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When Pigs Fly: The Story Of An Iconic Power Plant (And Album Cover)

February 6, 2015

Some call London’s Battersea Power Station an eyesore but it’s been featured in tons of stuff, including several famous album covers. Here’s a quick rundown on its history…

Battersea Power StationBattersea Power Station currently sits on a prime piece of real estate on the banks of the Thames in central London. Back in the 1930s, however, property values there low, and so the station was built there, along with a second one in the ‘50s. Ever since, its four tall chimneys have helped make it one of the most recognizable landmarks in all of London. The Beatles even used it for a shot in Help!

Roger Waters of Pink Floyd decided it would look great on the cover of Animals, their 1977 concept album. At the time, they were struggling to come up with an idea. After considering all sorts of strange concepts, one of which included a photo of a kid finding his parents in bed together, the band went with Waters’ suggestion.

On a gloomy day in December 1976, they trucked down to the station with a gigantic, inflatable pig in tow. Their plan was to raise the helium-filled porker, take a few photos, and have a marksman shoot it down if it escaped from its moorings. Unfortunately, the weather was terrible so they postponed the shoot for the next day. They forgot to book the marksman, though, and the pig escaped before they could finish. After freaking out some pilots flying into Heathrow Airport, It was later found by a farmer who was angry that the pig scared his cows. But they got the shot, and Animals would go on to have one of the most famous in rock history.

The station appeared in videos for the bands Take That and Judas Priest and graced the cover of another album, by Hawkwind. The station’s many film “cameos” include appearances in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, Alfred Hitchcock’s Sabotage, The Dark Knight, Children of Men, and The King’s Speech.

The station hasn’t been operational since 1983 and aside from the occasional film or TV shoot, it’s been rotting away. Efforts to turn it into a theme park or a soccer stadium fell apart, as did proposals to tear it down and replace it with housing. The station was finally put up for sale in 2012 and a group of investors purchased it.

Plans are currently underway to turn the gigantic station into a complex full of offices, shops, cafes, townhouses and apartments but doing so hasn’t been easy. Or cheap. The development is predicted to eventually cost the investors well over $200 million. The problem is that Battersea’s smoke stacks are falling apart and a bizarre ordinance means that they can’t all be taken down and replaced at the same time. So, one by one, construction crews are removing the stacks in order to replace them with replicas. The project is scheduled to be fully completed sometime in 2020. As crazy as the whole thing sounds, 75% of its residential properties were purchased within four days of going up for sale.

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