Crossness Pumping Station, and a Thames walk.
Five EFOG members joined Lynne at Cannon Street Station on Sunday 6th May for a visit to Crossness Pumping Station, on the south bank of the Thames, opposite Dagenham.
The pumping station is similar in design and purpose to the one at Abbey Mills, near Stratford, which members of the group may be more familiar with, at least from a distance. Abbey Mills Pumping Station has been called “The Cathedral of Sewage”, because of its ornate design – although to me it looks more like a Turkish mosque than a cathedral. Apparently the style is actually Italian Gothic.
These buildings were designed and built as part of Joseph Bazalgette’s plan to deal with the sewage problems in London during Victorian times. The problem with how London’s sewage was disposed of came to a head in July and August 1858 when the smell from the river was so bad that Victoria and Albert had to forego a pleasure trip on the Thames, and Parliamentary business was affected.
Bazlgette was employed to find a solution to the odiferous problem, which affected health as well as the nose and river trips. And government. His solution was a vast network of sewer tunnels, all of which ultimately fed the materials to the two pumping stations, one on each side of the river.
Arriving at Abbey Wood station, the free bus to Crossness was somewhat indeterminate, both as to where it should depart from and in how long, so we opted for two cabs instead. Entering the complex – which is a working sewage treatment station – we were directed towards the Victorian parts of grounds, walking alongside a narrow-gauge railway line apparently being constructed. This led us to a large and well-fitted workshop, in which the Royal Arsenal Narrow Gauge Railway group (RANG) had laid out some model railway layouts for the public to enjoy and to introduce us to their project to run a 700 metre passenger-carrying railway from the site’s gates to the old pumping station. Quite a project for a local railway-enthusiast group! They even have a working steam locomotive - which they have renamed Bazalgette, and a nice open carriage.
We proceeded to the buildings which house the Victorian aspects of the site, one of which had an exhibition of a variety of pumping engines, and then we paid our £8 per person to enter the main building, meeting with other EFOG members who has made their own way there. This main pump-engine building houses four large, originally steam driven, pumps built by James Watt & Co. to Joseph Bazalgette's designs and specification, and were named Victoria, Prince Consort, Albert Edward and Alexandra. Victoria has been renovated, and was “in steam”, an impressive sight, with sounds too, of course. In fact, for demonstration purposes, the engine is now powered by compressed air.
There are other exhibits, too, in the visitor centre. Perhaps particular fun was the collection of toilet bowls and ancillary equipment and devices; after viewing those we (of course) made our way to the cafeteria, where good value simple snacks were on offer.
We discussed the options for our return journey, and decided that as it was a pleasant day – sunny and warm but with a nicely cooling breeze – we would make our way along the Thames riverside path to the Woolwich Ferry. This is a distance of 4 miles, and we arrived at the Woolwich ferry terminal in just the right time to board one of the two brand new ferries – the Ben Woollacott. The other – I think not yet in service – is named Dame Vera Lynn.
It is a quick crossing (and free) and – disembarking – five of the group caught a bus to Stratford, and I caught a another which conveniently terminates almost at the end of my road.
It was a nice – and varied – day, and thanks to Lynne for organising it and to the others for the company.
Paul Ferris, 4th June 2019