FOR decades Southampton Power Station, with its towering chimneys looming over the local skyline, was quite literally an eyesore.

There are probably still many older Sotonians who remember having to visit the then Eye Hospital in Bedford Place with painful grit in their eyes after being caught in fall-out from the generating plant.

By no stretch of the imagination could the building, which stood close to what is now the toy superstore in Western Esplanade, be called attractive but until the 1960s the building provided much of the city’s power.

The generating plant dominated the skyline until it was demolished in the 1970s after the construction of the oil-powered power station at Marchwood, also now no more.

Besides being a blot on the landscape, the old power station used to belch enormous amounts of smoke into the atmosphere, producing clouds of particles.

As far back as 1936 there were complaints from people in and around Southampton about the grit which escaped from the power station.

However, in 1951 a special extractor was installed to help remove the grit from the smoke discharged from the six old boilers.

It was on July 20, 1903, that the foundation stone of the power station was laid amidst much ceremony in Southampton.

“An important event in the municipal life of Southampton occurred when Mr W. Bone, until recently an alderman of the borough, laid the foundation of the new electric light station at Western Shore,” reported the Daily Echo of the time.

“The need for the new station has long been felt, and eventually the enterprising Electricity Committee which controls the electric department decided to erect fresh premises in spite of pessimistic utterances, fully convinced that the venture would be thoroughly justified by results.”

Southampton Power Station was constructed on land reclaimed from the sea and at the time of the ceremony, work on the building was well advanced.

“When the company, invited to the ceremony, assembled they found the red brick work rearing itself to a considerable height denoting much energy on the part of the constructors and their workmen,” reported the Daily Echo. In the years which followed, the generating station did its best to keep home lights burning but the National Grid was unable to cope in the cold, austere days after the Second World War. In April 1949 there was just a glimmer of hope when the Government announced that electricity restrictions were to be relaxed.

“Some effort will be made to add a little brightness but many of Southampton’s big buildings were shattered by the Luftwaffe, and those remaining find that, after ten years, lighting systems cannot be flicked on at a moment’s notice,” said the Daily Echo.