The Wapping Hydraulic Power Station was built by the London Hydraulic Power Company in 1890. It provided power throughout the central London area.
Before the adoption of electricity, hydraulic power was London’s main power system, generating everything from bridges to private households in Kensington and Mayfair. In the heyday of hydraulic power, more than 33 million gallons of water a week were pumped beneath the streets of London. It was transmitted along 186 miles of underground, cast iron piping.
Tower Bridge depended on it, as did countless City offices, West End theatres and department stores. The revolving stages of both the London Palladium and the Coliseum used hydraulic lifts, as did the fire curtains of Drury Lane and Her Majesty’s theatres, the organ console lifts of the Leicester Square Theatre and the Odeon Marble Arch, the fire hydrants at the National Gallery and the picture lift at the Royal Academy.
As electricity became cheaper and electronically powered equipment increasingly sophisticated, so industry and private users abandoned hydraulic power. When Wapping finally closed in 1977, it was not only the last of its kind in London; it was the last in the world. It has outlived others of its species in such widely scattered locations as New York, Melbourne, Sydney, Antwerp and Buenos Aires.