Chim Chiminey: London In 12 Magnificent Chimneys

M@
By M@
Chim Chiminey: London In 12 Magnificent Chimneys
One of the famous Battersea Power Station chimneys with lots of ribbons in front of it.

Chimneys are back in fashion. The reopening of Battersea Power Station, with its magnificent stacks, has thrust London's chimneys back into a spotlight they haven't enjoyed since that film about a magical nanny and her mockney chimneysweep friend.

London's chimneys once belched smoke and grime into the capital's skies, but today, they can be charming and endearing reminders of a different age. Their presence on the skyline offers a welcome contrast to corporate glass towers.

I've picked out a dozen favourites from around the city. Let's see how they stack up.

1. Truman's chimney

The Truman chimney in Brick lane, with the word truman on it

London still has a number of brewery chimneys dotted around (see also the old Ram brewery site in Wandsworth and the Stag in Mortlake). The most photographed of all must be the Truman stack on Brick Lane. One seriously savvy piece of marketing by the brewery at the time.

2. Tate Modern

Thick brown-brick tower of Tate Modern in front of St Pauls dome

The single, monolithic chimney of Tate Modern forms the southern end of an axis connecting the gallery to St Paul's via the Millennium Bridge. This was once the main belch hole for Bankside Power Station, until it closed in 1981. Today the chimney serves little practical purpose, other than as a nest site for peregrine falcons, but it has become an icon of modern London.

3. Battersea Power Station

One of the chimneys from Battersea Power station eclipsing the sun

London's best known chimneys are, lest we forget, recent replicas. The four originals were supposedly too dilapidated to save. Each was demolished and rebuilt as part of the power station's redevelopment into a shopping mall and entertainment complex. The facsimile smoke stacks have found renewed purpose. One houses a visitor attraction, and another releases steam from the venue's boilers. Incidentally, both Battersea and Bankside power stations were largely designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, who also gave us the red phone box.

4. The massive chimney that never was

A model of a giant chimney housed within battersea power station

Head to the exhibition area inside Battersea Power Station and you might spot this model of what would have been London's tallest chimney. (Look to its base and get a sense of just how huge this would have been.) The plans drawn up by Rafael Viñoly would have seen a vast tower the height of the Shard rising up from the power station. The tower would have generated its own electricity by drawing in air to turn turbines.

5. Pigeon pots

A row of chimney pots above a street art mural of a pigeon in a yellow hat

This row of chimney pots on Whitecross Street would have been eye-catching enough, but a behatted pigeon by street artist Driper really makes you coo with excitement.

6. The IKEA chimneys

A huge chimney with a union flag nearby

McDonald's has the golden arches, Starbucks has the green mermaid (actually a siren). But IKEA builds its branding on a different level. At least in Croydon. Here, two muscular chimneys reach into the heavens, topped with Swedish blue and yellow. Of course, they were not custom-built for IKEA (now that would be one hell of a flat pack). They're leftover lumps of Croydon B Power Station, which closed in 1984, and appeared in Terry Gilliam's Brazil the following year.

7. The Brunel Museum

A thin but tall chimney, part of the Brunel Museum

London has bigger and bolder chimneys, but there's something sleek and stirring about the one on top of Rotherhithe's Brunel Museum. Perhaps it's the sheer importance of the site. This is the place from which the world's first under-river tunnel was carved out, by the brave men working under the Brunels (it's still in use today as the imperfectly named Overground line between Wapping and Rotherhithe). The chimney is part of the original designs drawn up by Marc Brunel. It once vented the steam powered pumps of the (still standing) engine house, which helped to keep the tunnel dry. You can learn more about the site by visiting the Brunel Museum.

8. The Tower Bridge chimney hiding in plain sight

A trio of blue-painted lamps... only one of them is a secret chimney, as indicated by an arrow

It's impossible to walk along the western side of Tower Bridge without being asked to take a tourist photograph or eight. But what visitors should be snapping is this curiosity on the northern approach. You could easily pass it by, dismissing it as yet another ornamental lamp standard. But really, you should pass it by and dismiss it as a chimney, for that's what it is. In colder days of yore, the flue discharged fireplace smoke from a guardroom down below.

9. The baroque beauty of Barons Court

A crazy chimney stack with classical flourishes

Here's an obscure one that took my fancy. An otherwise humble four-pot is architecturally elevated thanks to baroque flourishes that remind me of Temple Bar in Paternoster Square. But I also include this photo because of the macabre baby doll that someone threw up there, like some kind of sacrifice to the household gods.

10. Traditional chimneys

A row of traditional brick housing with prominent chimneys

Chimneys don't need to be showy or unique to impress. Sometimes, a row of well-preserved but otherwise ordinary stacks can catch the eye. This row can be found in Wenlock Road in Islington, but we can see similar views in many parts of the capital, if only we remember to look up.

11. The Deptford pair

A pink pair of chimneys in a neck tie and pearls

Chimneys are co-opted as art form on this well-known mural in Deptford. The his 'n' hers stacks are a local landmark, painted by Patricio Forrester of Artmongers for the 2002 Deptford X Festival. I nominated it as one of my 14 favourite murals in all London town.

12. The twisty wonders of Hampton Court Palace

The twisty brick chimneys at Hampton Court Palace seen from a roof

I used to get invited up onto roofs quite a bit. I'm not sure why, but I never said no. One of my favourites was Hampton Court Palace, whose Tudor smoke stacks are a visual delight. Historian Lucy Worsley popped out from behind a similar set, later on the tour. Charlton House, at the other end of London, has similar chimneys, though without the corkscrew.

Got a favourite chimney? Vent your views in the comments below.

All images by the author, except the Tower Bridge one, which is from Street View.

Last Updated 07 December 2022

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