What an amazing building! It presides over a corner of Shadwell Basin, surrounded by a high wall. I spotted it on a long weekend run, and went back later to sketch it.
What’s a Hydraulic Power Station? Well, in the late nineteenth century, London’s industry needed a way to exert mechanical force: to operate a printing press for example, or to raise heavy weights, for cranes and metal forming. Also, passenger lifts had been invented, and building engineers needed a way to exert force to operate the lift. One way would be to have a steam engine on site. This wasn’t always practical. Steam engines are noisy and dirty and you don’t want one next to your desirable residence, or even cluttering up your dockyard. So here’s the next idea: instead of lots of little steam engines all over the place, we’ll have a big steam engines in just a few places, and we transmit the power from them by using water. Water? Yes. The big steam engines push water at high pressure down strong cast iron pipes, and the lift engineer at the far end effectively turns on a tap and the force of the water pushes the lift up. That’s the principle.
This sounds utterly implausible, but it worked. At the end of the nineteenth century, there was a great network of pipes all over London, holding water at high pressure. This water was used to raise passenger lifts, operate curtains at theatres, and to drive printing presses. It was used for cranes and other static machinery which required a strong, steady force. It’s a steampunk dream. Here’s a map. These pipes were everywhere.
The plaque you can see in the centre of my drawing says “London Hydraulic Power Company 1890”. This was one of the big power stations driving the water along the pipes. The power came from a coal-fired steam engine.
Here is a summary of the history of the building, gleaned from various web searches:
- 1890: completed and started working. In use until 1977.
- September 1973: first listing
- June 1977: use discontinued
- December 1977: Grade II* listed, including the machinery (listing ref 1242419)
- 1993-2013 – owned and operated by Jules Wright as “The Wapping Project”: an art and entertainment venue.
- 2013: Sold to UK Real Estate Limited
- March 2019: planning application for an office building in the courtyard, retail and restaurant space and changes to the interior
- October 2020: planning permission approved (ref PA/19/00564/NC and PA/19/00571/A1), despite objections from The Victorian Society and the Turks Head Charity.
- Meanwhile – it’s an event space.
The Wapping building still has its machinery inside. It’s awaiting redevelopment. You can hire it for your fashion shoot, Christmas Party or product launch. The photos below are from the agencies advertising the use of the space: Canvas Events, and JJ Media It looks totally amazing! If you book your event there, please can I come and sketch?
The project sheet for the planning application is here: https://www.cma-planning.co.uk//images/projects/wapping_hydraulic_pumping_station/Wapping_Hydraulic_Pumping_Station_Project_Sheet.pdf
If that doesn’t work, here’s the file:
Here are some snapshots taken while I was drawing. The chimney shown in the early twentieth century drawing has vanished.
Colours used in the drawing:
- Fired Gold Ochre
- Ultramarine Blue
- Burnt Umber
- Some Transparent Pyrrol Orange, but not much.