As our Shakespeare and Dickens London walks cross over the millennium Bridge the distinctive chimney of Bankside Power Station, home to Tate modern, looms over us.
Tate Modern is one of London’s great tourist attractions. It is also one of the most preeminent art galleries in the world.
Since it opened in the year 2000 over 30 million visitors have passed through its doors, 5 million of them coming in the last year alone.
But from a visual perspective the building that houses Tate Modern is almost a work of art in its own right. Indeed, since the construction of the Millennium Bridge in 2002, our London walks that head south of the river really do get a breathtaking view of it as they cross over the Thames.
It is an enormous structure, 660 feet long, its soaring brown brick chimney stretching some 320 feet into the sky, deliberately just a little shorter than the the golden cross that surmounts the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, which stands across the river from Bankside Power Station. Indeed such are its lofty proportions that Bankside Power Station has been described as an industrial cathedral.
It it was designed by the British architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. There are several examples of his work to be seen across London. For example, it was he who designed Battersea Power Station. He was also responsible for Waterloo Bridge, and it was he who designed the ubiquitous red telephone boxes that can be seen all over the streets of London and other British towns, cities, and villages.
Bankside Power Station was constructed in two stages between 1947 and 1963. It is constructed from steel and bricks, 4.2 million bricks to be exact.
It was powered by oil and it was this fact that led to its closure, as in the 1970s oil became so expensive that it was no longer viable to keep the power station open. So, in 1981, The Bankside Power Station closed its doors. The building stood empty as a viable use for it was sought.
Our London walks blog will continue this evening of the story of how the Bankside Power Station, St Giles Gilbert Scott’s industrial cathedral became one of the 21st century is pre-eminent art galleries.