Sunday, 18 September 2016

Electrical Moderne

Tucked behind a residential street in Woking is a small concrete building. It has an Art Deco look, not unattractive but not obviously exciting. 

However, the interior is a very different matter. Built in 1936, this very functional space created by Swedish firm ASEA is full of Moderne style. Indeed, at this period Southern had adopted Streamline Moderne as its house style - as can also be seen at nearby Woking Station.

We are in Southern Railway's electrical control room, built as part of their programme of electrification. It continued in use until the 1990s, its fabulous features intact. Even the floors are elegant, with green and black bands at the edges.

The wall panels combine a Deco colour scheme and stylish silver strips with track diagrams. Now that the railway was electrified, operators needed to ensure that the electrical supply was available when trains were running and switched off while work was being carried out. Lights indicated the status of the supply, bakelite switches allowed it to be controlled. 

Caps were placed over switches when the supply was off, so that it couldn't be switched back on unthinkingly. 

The telephone exchange at the main desk brought information in and out. This original control desk has acquired some more modern paraphernalia: several generations of telephones can be seen here. 

The four uplighters running along the centre of the oval room are copper and cast iron. They don't just look lovely: combined with the curved ceiling, they ensure that light is even and there are no obscuring shadows. Those same curves also enhanced the acoustics of the room, so that one operator could easily hear the other even when they worked at opposite ends. (With a number of visitors and guides in the room, it was rather noisy!)

Outside the control room is another treat, albeit more functional than fancy. The corridors leading to the entrance are lined with the backs of those glamorous control boards, electro-mechanical switchgear on view. 

Of Southern's original five control rooms, Woking alone survives intact. It is now listed, so should be surprising visitors well into the future - and reminding us that it was not only the Victorians who invested so much care into the appearance of industrial spaces. 

Woking Electrical Control Room is open to the public on the annual Heritage Open Days. Thanks to IanVisits for highlighting it! 

There are more of my photos on Flickr

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