A new residential development is set to bring Lots Road power station back to life
The oldest of London’s three historic power stations, Lots Road, has been transformed into Powerhouse, a collection of 260 luxury apartments. As the building once responsible for electrifying London’s railways begins its new chapter, we look at the history of this iconic London landmark.
Lots Road power station was completed in 1905 for the purpose of powering London’s network of underground railways. Funded by prolific American financier Charles Yerkes, it was the world’s most expensive power station ever built and the largest generator of electricity. Designed by James Russell Chapman, the power station was erected at the junction of Chelsea Creek and the River Thames, supported by the first and largest steel-frame in the British Isles. It became the largest power station in the world, and within 30 years it was providing power to the entire London Underground network, plus miles of tramlines.
The build included four 275 foot chimneys, designed to direct the smoke and gas away from the power station’s coal boilers and clear the surrounding residential homes. As part of the refurbishment of the power station, the two taller chimneys will be retained and repaired, with access ways created through the lowest level of the chimneys linking the inner courtyard to bridges across Chelsea Creek. The building’s original façades, which unusually incorporated glazed windows, lived very different lives – with the South side bleached by the sun for over 100 years, and the West side having been exposed to coal explosions throughout its lifetime. Despite not being a listed building, the power station represents an important symbol of the industrial era, and the remaining historic elements of the building have been painstakingly preserved and incorporated into the new development, including original archways, steelwork, and brickwork.
Once known as the ‘cathedral of the industrial age’, the power station’s legacy of public service is key to the reimagining of this London landmark into a modern-day icon. During WW2 the building continued to power the Underground network, ensuring tube trains continued to run while London suffered power cuts through bombing. It is believed that the windows on the Thames side of the power station were bricked up during this time as a way of minimising potential bomb damage. A series of six posters of the power station were commissioned by London Transport in 1944 to celebrate the power station’s contribution to the war and London’s survival of the Blitz.
A further contribution to London life came in the 1970s. Following complications with LBC and Capital Radio’s antenna towers, the power station allowed the radio channels to hang a makeshift antenna between its two chimneys, allowing the stations to broadcast across the UK. Following this, the power station was used several more times for radio transmission until 2007. The reimagining of Powerhouse honours the building’s history as a public resource, by servicing the surrounding community through incorporating, retail units, restaurants, and leisure spaces open to the public.
While continuously powering the London Underground for nearly a century, in the 1960s the power station was converted from coal burning to heavy fuel oil and a further conversion to gas occurred in the 1970s. The conversions resulted in several visible changes being made to the building, most notably, the lowering of one of the four chimneys to roof level. Eventually, the removal of a second chimney happened ten years later to give the building a more coherent look and completed the power station’s modern appearance that we are familiar with today.
Although by 1985 the National Grid was a more cost-effective way of operating the Underground, the generators at Lots Road were retained as back-up until the ageing machinery came to the end of its lifespan in 2002 and the entire site was finally closed, becoming the world’s longest-serving power station.
Once the industrial fringe of Chelsea, Powerhouse will transform a derelict brownfield site in the borough’s biggest transformation in living memory. Masterminded by Farrells London as the cornerstone of Chelsea Waterfront, Powerhouse’s 260 luxury apartments will boast interiors designed to reflect the building’s heritage and industrial legacy, creating a ‘loft living’ experience.
Residents will have direct access to 400m of Thames waterfront opened to the public for the first time in 100 years. Powerhouse will be professionally managed by Rendall and Rittner concierge with 5-star services around the clock, from general house management to individual booking requests. The exclusive health and fitness centre, housing a luxurious spa, a fully equipped gym, and a 20-metre swimming pool, offers a private sanctuary for exercise and relaxation. The elegantly appointed Residents’ Club Lounge with its delightful views of the river is the ideal multi-purpose space for work or social gatherings. Apartments at Powerhouse start at £1.7m.