diamond geezer

 Tuesday, September 20, 2005

London Open House: It's four years ago this week since I first moved to London, and events like Open House remind me just how little of the capital I've so far seen. It's always a joy to discover a new treat, and thankfully there must many more delights I have yet to experience. Here are details of the final three of the nine visits I crammed in this weekend [and my photos are here]

Crossness Pumping Station: There are always queues on Open House weekend, but I wasn't expecting to find them at an old sewage works on the Thames marshes in deepest Bexley. The old dear driving the ageing minibus from Abbey Wood station had never seen the like either. We'd endured a rattly journey past Thamesmead and down a godforsaken approach road, before being dropped off outside an unexpectedly ornate brick building in the middle of almost nowhere. The smell of effluent filled the air, which made the snaking queue of locals and curious centre-of-towners all the more surprising. The stench was coming from the modern sewage works just along the river but we were here to see its Victorian predecessor - the pioneering and palatial Crossness Pumping Station.

You'll remember from last month's journey down the River Fleet that London's sewage problem was finally solved in the 1860s by master engineer Joseph Bazalgette. Crossness was his crowning glory, the ultimate destination of all the icky brown waste in South London which was piped here so that it could could be stored in huge subterranean reservoirs before being pumped out into the Thames on the ebb tide. And to do the pumping Bazalgette constructed four huge beam engines, each able to lift more than a thousand gallons of sewage in one stroke. The scale of the operation is phenomenal, with 47 ton iron beams rising and falling with the rotation of enormous flywheels spinning beneath. Only one engine has so far been restored, by a group of willing volunteers who clearly love nothing more than the allure of steam and sooty hands. They've done a particularly good job on the decorative ironwork around the central 'Octagon', although even the rustiest corners of the building still retain a genuine industrial charm.

Crossness proved a fascinating building to explore, not just the main hall but also down into the dark pipe-filled bowels and up the winding staircase to the broad ironwork floor at beam level. We were only afforded a glimpse of the dilapidated Triple Expansion Engine House nextdoor, which still waits for an injection of Heritage Lottery Fund cash and for restoration. Meanwhile outside in the old boiler room (safety helmets off) a Museum of Sanitation is being established. Look - a row of old porcelain toilet pedestals! See - a collection of 19th century bedpans! Lo - a roll of Izal medicated toilet tissue! All a little twee perhaps, but the importance of this building to the long-term health of South London should not be overestimated.
(full details on the highly informative and well-illustrated Crossness website)

Trinity Buoy Wharf: It may sound ludicrous but London does indeed have its own lighthouse, situated on the thin strip of land where the river Lea enters the Thames, just to the north of the Millennium Dome. The lighthouse was never used to warn of underwater hazards but was instead kitted out by Trinity House back in Victorian times as a testing ground for their latest lighthouse technology. The site today is surprisingly inaccessible given its proximity to Docklands, with road access hidden away down a shabby industrial backstreet in the southeast corner of Tower Hamlets. There are great views of the Dome and the Thames from the top of the lighthouse, the interior artily filled by the computer generated ringing of Tibetan 'singing bowls' performing a 1000-year sound symphony (honest).

The rest of the wharf site is a strange mix of old and new, and oddly enchanting. An old red lightship is tied up a few yards from a genuine aluminium American diner. Brightly coloured metal containers have been piled up to create low cost office and studio space in a pioneering (keyword: sustainable) project called Container City, which us weekend visitors got to peer inside. Few central London office blocks can beat its low cost riverside panorama. And out at the end of Jubilee Pier I was surprised to be allowed access to the Vic 56 - an 85 foot long WW2 steamboat. There was no gangplank so I had to clamber aboard over the side of both the pier and the boat - rather inexpertly and inelegantly I thought. But it was a treat to wander the decks of this partly restored ship, clambering over ropes and climbing to the wheelhouse, and to meet and talk to the present owners. Seaworthy at least as far as Harwich, apparently, and no shortage of volunteers wanting to hide themselves away in the grimy engine room and stoke the steam engines.

Bank of England: There's only one bank to which we all belong but from which we can never draw money. All the more strange then to be allowed access to the Bank of England first thing on a Sunday morning. I had my rucksack searched by a top hatted security gent in a pink frock coat, and was then taken on a tour of (some of) this mighty fortress's interior by a softly spoken bank worker. As you'd expect the decor is magnificent, from fine crafted Derbyshire limestone walls to painstakingly beautiful mosaics underfoot. Corridors stretch off into the distance, a cantilever staircase rises seven storeys into the sky, and three floors of basement and vaults are hidden underfoot. We trudged through the Governor's office (he has a cheap black plastic government-issue pencil stand on his desk containing just one yellow highlighter pen) and on up the stairs to the room where the Bank of England decide the UK interest rate each month. Every wall and ceiling screamed opulence, especially in the facsimile Court Room, although we were assured that most of the bank's offices were rather more utilitarian. Our tour ended in the Bank of England's mini museum, where I took the opportunity to handle a genuine (and surprisingly heavy) gold bar - worth either 28 pounds or a hundred thousand pounds depending on whether you're weighing it or buying it. The queue was at least two hours long by the time I got back outside - bloody typical even for a top bank, I thought.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream

What's on this month?
28 Jan – 23 Apr (10am-4.30pm)
Sussex Modernism
The sixth annual exhibition at Two Temple Place focuses on radical art/writing in Sussex, and is damned excellent.

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
city metric
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
london museums
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
The DG Tour of Britain
Comment Value Hierarchy

read the archive
Feb17  Jan17
Dec16 Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards