to run the turbines.”

A lot of people think that the power station isn’t actually used any more. That’s not true – but it’s not permanently switched on. “The site only gets run up occasionally to test the jet engines that provide instant power when needed and even more occasionally to provide emergency backup power for the Underground.”

Nevertheless, it still requires staff and sadly not, as I’ve often liked to imagine, Oompa-Loompas. “The site is manned by relatively few people that actually live (some of them) many hours drive away,” says Peter. “When they are off-shift they live and sleep in barracks on site…so in an emergency there’s often more than just the shift on duty available.”

He says that a lot of overdue maintenance is done, as a labour of love, off-shift, as a way to pass the time in the barracks, though he also saw an old Jaguar car resting up under tarpaulins the restoration project of one of the site engineers…sadly there are no pictures.

As a nod to security issues, Peter hasn’t included any pictures of the control rooms, but he reckons “really, there was only one thing of interest and that was a beautiful cast iron bracket off a column and supporting a beam above, lovely curves on the webbing of the bracket – other than that it’s just grey boxes lights and dials.”

But what of that secretive turret, perched, somewhat pointlessly on the south-east edge of the site? Sadly we still don’t have an answer. Peter tells me that the cottage (the station manager’s house)has been abandoned for years – and someone’s lost the key to the tower.

How can they live with such a mystery? There could be anything behind that door. Some day, one of those barracked workers will, in a moment of stir-crazed lunacy, fashion a rudimentary key out of a paperclip and enter another world.

Perhaps he will find the mad master of the station who became trapped and forgotten during the Blitz. Maybe, like Sir Walter Scott who became a national hero rediscovering the lost Scottish crown jewels by looking in a cupboard no one had bothered to try for ages, he will find the great Greenwich Hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold. What if there’s a magic portal through to a parallel universe, and we don’t even know about it?

I can’t believe no one’s looked, and hope someone does soon. But in the meanwhile, for all you industrial history fans, whilst tipping the spectral tricon to Peter for taking compassion on a frustrated Phantom who’s so long wanted to see inside, I leave you with some rivets to enjoy…


18 Comments to “Inside Greenwich Power Station”

  1. moi says:

    Wow. This is amazing, thankyou Phantom for sharing them.

  2. Gwladys gets suspicious says:

    Great post Phantom. Fancy losing the key to the Gothic tower- I don't believe it- I reckon a dark state secret is walled up in there.

  3. Virgil says:

    well thanks for that Phanthom.
    I've long suspected that the Dome windows at the end were suspiciuosly well suited to the profile of Thunderbird 2, with Thunderbird's 1 and 3 launchpads cleverly hidden in the chinmeys, and Thunderbird 4 obviously having a secret underwater conduit into the Thames. I suppose I won't have to watch out for a glimpse of Lady P anymore…

  4. The Greenwich Phantom says:

    Ah – but maybe Peter got it wrong and it was a pink Rolls Royce, not a Jaguar, under that tarpaulin!

    And there are several things 'under wraps' in those photos. I wouldn't rule out Thunderbird 2 completely.

  5. Latelygay says:

    <>

    [EDGAR LUSTGARTEN V/O] "It was impossible to know just how long the bones of the late Lord Lucan had been mouldering in the Gothic tower, but perhaps the great mystery was exactly how Shergar had managed the stairs!"

  6. Anonymous says:

    Some do say that it is the lost third entrance to Narnia at the top of the tower, maybe the lost key is on the inside of the door.
    Peter

  7. Jo A says:

    I'm certain I saw Miss Havisham looking out from the tower. I think it's her London pied a terre…

  8. Paul says:

    Fab post, Phant.

    WE were walking by one day when an engineer was standing in a doorway – he let us have look in; and also told us about the ghosts.

    He said if you're in the office section at night, you can hear steps on the metal walkways – but when you come out of the office and look… there's never anyone there… (cue spooky theremin noise)

  9. pacard says:

    it reminds me of the Rodinsky's room on the top of the old synagogue…how can they not know and not wanting to know?

  10. Benedict says:

    I love the first picture, reminds me of St Pancras, what a lucky chap to have had a look and thanks for sharing them with us.What an amazing space and I'm glad it still gets used on the odd occasion.
    I think Dorian Gray is holed up in the tower with the ghost of Duke Humphrey……

  11. Sunay Modesto Khan says:

    Goddammit that makes me so jealous. The power station is possibly my favourite building in London (and not many people say that!) – I'd even considered joining the industrial history society in case I got a chance of getting in to have a look. Pity they can't open up for a day like they did with Battersea power station a couple of years ago so us geeks could take a few snaps – surely Greenwich is safer? As to the tower, I've heard it's an alternative route for Jamie when his magic torch batteries pack up.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I always thought that the power station would eventually become 'Tate Meridian' and add itself to the Modern and Britain.

    Who knows . . . ?

  13. Kate says:

    I love the power station in combination with Trinity Hospital which is another fab building and well worth an explore come Open House weekend. Thanks TGP & Peter…

  14. Kratch says:

    Wow – thank you Phantom. What a post! The power station's also my favourite building in Greenwich – when I see it I know I'm home.

  15. [...] few months ago Peter delighted us all with his photos and more photos of Greenwich Power Station, but I held back the picture above, which he also sent, [...]

  16. Brian says:

    The reason why the building is so large and high is simple.
    It was originally built to house large reciprocating engines of the “Manhatten” type. They were soon replaced by steam turbines.
    A picture of them is to be found in “Early days in the power station industry” by Parsons.

  17. Pete Meadows says:

    Desparately trying to find archives re the workers at this power station. I have pictures of my Grand father upto 1952 when he died, who was an engineer at this establishment but have been unable to clarify his full position. Can you help with a statring point of who presently is custodian and how I might ask of their help?

  18. Good luck with that one, Pete. That is exactly the question we have been trying to solve on this blog for the past five years.