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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
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Greenwich Power Station

Power for the Underground

Greenwich Power Station
View full size imageGreenwich power station shortly after its construction. © NMM
Few of the original power stations remain. However, the Greenwich Generating Station is still available as a back-up electricity source for the London Underground.

It was built in two stages between 1902 and 1910 for the London County Council to power the capital's tramways and tube railways, which were being electrified at that time.

Chimney problems

Greenwich Power Station
View full size imageGreenwich power station, July 1968. © NMM
The station is an early example of a steel-framed building with a stone-clad brick skin.

 The two chimneys for stage one were 76 m (250 feet) high. But following objections from the Royal Observatory, the stage two chimneys were reduced to only 55 m (182 feet).

Steam engines and turbines

Worker inside Greenwich Power Station
View full size imageA worker inside Greenwich power station. © NMM
The original power plant included a coal-fired boiler house and an engine room. This housed four compound reciprocating steam engines driving flywheel-type alternators at 6600 volts and 25 hertz.

Machinery inside Greenwich Power Station
View full size imageMachinery at Greenwich power station. © NMM
By 1910 the advantages of steam turbines were well known and four steam turbine alternators were installed for stage two of the building programme. The original reciprocating engines were replaced by steam turbines in 1922.


Gas turbine age

Greenwich Power Station.
View full size imageGreenwich power station in July 1974. © NMM
The next major change to the station came in the mid-1960s when the steam plant was replaced by Rolls Royce gas turbine generators, similar to those used in jet aircraft.

These originally burned oil, but were later converted to dual-fuel (oil and gas). The generators are housed in what was formerly the boiler house, and they have a total capacity of 117.6 MW, generated at 11,000 volts. This voltage can be increased to 22,000 volts for connection to the London Underground electricity system.

The coaling pier

Greenwich power station coaling pier.
View full size imageGreenwich power station coaling pier. © NMM
Close to the power station is the coaling pier in the River Thames. This stands on 16 doric style, cast iron columns.

Coal was landed from colliers onto the pier, and then sent to a large number of storage bunkers.

The pier is now no longer used because the relatively small amount of oil used at the station comes by road tanker, and gas and oil do not produce the ash that coal used to, which was removed via the jetty.

Interestingly, the Poet Laureate C. Day Lewis used the space under the pier as the site of a murder mystery when writing thrillers under the name 'Nicholas Blake'!

Poet Laureate

Find out more
StoriesThe 19th-century port
Docks and industry transform the Thames
StoriesThe 20th-century port
The changing fortunes of Docklands and the port
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