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UK’s top safe engineer called to 1920’s abandoned London Power Station


A 1950’s vault within the grounds of a beautiful abandoned Control Building in Barking was finally cracked open by one of the UK’s top safe engineers, exposing another safe and a series of fascinating artefacts.


The old Control Room was once part of Barking Power Station and is now one of only two power station landmarks that still remain standing in London. The Control Room was opened in 1925 by King George V and remains a significant part of the heritage of Barking Riverside; a brand new London neighbourhood creating up to 10,800 homes in partnership with housing association L&Q and the Greater London Authority.


It took one of the UK’s leading safe engineers approximately seven hours to crack open the vault which included cutting new keys. Due to security issues, the identity of the safe engineer cannot be revealed but he has previously worked for the Ministry of Defence and flown to Afghanistan.


Matthew Carpen, Project Director of Barking Riverside Ltd, said: “The suspense of waiting for the vault to be opened has been immense. To witness the vault door finally open and walking into the vault was pretty special and something we’ll all remember for years to come. We envisaged there being another safe but to be honest, we didn’t know what we were going to find.


He added, “The Control Room is a legacy of the Power Station and Barking’s rich history so we have every intention of restoring the building as part of the Barking Riverside development and exploring all options that could allow some form of public access.”


The findings within the vault, which were a captivating time capsule, included a striking double-doored Chatwood Milner safe, a bookshelf of decomposed folders and files that most likely contained documents relating to workers from the power station. The documents once examined, will hopefully reveal information about the past and the hundreds of people who worked at the power station. Amongst the artefacts, was a long service award belonging to Mr Frederick Ernest Webster for his 25 years of service at the Power Station. It remains a mystery why it was in the safe.


Barking Riverside Ltd are keen to see what can be reclaimed and are keen to work in


Rob Smith, Historian from Footprints of London, said: “The safe was located in the wages room, and on Fridays the workers at the power station would be queuing up outside the hatch in the door, eager to pick up their pay packets. Wages were paid in cash, and with so many workers at the factory a lot of money would be on site on pay day – hence the double safe. Wages robberies were not unusual in industrial areas where factories were well away from the police. So the finance staff at Barking Power Station were taking no chances.”


This momentous event was made extra special with the family of the late Brian Yates being invited to see the vault being cracked as a tribute to Brian. Brian was a local resident who had worked as a security guard at the Power Station for numerous years until it closed in 1982. He then decided to open up his own yard, 200 metres from the Control Room building. The building use to house the power station’s Fire Station. It was particularly fitting as Brian was the former Estate Manager for Barking Riverside so this was one of his buildings he looked after.


Brian Yates is quite possibly the last person to have gone into the vault before the power station’s closure.


Wife of the late Brian Yates, Nita Yates was nervous about returning to the site and for support brought her three daughters as well as a sentimental piece of Brian, his flat cap, which she had in her handbag. She said: “Brain’s happiest memories were working at the Power Station and at his yard. This is where he taught his girls to drive; this is where his children and grandchildren grew up and played. The girls and I are touched to have been invited today and to have the vault opening attributed to Brian. He would have loved to have been here to see this.”


There are no confirmed plans of what the Control Building will be used for but BRL are in very early talks with an Agricultural College who have expressed an interest in the building as well as exploring other possible public uses.