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…