As photographer Peter Dazeley watched Battersea Power Station fall apart from his riverside apartment as redevelopment plan after redevelopment plan for the building failed, he became increasingly intrigued as to what the decaying power station looked like on the inside.
Dazeley’s interest in Battersea developed into a four-year project to photograph buildings most Londoners never see. The results have been collected into a book, Unseen London.
Lengthy negotiations were required to gain entry to many buildings. ‘It’s difficult to explain how we did it all, but a lot came down to friends, clients and acquaintances,’ says Dazeley, a London native, who sought out intriguing everyday buildings alongside those actively designed to impress.
Most locations were generous and more than willing to let Dazeley photograph, but there were still some bureaucratic challenges. ‘The Bank of England needed eight pages of legal documents, and sadly they wouldn’t let me into the vaults to check if the gold is still there,’ he says. The Royal Opera House,meanwhile, charged £200 per hour for security.
‘The Ministry of Defence was by far the most difficult to get into,’ says Dazeley. Underneath the MoD headquarters is the Palace of Whitehall’s wine cellar. The palace – where Henry VIII died – burned down in 1691. When the current MoD building was constructed in the 1930s, Queen Mary insisted on preserving the cellar.
‘We had permission to go in from the MoD, but then they took it back because we needed a sponsor from there. But they will not tell you who works in the MoD,’ says Dazeley.
Help came when Dazeley photographed Downing Street, and a friendly security officer arranged a visit to the wine cellar.
‘You don’t walk into a bank now and think, “wow”,’ says Dazeley. The former Midland Bank headquarters in the City of London was built as a palace to finance, and is set to become a luxury hotel in 2017. ‘The building is like a marble palace. It takes you back into a time when you could speak to and respect a bank manager.’ The vaults held 3,000 safety deposit boxes, and the bank featured bespoke furniture designed by Edwin Lutyens. There are even cupboards for top hats complete with a drawer for a walking cane below.
‘There were all these buildings like the Freemason’s Hall in Covent Garden that I’d walked passed without realising were even there,’ says Dazeley. Surprises included Crossness Sewage Treatment Works, a building that features ornate decoration despite its mundane function.
If there’s a next book, the focus will be less on the unseen and more the under appreciated. Dazeley notes that there are many intriguing sites around the capital, like the London Fire Brigade Museum, that are open to the public but often overlooked.