They have blown up the cooling towers at the old Didcot Power Stations in Oxfordshire! For many this event will be of little moment, but to hundreds of glider pilots it will be like turning a page in the history books. Variously described in the press as an eyesore, a blot on the landscape, or a carbuncle on the body politic it was the price to be paid for the production of electricity in the region. It incorporated one of the tallest structures in the country, a chimney of 650 feet that became a turning point feature. In addition the design of the cooling towers was not without merit, despite their functionality. The hyperbolic shape aided in accelerating the upward convective airflow, to produce beautiful thermals for those in need. They were Invisible to the multitude who seldom look up at the sky, but manna from heaven to those circling above. Before the days of GPS there were certain landmarks that were deeply etched in the psyche. For Southdown pilots, Petersfield, Frome, Lasham and Didcot were among them. Even an out and return to Didcot was not to be despised. One could see the cooling towers from miles away on a clear day, steaming away like a beacon of hope with a thermal thrown in to get you back at least as far as Lasham.

But Didcot had its opponents from the very beginning.Many detested the environmental damage to the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside. Green peace warned of the high pollution density over a wide region, once the power stations were brought on line. Others argued that the employment opportunities outweighed everything else. Thus Didcot was born in controversy and ended in a tragedy.

Power generation ceased in 2013 and plans to dismantle the buildings were drawn up. During the demolition of the boiler house in 2016, part of the structure collapsed claiming the lives of four workmen. Opponents of the enterprise shook their collective heads and remarked how they had always been against it.

The plant began generating electricity in 1968 and at one time employed around 2,400 workers. The total cost was 104 million pounds for a working life of 45 years. Locals were glad to find well paid employment, glider pilots loved it, Greenpeace hated it for its environmental impact. When the fuses were activated for the final scene, and the remains of the towers crumbled, there was an electricity failure affecting thousands. For those of a superstitious nature, this was Didcot’s final protest at annihilation.

Was the Didcot enterprise a blessing or a curse? It all depends on your point of view!

Didcot- complete with cooling towers

Final moments of Didcot’s Cooling Towers

Didcot Power Station

By Peter Holloway