FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Woking wonder

Posted in England, Woking by folkestonejack on September 14, 2013

Every year since 1994 Heritage Open Days have been opening the doors of buildings that would otherwise remain unseen by the public at large. One such place is British Railways Woking Electrical Control Room, a remarkably stylish working environment for the men charged with looking after the power supply following electrification. It opens to the public for one day a year and for once I had the day free to take a look.

The control room was built for Southern Railways in 1936 by Swedish firm ASEA and astonishingly remained in use until 1997. As you walk into the building, passing by offices still in everyday use, you have no idea just how stunning the interior will be. The sudden contrast between a relatively mundane corridor and the beautiful art-deco interior makes it feel like you have stepped into another world.

The striking interior of the control room

The striking interior of the control room

The control room features a stark white ceiling that makes the contrast with the black boards that hold the track diagrams, lights and switches all the more striking. Four stylish uplighters fill the room with light (and apparently also supplied a bit of warmth when hugged on cold winter days during the room’s working life!). The original control desk sits in the centre of all this, looking a little lonely. It all has a surprisingly futuristic feel, just the sort of place that you can imagine might have been chosen in the 1960s as the set for a Doctor Who story!

The guys in the room gave us a fascinating insight into how the system worked in its day, whilst also pointing out how quickly the network has moved on – the track diagrams that wrap their way around the room no longer reflect the realities of today’s power supply lines. The place is something of a time capsule in other ways too, with a 1997 desk calendar on the control desk and an assortment of old telephones at the ready. It’s great that an occasion like this allows the public to peek inside and well worth checking out on its annual open day.

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