Didcot A Power Station

Oxfordshire, UK


The Disappointed Tourist: Didcot A Power Station, Ellen Harvey, 2021. Oil and acrylic on Gessoboard, 18 x 24″ (46 x 61 cm). Photograph: Etienne Frossard.

Didcot A Power Station was a coal and gas-fired power plant designed by architect Frederick Gibberd. Construction was completed in 1968 and the station began functioning in 1970. Opinions of the plant were divided from the start. It won a Civic Trust Award in 1969 for how well it blended into the landscape. By contrast, in 2003, Country Life readers voted it Britains third worst eyesore. British poet Kit Wright wrote a parodic “Ode to Didcot Power Station” and Marina Warner made a BBC documentary about the station describing the cooling towers as having “a sort of incredible furious beauty”.  Artist Roger Wagner included the towers in his painting Menorah.

The station was the focus of environmental protests. Greenpeace asserted that the station was the second most polluting in the UK while Friends of the Earth claimed that it was the ninth most polluting. In 2006, 30 Greenpeace trespassers invaded the power station. One group chained themselves to a broken coal-carrying conveyor belt. A second group scaled the 650 ft high chimney, and set up a ‘climate camp’. They proceeded to paint “Blair’s Legacy” on the side of the chimney overlooking the town. A similar protest took place in 2009, when nine climate change protesters climbed the chimney. Eleven chained themselves to the coal delivery conveyors. The latter group were cut free by police after five hours. The former waited for two days before coming down. All twenty were arrested, and power supplies continued uninterrupted.

English Heritage declined to give listed building status to Didcot A Power Station in 2013 when the station ceased operation. The three southern towers of Didcot A were demolished by explosives in 2014. In 2016, a large section of the former boiler house at Didcot A power station collapsed while the building was being prepared for demolition. One person was killed outright and three people were listed as missing presumed dead. The building was demolished in a controlled explosion with the missing men still inside as the site was too unstable to enter. The three remaining cooling towers were demolished by explosion in 2019. Debris from one of the collapsing towers hit a nearby pylon, causing it to explode and catch fire. I don’t know the source of the photograph on which this painting is based.

Iconic industrial site I would see on journeys to the SW of England. Mark G.