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Powering the City

Why were power stations and gasworks built in East London?
Producing gas
East Greenwich Gasworks
Beckton Gasworks
Electricity generation
Greenwich Power Station
Deptford Power Station
Gasworks and power station workers
Pollution
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Electricity generation

Electricity for transport

Coal crane and unloading pier
View full size imageThe unloading pier at Deptford power station. © NMM
As well as gas, London required an electricity supply for its underground and tramway system. Later, it also needed an electricity supply for homes.

Power stations were therefore built alongside the river where coal could easily be unloaded from barges. This 1921 photograph shows the crane and unloading pier at Deptford power station.

 

 

 

 

Inside the power station

Turbine at Deptford Power Station.
View full size imageNo. 15 Parsons turbine at Deptford power station. © NMM
After being unloaded at the power station the coal was crushed to a fine powder. Then the powder was put into furnaces built into a big steam boiler.

Tubing inside the boiler circulated water, which turned to steam because of the powerful flow of heat from the burning coal.

In a two-stage system, the steam first transferred its energy to one turbine before returning to the boiler to obtain more heat and entering the second turbine. Both turbines were usually mounted on a shaft, which drove an electricity generator.

Completing the cycle

Cooling ponds.
View full size imageCooling ponds at Canning Town power station, c. 1904. © NMM
After leaving the second turbine, the steam was condensed back to water in a condenser and recirculated. The condenser released the heat either through direct cooling - in ponds - or by evaporating water into the atmosphere through a tall chimney or cooling tower.

Canning Town Generating Station cooling towers.
View full size imageCooling towers at Canning Town generating station, c. 1984. © NMM
Canning Town station (built in 1903) originally used cooling ponds, but these were later replaced by two natural draught towers. Each tower was 85 m (280 feet) tall. These were eventually demolished in 1984.

 


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Glossary
Boiler
Condenser
Generator

Find out more
StoriesThe 19th-century port
Docks and industry transform the Thames
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The changing fortunes of Docklands and the port
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