The Crossness Pumping Station is nicknamed the Cathedral on the Marsh. It was built to improve Victorian London's sewerage system and was designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette. It was officially opened by the Prince of Wales in April 1865.
At that time London was suffering from outbreaks of cholera, as the water supply as well as the River Thames were heavily polluted with sewage. It is said that up to 20,000 people died annually in London from cholera. So the Metropolitan Board of Works were asked to do something. Joseph Bazalgette was the engineer of the MBW was put in charge to finding a solution to these problems. He had 85 miles of new sewers built and those connected with the many smaller sewers that ran into the Thames. This took the effluent to the east area of London where it was discharged into the Thames and flowed out to sea. This required a number of pumping stations.
There were 3 pumping stations, One at Abbey Mills, north of the river, but only the shell remains. South of the river there was a pumping station at Deptford, which has essentially disappeared and the one at Crossness which is now being slowly restored.
Today the pumping station is surrounded by a large sewage plant operated by Thames Water.
At Crossness, 4 rotative beam engines were built by James Watt & Company, and were used to pump London's sewage into a reservoir before being discharged into the Thames on the ebbing tides. The 4 engines were housed in the The Beam Engine House, which is now a Grade 1 Listed Industrial Building. The Crossness Engines Trust is a charity that was set up to preserve the buildings and restore these pumping engines. The workers are all volunteers. This is from the CET www :
"The Beam Engine House was constructed in the Romanesque style and features some of the most spectacular ornamental Victorian cast ironwork to be found today. It also contains the four original pumping engines (although the cylinders were upgraded in 1901), which are possibly the largest remaining rotative beam engines in the world, with 52 ton flywheels and 47 ton beams. Although modern diesel engines were subsequently introduced, the old beam engines remained in service until work on a new sewerage treatment plant commenced in 1956. Following abandonment in the mid 1950's, the engine house and engines were systematically vandalised and left to decay, which greatly impeded the Trust's restoration/conservation programme."
"The complex was designed in the Romanesque (Norman) style, in gault brick, with considerable ornamentation with red brick arches and dog-tooth string courses. The three entrance doorways were decorated with Norman dog-toothed red brick arches, whilst the main entrance, facing the river (now hidden by an extension) was further decorated with the coats-of-arms of the MBW and adjacent counties. There was originally a magnificent chimney, 207 feet high, which has since been demolished."
Side view of the engine house
The interior of the engine house is incredibly ornate, with amazing wrought and cast iron work. There is one engine in each corner and in the centre is an octagonal structure of iron columns, highly ornamented, with supporting iron arched screens and the open octagonal well on the main beam floor.
There were polished tubular brass hand rails. The ironwork was painted in natural colours following those of the leaves, branches and fruit represented.
Looking up at the openwork upper iron floors painted in french grey and vermilion, with the shafts of the main columns in indian red.
The 4 beam engines are named "Victoria", "Prince Consort", "Albert Edward" (the Prince of Wales) and "Alexandra" (the Princess of Wales). You can read more about them in detail on the CET engines page.
In 2003 the restoration of "Prince Consort" was completed and is steaming on 6 open days a year.
Looking up at the beam and the openwork upper deck -
The 4 engines -
Victoria is now being restored. The other 2 will be left as they are.
On the upper floor, with "Prince Consort" at the back left -
and one of the unrestored beams -
Looking at the whole length of the building, "Prince Consort" is at the back left -
The spiral staircase goes down to the lower floor & the base of the engines -
The entrance building now houses an exhibition called The Great Stink, covering the first urban sewage systems right through to systems of the future. There is also a lot of info on cholera. Some old toilets -
Current view from the river
1865 view with the chimney -
Crossness Pumping Station is an amazing piece of Victorian heritage.