Crossness Pumping Station

16 September 2007

On a pleasant Sunday afternoon (reported to be the last day of summer, weather-wise) it was off to an usual destination, the Crossness Pumping Station, which formerly pumped sewage from the southern outfall sewers into the Thames.

The pumping engines and buildings were opened in 1865 as part of the major engineering efforts to solve the mid-19th century sewage problems of London - see also my walk along the Northern Outfall Sewer.

The southern intercepting sewers captured sewage from south of the Thames which previously went directly into the Thames in central London, and transferred it east to here on the Erith marshes, where it was stored until high water and then pumped into the river to be taken out to sea by the side.

The old engine house, in a state of rust and decay, but with hints of better things in the distance.

The engines were taken out of use in the 1950s when replaced by the new pumping and treatment plant next door. They were allowed to rust and decay. The beginnings of a change in attitude came in 1980 with the engine/boiler house being given Grade 1 listed building status in 1980, and restoration began in 1985.

And here is part of the fruits of those labours. What an extraordinary place.

MBW - Metropolitan Board of Works

And lest we forget, this intricate detail is for the interior of a sewage pumping station. It is important to remind ourselves that the whole of the sewage works were rightly regarded as a triumph of Victorian engineering, and the opening was attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury among many other dignitaries. 

On the right is Prince Consort, one of the four engines, and the first to be restored

On the right, the flywheel of Print Consort

Click on the video to play it

In the basement, we can see two of the culverts which carried the pumped sewage

Looking down into one of the sewage plungers

The restored air pump, which takes condensate from the condenser and returns it to the boilers to generate more steam

And here's one awaiting restoration

Back above ground, on what one might call the mezzanine level, we make our way past the rusting cylinders...

... to the top floor where the beams make their huge presence felt.

A rusting beam. Although there are fundraising efforts to continue to transform the Crossness Cathedral, I think in some ways it is wonderful how it is, showing the machines as the chemistry of the natural world proceeds, and hugely contrasting with the restored parts - it also serves to emphasise how much work has been done so far.

The beams of Prince Consort

Click on the video to play it

Looking down the Octagon and some of its wonderful cast iron screens

The upper floor with the four sets of beams.

A fascinating afternoon - see the Crossness website for details about visiting.


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Unless otherwise stated, all images copyright (c) Stephen and Lucy Dawson