Review: visit to Crossness Pumping Station

On Sunday 2nd June a small group of us met at Crossness Pumping Station to view the building and the amazing engines inside. The station was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1865 and was a key element in Joseph Bazalgette’s scheme to improve the heath and sanitation of Victorian London. He designed a vast new sewerage system for the City which is still in operation today. At Crossness, four magnificent rotative beam engines (built by James Watt and Company) were used to pump London’s sewage into a reservoir before being discharged into the Thames on ebbing tides. The Crossness Engines Trust was formed in 1987 to preserve the listed buildings and to return the unique pumping engines to their former glory. In 2003 the restoration of the ‘Prince Consort’ engine was complete and was commemorated by a visit by the current Prince of Wales. A volunteer workforce continues the enormous task of restoration today. 

On entering the building, there is an interesting exhibition detailing information about the ‘Great Stink’ that led to Parliament granting the money for the scheme; about the outbreaks of cholera and how scientists and doctors gradually realised this was a water-bourne disease; about the works and the sewerage system; about flushing toilets and how people wiped their bums throughout history (with a huge and surprising variety of materials and objects…but you’ll have to visit if you want to find out more!).

All of this was fascinating but just a prelude to the main event, which was donning our hard hats and moving through to the engine rooms. We were present on a ‘steaming’ day when the ‘Prince Consort’ engine was in operation and it was incredible to watch – fascinating, hypnotic and strangely beautiful. You can wander around in designated areas and can see the machines and the extraordinary building from all sorts of angles. It was a gloriously sunny day and the light through the windows illuminating the metalwork was magical.  

Afterwards, we gathered for refreshments (although one of the group grumbled that they could have engineered better cake!) to share our thoughts before leaving. Everyone in the group throughly enjoyed it so thank you to Tony for suggesting the trip. 

Please enjoy the photo gallery! If you want to see some videos of the engine in operation, there are four short videos posted to our facebook page here.