diamond geezer

 Monday, September 19, 2011

Open House: Abbey Mills Pumping Station

If you've ever been to the toilet north of the Thames, anywhere between Acton and Bow, then you've contributed a little to the history of this building. The Abbey Mills Pumping Station is an essential link in London's sewage system, built in the 1870s by Sir Joseph Bazalgette and designed to speed millions of gallons of unpleasant liquids downstream. The pumps within raise the brownwater by forty feet into the Northern Outfall Sewer, thence slowly downhill for release into the Thames at Beckton. And the station still functions, despite being superseded by a more modern pumping station nextdoor, such was the genius nature of Victorian infrastructure. Courtesy of Open House, Thames Water allowed a handful of consumers inside the building this weekend, and we all enjoyed a fascinating two hour tour.

It's a magnificent building, entirely unnecessarily so [photo]. The Victorians had a habit of embellishing public projects, and Abbey Mills is no exception [photo]. The lantern on top earned the pumping station the nickname "the Mosque in the marsh", back in the days when nobody else lived anywhere nearby. Four Byzantine towers provide access to the roof, with rows of glazed tiles and carved limestone flora beneath to provide additional artistic flourishes. The building was originally cruciform in shape, before two additional boiler houses were added (only one of which survives). There were also two enormous chimneys topped by minarets, although those came down at the start of the Second World War when they were decreed a toppling hazard. A railway line brought in coal to keep the plant working 24 hours a day, and key employees were housed in a row of cottages close by so that they were always on call. The building is sometimes known as the Cathedral of Sewage, and it's easy to see why [photo].

Inside (oh yes, the tour went inside), the view's just as amazing. High ceilings, rising to the lantern's symmetrical windowlight at the centre [photo]. A raised level of intricate ironwork, originally installed to access a series of beam engines, until these were replaced by electric pumps in the 1930s [photo] [photo]. The replacements look like Daleks guarding the four corners of the building, and have recently been restored to provide several more years of service. Gaping holes in the floor lead down to thick pipes in chambers below, a curious mixture of old and very new. Around the walls are various dials and scales and chunky electronic cabinets, all now superfluous but part of the charm of the interior [photo] [photo]. Nobody works inside any more, not unless something here goes wrong. In normal circumstances, as and when, the entire station now runs automatically, controlled from elsewhere.

In truth the old Victorian building doesn't need to function too often. A new aluminium-clad pumping station was opened in 1997, and only a couple of times a month does this still need support from its ancestor. There are eight pumping stations here in total, each lettered from A to I (but no G) and all of slightly different vintage. The original's A, boosted by B a few years later, then rather-large C built to disgorge excess greywater direct into the Channelsea River. The Channelsea still suffers when too much sewage needs to escape, which is why the Lee Tunnel is being built between here and Beckton to reduce the environmental impact on the Thames. Its pumping station will be wholly underground, leaving virtually no visible footprint, unlike the other tumbledown buildings we observed during our tour of the site. I'd never realised there was quite so much here at Abbey Mills, but now I'll look down from the Greenway with a completely new eye.

The tour was excellent, thanks not least to our guide who delivered all the facts with humour and a knowing smile. He was accompanied by two Thames Water employees in hi-vis jackets, one of whom is the company's archivist and who later took us down to his repository. The room is stuffed full of files of plans, blueprints, photographic plates and manhole cover locations. On the shelves are some fantastically old volumes detailing all the original plans of London's Victorian sewers - giant leatherbound tomes labelled "Hammersmith to Bow" or "Counters Creek to Old Ford" or whatever - which are still referred to whenever developers want to build something new on top. The other employee works down the sewers, attempting to keep them clear and unblocked, and recently helped dig out a huge plug of cooking fat under Leicester Square. You wouldn't want to do it, but be damned glad that someone does, and that Bazalgette's supreme sewage solution survives.

Other visitors
» Jonathan's taken some much better photos than me, and so has Louise
» dicky21 got inside without permission, as did Millhouse, and Els, and leanrascal, and Speed, and East of Desolation
» M@ and Dean from Londonist have been into the Northern Outfall Sewer (as part of Thames Water's annual "Sewer Week" held every May)
» Read about another Sewer Week tour in and around Abbey Mills, in full detail
» Danny is one of Thames Water's 'flushers' and blogs about his subterranean sewer-unblocking experiences
» Meanwhile Ian visited the Western Pumping Station yesterday, in Victoria

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16
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 weekend?
Wed 19th - Sun 23rd October
Bloomsbury Festival
It's free to visit the Foundling Museum this weekend.

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
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

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

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