Now please don’t ignore this, just for the title. You see I find the services that keep a city like London going completely fascinating. At its most basic we need water and we need to rid ourselves of waste. I will have a look at some of the services, some of the iconic and extraordinary structures we have in London. There are plenty more than these examples.
In E is for the Embankment London’s true hero Sir Joseph Bazelgette had an airing since the Embankment exists, at least in part to house the sewerage pipes that take the crap down river until the tide turns and it could be washed out to sea.
Today Thames Water are building the Tideway tunnel, a huge piece of engineering that runs largely under the Thames and will dispose of all the untreated sewerage – we still have large sections of the Victorian system which, at times of high rainfall use overflows into the river – that means, even in 2016 and with river as healthy as the Thames, capable of supporting 200 species including porpoises, significant untreated sewerage may be released into its waters. Grim.
One nice feature though is the line of pipes that ran out through east London have been covered and made into a 3 miles walkway, the Greenway
from the River Lea near Stratford to the river at Beckton. During the Olympics it was a major entrance way into the new Olympic Park.
In addition to new pipes there are new pumping and treatment stations.
And the contrast is stark, between what the Victorians thought appropriate for the main pumping station and today. One, rightly is known as the Temple of Sewage, the other a functional abattoir of a structure, all smooth steel and barbed wire.
I suppose the Victorians thought, well we might be dealing with shit but we can at least polish the idea.
If disposal is important having fresh water is equally, if not more so. Any early example of bringing water into London is the New River that uses water flowing of the hills around Hertford and brings it gradually along a shallow canal like structure that runs over 20 miles to Stoke Newington and the East Reservoir.
It opened in 1612 and has run ever since.
From Stoke Newington, today it is pumped by small dull substations but before they existed the Castle, a Dracula like structure on the south side of the reservoir was the home of the pump works.
Again, like the Victorians and sewage, they knew how to make a statement.
Another example of Victoria water is here at Kings Cross.
And an ancient pump and well near Bank in the middle of the city.
Or down in South London the Streatham Water Works that looks like a Moorish Palace.
After water, power is probably the next most important facility. We have two mammoth 20th century power stations in central London – the Bankside and the Battersea.
Bankside is now the Tate Modern and an amazing interior space even if the stark lines and dark brickwork of the outside do not appeal to everyone. And the views from the members restaurant are fantastic. Next time you’re in town let me know and I’ll buy you tea and you can see for yourselves
Battersea was, until a couple of years ago, a worry. This giant was rotting, a grade 2 (protected) listed building that was dying. But some Malaysian money and vision and now the whole area is regenerating.
Ok, I don’t like all the apartments and I’m sceptical how it will end up but the fact the turbine hall will stay and the dangerously undermined chimneys are being rebuilt (plus the major extension to the Battersea Dogs’ Home as part of the development) gives me some hope. Here’s a video of the Power station as I approached it on the train from the south.
Before Electricity it was gas. Today gas is pumped underground but back when it first appeared there were huge gas making complexes, especially up at Kings Cross.
Now all that is left are the skeletons of the gas-holders, one of which is a mirror park that forms part of Kings Cross’s regeneration.
I liked this space and the way other gasometers were used as exoskeletons for new apartments.
Beyond these four principle services we are lucky in London with our public transport, our buses and tubes and trains. But today the fifth service is telecommunications.
BT had a monopoly and in 1980, opposite my office a large bland office emerged as its HQ. shortly after it was privatised and such institutional statements were no more.
We still have the old red phone boxes but there is one building that is worthy of a visit in its own right. The first London telephone exchange, opened back in the early 1900s was a monster.
Indeed the Faraday Building was hugely controversial.
As you can see it blocked views of St Paul’s from the River. Many complained and the law was changed. Today, courtesy of this grand statement of science we have protected corridors creating the city scape we have.
But the Faraday building is in its way beautiful and the key stones above the windows have symbols that show elements of the telephone exchange mechanisms:
Today, of course it is mobile telephony that is essential and masts, such as we have near us at Crystal Palace are the new normal. I prefer buildings generally but there is something elemental about this spire.
An air-vent to an electricity substation; sometimes, today, we do get it right.
This is part of the 2016 A to Z Blogging challenge. Please click here to find your way to other participants.