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Pumped: Crossness In Pictures

June 29, 2013
The yet-to-be-restored section of the pumping station.

The yet-to-be-restored section of the pumping station.

Nineteenth-century civil engineer, Joseph Bazalgette, created central London’s sewerage network at a time when the Thames was full of poo and cholera epidemics were rife. Crossness Pumping Station (1865) was integral to the system. In the early days its job was to pump sewerage into a reservoir, then release it into the Thames during the ebbing tide so it could be carried out to sea and away from the capital. As time went on, sewerage treatment and disposal got more sophisticated but, even early on, Bazalgette’s scheme saved thousands of lives and improved the river. The last cholera outbreak in London was in 1866.

Crossness was decommissioned in 1950 and fell into disrepair until the Crossness Engines Trust stepped in to start restoring it in the late 1980s. It is on the Buildings At Risk register.

The restoration project is huge and ongoing. On a few occasions every year, the trust holds an open day to show the public what it has been up to, as it did last week. I couldn’t resist. I had to see it for myself.

In truth, I was blown away. The pumping station is over several floors and its proportions are grand. The trust has done an amazing job of restoration, meticulously bringing the ornate Victorian interior to life as well as getting one of the enormous pumps, The Prince Consort, to work again. I was also struck by the smaller details that knit together to produce the overall effect. This is an interior that asks for much more than a sweeping glance. You need to get up close and personal, and linger a while. I found the unrestored section just as beautiful: still majestic but raw, brutal, and poetically unlovely.

I won’t labour on the details of Crossness here. The trust’s own website does a great job of explaining how it all works at and provides dates for open days for 2013. Several bloggers have also covered it well such as and At you can read about the restoration of the Woolwich, the last surviving steam loco built at the Royal Woolwich Arsenal. It is being lovingly restored in a building next to the pumping station.

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One Comment
  1. What wonderful images! Thank you for posting this. I’ve always wanted to see one of the the beam engines responsible for clearing ‘the Big Stink’! Will have to pay a visit. Regards, Paul

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