FIFTY years of history – gone in 15 seconds. Despite Didcot’s sadness at seeing its cooling towers sink to the ground, there was applause and cheering when the moment arrived.
Thousands turned out to see the iconic towers crash to the ground at 5.01 am yesterday.
More than 1,000 people gathered on top of Wittenham Clumps to watch the final moments of Didcot A’s three southern towers.
Many ignored calls from nPower to stay at home and watch a live stream on the internet, instead packing up picnic baskets and blankets to experience the iconic moment in the open air.
The company had advised that the demolition would take place between 3am and 5am yesterday, so many took no chances and arrived early.
There was a party atmosphere after people clutching torches climbed to the top of the clumps, sang songs and started false countdowns as they waited.
Many of those who came brought cameras to capture the moment when the 325ft towers at coal-fired Didcot A came down.
A 15 minute warning siren sounded to signal the coming blast, followed by another at 10 minutes before ignition. Then at precisely 5.01am, and without a sound, the towers started falling in. It was seond later that the thousands who were witnessing it would hear the boom of the 180kg of explosives detonating.
Following the blast, conducted by Coleman & Company demolition experts, Ben MacDow, 33, an event manager from Wallingford, said: “It was eerie to see the towers fall so silently and then there was a rumble afterwards. The power station looks all lopsided now.”
As clouds of dust from the towers billowed into the dawn, it became apparent one of the three towers did not collapse completely.
Part of the base was left standing but nPower staff said this would not cause a problem and the remaining structure would be flattened. Father-of-two Dale Warne, 31, from Wallingford, who works for Waitrose, added: “I think it is going to be dusty in Didcot for a while.”
Peter Steer, 64, an electrical engineer from Woodcote, South Oxfordshire, turned up at the clumps with wife Christine. He said following the demolition: “It was quite brutal, quite sudden.
“The towers collapsed in on themselves and I’m sorry to see such a landmark go.”
Hundreds of people gathered on the mound on Didcot’s Ladygrove estate playing music, inflating balloons and enjoying themselves — despite having to sit outside for hours.
By the time the towers were demolished some had been on top of the grassy mound in Tyne Avenue for around five hours. Several had made journeys from much further afield that Didcot.
One of these was Ben Shewchuk, who now lives in London but grew up in the town and has fond memories of the power station.
The 32-year-old, who came straight there after finishing work at 10pm, said: “I look forward to seeing them when I come home. I know what they mean to people. They are majestic and there will be something missing.”
Karen Webb, 50, of Worcester Drive, Didcot, was perched on the mound with partner Alan Hancock, who filmed the demolition.
She said: “They had to come down because they weren’t efficient but it’s sad.
“I am not surprised that so many people have turned out because there is a lot of local interest in the power station.”
Many of the people who gathered on the mound had brought deckchairs, tents and blankets to make their wait a little more comfortable.
As well as in Ladygrove, onlookers gathered at some of the bridges across Didcot’s railway line, including the one in Basil Hill Road and the footbridge between the town’s train station and its long-stay car park.
Sarah Leach, 47, from Kidlington, arrived at one of the bridges at around 12.45am with her husband Trevor and son Thomas. She said: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the power station blown up and it is something we have all grown up with. Whenever you come back home you know you are nearly there when you see Didcot Power Station.”
Kevin Nix, head of generation for RWE in the UK, said: “It went very well.
“One of the things we worried about — dust and debris on the railway line — has not been a great problem.
“Although this is a sad day and the end of an era in many ways, I am very pleased that the technically challenging demolition of the southern cooling towers has been carried out successfully and above all with the safety of all those involved, including the local community, as its highest priority.”
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