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Thread: The Cooling Towers at Willington, Derbyshire, February 2020

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    Default The Cooling Towers at Willington, Derbyshire, February 2020


    1. The History
    The first coal-fired power station at Willington was built in the 1950s. When first commissioned in 1957, Willington A’s four turbines could burn around 1,000 tonnes of coal a day each. The second power station, Willington B, was commissioned in 1962 and has two turbines that could both each burn double that amount. Hence when running at full capacity the stations typically got through 8,000 tonnes of coal a day. This was brought in by rail, delivered by ‘merry-go-round’ trains which shuttled continuously between pitheads and power station. At full output, the station was capable of working at the rate of about 1,100,000 horsepower.

    The ‘A’ and ‘B’ Stations were unique as they consisted of a central boiler area with the boilers arranged in a square formation, flanked on two sides by identical turbine houses, each enclosing two turbine generating sets. The stations five cooling towers were each 300ft high and approximately 200 ft in diameter at the base and each weighed 6,500 tons. Between them, the stations typically had around 550 staff on site.

    It was then privatised and sold to National Power in the early 1990s. It eventually closed and decommissioned between 1995 and 1999. In the mid-1990s a pair of peregrine falcons nested in one of the site's huge cooling towers. Unlike many bird of prey breeding sites, this was widely publicised because of its impregnable location. Most of the power station was demolished around 2000 apart from the ‘five sisters’.

    The site was then earmarked for a large residential development, pending the results of a public inquiry, when RWE nPower filed a planning application to build 1,000 houses, a food store, shops, community hall, health facilities and family restaurant. However, the construction plans which were due to start in 2007 were met with significant local opposition and the proposed redevelopment of the site was not granted planning approval. An appeal from the developers in 2009 was also rejected.

    Hence in 2010, RWE nPower filed an application to build a gas-fired power station on the site. These plans also would most likely see the demolition of the five remaining cooling towers. In 2011, the then Department of Energy and Climate Change approved the plans. No progress was made and in 2016 Calon bought the site from RWE nPower. A year later in 2017, the new owners, Calon, applied to make changes to the proposed gas power station. However, plans to build a gas fired power station at the Willington site ran into trouble in 2018 when the Capacity Market (a scheme to pay providers for making their power supplies available at short notice during peak periods of demand) was suspended by European Court of Justice.

    The site now is now in limbo. It was hoped the towers would get listed but this was effectively ruled out when the Secretary of State issued a Certificate of Immunity from listing to run from 2020 to 2025.

    2. The Explore
    Previously explored back in 2016, so thought it was time for a revisit. Genuinely surprised they are still standing given all the plans that were afoot to demo them. But as you can see from the history bit above, survive they do. The five cooling towers at Willington dominate the flood plains of the Trent and the site at the time of the visit had some serious flooding in the nearby vicinity. Fortunately for us, not close enough to stop us getting on site.

    We took the same route as we did for the first visit which meant negotiating mud, water-filled dykes and undergrowth. Not a lot has changed since our last visit bar a token effort to try and keep people out by putting up new stretches of fencing here and there. There isn’t much left bar the five cooling towers; the two nearest to the road have all their innards gone, the other three with their inner cooling systems still complete. But that’s enough reason to go as these structures are massive and strangely compelling. Plus, we had far better light this time around.

    3. The Pictures

    First glimpse from the front:

    Willington 01 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    View across the muddy fields:

    img5829 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    img5828 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    Crossing one of those dykes:

    Willington 16 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    And we’re on site:



    Willington 15 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    img5749 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    Willington 02 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    Willington 14 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    img5764bw by HughieDW, on Flickr

    img5757 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    img5750 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    Underneath the first tower:

    Willington 05 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    Willington 04 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    Willington 03 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    Willington 07 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    Willington 06 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    View from the entrance end of the site:

    Willington 13 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    img5805 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    Inside one of the two empty shell towers:

    Willington 10 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    img5791bw by HughieDW, on Flickr

    Willington 08 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    img5801bw by HughieDW, on Flickr

  2. Thanks given by: Hugh Jorgan, KPUrban_, ocelot397, SeffyboyUK
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  4. #2
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    Sadly; the Merry-go-Round or HAA wagons were designed by a committee and were an utter disaster in winter conditions. The original idea was to supply coal on an 'as needed' basis to the boiler hoppers and have no coal stocks put to ground. Worked fine in summer months, but due to the design of the door closing mechanism, the doors would not open when the contents of the loaded wagons froze solid in freezing winter conditions. Wagons would not empty and had to be put into sidings to thaw out and to keep the stations operational, vast stock-piles had to be put to ground. It was these very large stocks on the ground at each Power Station, that kept the Electricity supplies going during the Miner's Strike. Things could have been very different if the Merry-go-Round system had worked and there had been no ground stocks available! The CEGB built a huge freezer unit at High Marnham Power Station and during my time with BR Research, spent many summer days trying to find ways of discharging HAA wagons frozen solid in said freezer! Had to be done in the summer months, because the situation was so dire in the winter months on these stations. The discharge problem arose because the NCB modernised their coal extraction methods and instead of the mined coal being in small lumps, it was much more of a fine powder - what my Dad would have called 'Slack' when the coal man dumped 5 cwt of powdery rubbish down the cellar grate! The NCB did not ease the problem by washing the mined coal to remove dust - yes we did try adding antifreeze to the washing water and even coating the wagon interiors with non-stick coatings! So in actual fact the continual 'shuttle service' of HAA wagons never did work in the way it was intended - coal face to boiler hopper direct. We always had that 'heap on the ground' as well. Still I met some good mates from the CEGB and NCB during those summer days!

  5. Thanks given by: KPUrban_
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dirus_Strictus View Post
    Sadly; the Merry-go-Round or HAA wagons were designed by a committee and were an utter disaster in winter conditions. The original idea was to supply coal on an 'as needed' basis to the boiler hoppers and have no coal stocks put to ground. Worked fine in summer months, but due to the design of the door closing mechanism, the doors would not open when the contents of the loaded wagons froze solid in freezing winter conditions. Wagons would not empty and had to be put into sidings to thaw out and to keep the stations operational, vast stock-piles had to be put to ground. It was these very large stocks on the ground at each Power Station, that kept the Electricity supplies going during the Miner's Strike. Things could have been very different if the Merry-go-Round system had worked and there had been no ground stocks available! The CEGB built a huge freezer unit at High Marnham Power Station and during my time with BR Research, spent many summer days trying to find ways of discharging HAA wagons frozen solid in said freezer! Had to be done in the summer months, because the situation was so dire in the winter months on these stations. The discharge problem arose because the NCB modernised their coal extraction methods and instead of the mined coal being in small lumps, it was much more of a fine powder - what my Dad would have called 'Slack' when the coal man dumped 5 cwt of powdery rubbish down the cellar grate! The NCB did not ease the problem by washing the mined coal to remove dust - yes we did try adding antifreeze to the washing water and even coating the wagon interiors with non-stick coatings! So in actual fact the continual 'shuttle service' of HAA wagons never did work in the way it was intended - coal face to boiler hopper direct. We always had that 'heap on the ground' as well. Still I met some good mates from the CEGB and NCB during those summer days!
    Wonder If there are any remnants of the MGR loop here.

  7. #4
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    A classic UK urbex landmark this !
    Wurzel UE -
    'busting Bristol wide open since 2010'

  8. Thanks given by: HughieD

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