Cooling towers: Will you miss them when they're gone?

Love them or loathe them, they are becoming ever more rare as the demolition squads move in. And tomorrow another set will vanish forever

To some, they're foreboding eyesores. Other consider them sublime and awe-inspiring symbols of the country's industrial heritage. Either way, the colossal, curved cooling towers that once dotted the British landscape are gradually vanishing from the skyline. Tomorrow morning, a small group of engineers will meet near the river Trent in Nottinghamshire, overshadowed by the cooling towers of the power plant where they used to work. At 10am they will be among a select crowd allowed to watch as a series of explosions rip through the 52-year-old structures and reduce them to rubble in just 15 seconds.

The towers, which stand more than 100 metres tall and are the last relics of the decommissioned High Marnham power station, will become the latest of at least 19 of the structures to have disappeared from the British landscape in the past six years.

Cooling towers are used to safely remove excess heat created in power plants. Their curved shape aids evaporation and was first used by two Dutch engineers in 1914. The structures became common throughout Britain in the 1950s. Neil Riley, head of Generation Development at Eon UK and the man in charge of tomorrow's demolition, is philosophical about the passing of Britain's industrial history: "You've got to look at how long these things have been around. A lot of them were built in the Fifties and early Sixties. They've been loved, cherished and maintained.

"I think [demolition is] just a natural consequence of their design. It's just part of their natural life cycle."

The writer Germaine Greer is among those who feel a deep attachment to the structures, describing them as "fabulous creatures" and "art objects" that deserve to be preserved.

Another is Tom Keeley, 29, who led the unsuccessful campaign to save the Tinsley Towers in Sheffield. He watched with crowds as the salt and pepper pots, as they were known, were demolished in 2008.

"It was a shame because the towers were lit up with floodlights – the demolition was done at night – so for their last gasp they looked really beautiful." Mr Keeley said. "It was quite brutal, one half was left standing for a while and people were cheering; it was almost like a hanging."

He added: "There's a lot of shame attached to the energy industry; it has an association with dirt and power and heat. That isn't necessarily one that people want to celebrate and maybe rightly so. But I think there's too much of a rush to destroy all traces of a building rather than thinking what it could become. I don't think the solution is just to knock it down and pretend it never happened."

Mr Riley said: "The towers have a sort of fascination for some and are seen as ugly by others. But for someone who's worked in the power industry and spent time on a site [with cooling towers] they're not seen as ugly at all. People feel a great deal of emotion towards them."

The towers at High Marnham will fall one after the other at intervals of three seconds tomorrow, leaning slightly before breaking up and folding in on themselves as though made of fabric. Eon UK, the company behind the two Tinsley Towers and the five towers at High Marnham, admits that tomorrow's demolitions will be met with sadness. But for energy companies, paying to keep disused towers standing is not viable.

Richard Green, professor of sustainable energy in business at Imperial College London, said: "At some point somebody will have to provide a large amount of money to make sure they stay safe. If that's only going to be [for the sake of] a large public sculpture then, for all that places with public sculptures are pleasant, you have to think how much does this enhance the landscape compared to what else we could do if we weren't having to maintain the towers?"

Tony Pearson, who runs a pub in Pegwell Bay in Kent, says he is glad the three towers at Richborough power station, which were demolished in March, no longer spoil his view. "Looking out the window now, even though it's horrible weather, it does enhance the day not having them there," he said."There's a seal colony that live here, so we're looking at a really beautiful part of the countryside and when it had three great big cooling towers stuck in it, your eyes were drawn straight to it," he added.

But as Britain's coal and gas-fired power stations crumble into disuse and vanish, colossal white fans take their place as a symbol for the future of energy production.

Mr Pearson can see wind turbines out at sea from his pub. "Again, they're not pleasant to look at; they don't do anything for the landscape. But they are clean energy," he said.

Expert guide: How to blow up a cooling tower

Bringing five enormous towers to the ground takes a team of up to 25 people several weeks. This is what happens

* Holes are drilled round the base and up the side of each tower.

* The holes are stuffed with explosives and covered over with thick wire mesh or rubber, which stops debris from flying outside the blast zone.

* Before detonation the structures are sprayed with water to keep the ensuing dust cloud as small as possible.

* The explosives are detonated in a fixed order. The charges at the base go first, causing the tower to lean. A fraction of a second later the charges running vertically are detonated, weakening the tower's structure and causing it to fold in on itself.

* The rubble can take months to clear, and can be used to fill the holes which served as water pools for each tower.

* Another demolition method, which was used to bring down the Thorpe Marsh towers in Doncaster, is to drag wires along the base of the structure.

* The cables cut into the concrete until the tower can no longer support itself. This method is quieter than using explosives but involves additional work to demolish what is left of the base.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?