This is the sixth in a series of posts about what we did on our recent trip to London.
Visiting a sewage works probably doesn’t rank highly on most peoples’ lists of things to do in London. But Crossness Pumping Station is no ordinary sewage works – not at least because it’s now disused.
It was built in the 19th century, back when most sewage from central London got dumped straight into the River Thames, thus effectively making it a huge, smelly open sewer. To combat this, a series of underground sewer tunnels were built, along with two pumping stations – one north of the Thames at Abbey Mills, and one at Crossness, which is south of the Thames, near Abbey Wood. The sewage could then be treated before being deposited into the river in a cleaner state, and away from the centre of the city.
Like many Victorian infrastructure projects, Crossness was somewhat over-designed and elaborate, with intricate painted cast-iron features. Inside the pumping station, four huge steam powered pumps would pump the sewage through the tunnels; later, two additional pumps were installed in an extension to the building. These two later pumps were then replaced with two small diesel-powered pumps, and the remaining steam pumps decommissioned, before the whole plant was closed and replaced by modern facilities in the 1950s.
The building has now been taken over by volunteers, intent on restoring as much as possible back to its original condition in its 19th century heyday. So far, one of the four remaining pumps has been fully restored and is operational; a second is in progress but the other two are a long way away from working again.
Much has also been done to restore other features in the building, including the beautiful original iron work. Remember – this was a facility to pump human waste, and yet its interior feels almost like a palace.
Opportunities to visit Crossness are limited; we were lucky that our trip to London coincided with one of their open days. There are no more open days this year and the dates for 2016 are not yet up on the web site, but I would recommend going to visit. Public transport access to the site is available on open days, although the nearest station, Abbey Wood, is being rebuilt for Crossrail and is therefore frequently shut at weekends.