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Wapping Hydraulic Power Station +
Boiler House, Wapping Hydraulic Power Station
Boiler House, Wapping Hydraulic Power Station

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.

Transition +

The Wapping Hydraulic Power Station closed in 1977. The building was left to become an unexpected relic, at odds with the rapidly changing face of Wapping. As much of the landscape was torn down to make way for new property developments, the Power Station was left to cultivate ivy, ferns and fungus. Human activity didn’t cease there however and, during the 1980s, it was used as a location for music videos. Jules set eyes on it in 1991 while scouting for a venue to stage WPT opera, Blood Wedding, and saw instantly its artistic potential. Dirt, a dance performance directed by Lea Anderson, was the first WPT commission to take place in the space in 1993. The rest of the decade gave way to succession of ambitious projects from across creative spectrum, including Duncan Macaskill’s Acoustic Shadows and Anya Gallaccio’s Intensities and Surfaces. Jules secured the freehold to the building in 1998, preceding a two year period of renovation led by architect Josh Wright and Shed54 ahead of The Wapping Project’s official unveiling in 2000.

Evolution +

The development of the power station was completed at a cost of £4 million without lottery support by WPT, the art’s charity that owns and runs The Wapping Project. It includes the transformation of the Boiler and Engine House into dramatic new multipurpose exhibition and performance spaces.

Since opening to the public in October 2000, The Wapping Project has received critical acclaim for the transformation of Wapping Hydraulic Power Station and its diverse and specially commissioned year-round arts programme.