No more clouds

Lyn Bowen, the man who switched Didcot A on for the first time more than 40 years ago, switched off the power station for the final time last Friday. It was a sad moment for Lyn who said, “When I put it on in 1970 it was exciting, there was a future ahead, but switching it off felt so negative. I didn’t like it one bit…”.

Having spent some time at the power station and with people who work there or live nearby it is easy to see why this has such an impact. The employees and retired employees are a close-knit community, many of whom have spent all of their working lives at the power station. Several have said that people had a real sense of vocation and were very committed to their responsibility of powering the nation and keeping hospitals and infrastructure running. And the employees who were there at the beginning when Didcot A first opened were part of a pioneering change in the way that electricity was generated. Pete Hogan, an employee at the station, said that within a few years of developments in the power industry generation capacity of machines was doubled and then trebled. Didcot’s 500mw generators were new territory. And this was before computer modeling could help refine the designs of the machinery. It was the people on the ground who made these radically new machines work.  They adapted and improved them. Teasing them into action. The employees have invested so much knowledge and invention into making the power station run as efficiently as is possible. It’s understandable that it’s painful for many to see it go.

For many local people the power station contributes to a strong sense of identity and place. It towers above the town and can be seen from a long distance away. “They act as homing beacons”, said Malcolm Denton on the Social Landscape of Didcot’s facebook page.   And many people have affectionate names for the towers; “the giant”, “three old hags”, “elephants feet”, “Old King Coal”, “the cloud maker”, “the lumbering beast”, “these monsters”… Comments on the SLoD facebook page show that the majority of local people feel a sense of affection for the towers and will be very sorry to see them go, though some feel that they are a blot on the landscape. Didcot A evokes strong feelings. Alexandra, aged 6, expresses this well. “My power station is Marmite. I love him but my friends hate him…”.

So now clouds are no longer made at Didcot and this project becomes a document about the past, rather than a report about the present. It seems even more pressing to record the memories, ideas and imaginings that have grown around the power station. The power station will have an impact on the people who have worked there, lived nearby and passed through Didcot for a long time, and perhaps some of the stories about the towering giants, puffing out clouds, will pass into Didcot folklore for children in future generations.

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