Grand designs

02/12/2019 12:33
December 2019 - Grand designs.jpg

By Louis Quinn, London, Southern & Eastern Section committee member

In Octoberm, 15 members of the IGEM London, Southern & Eastern Section had the pleasure of visiting Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s Crossness Pumping Station. 

To many, the prospect of visiting a Victorian sewage plant would be an unpleasant one. However, this Grade I listed building features some of the most spectacular ornamental Victorian cast ironwork. As such, it is an above ground monument to the engineering feat that is Bazalgette’s original London sewer system.

The group was hosted by volunteers at the pumping station turned museum, who told the story of ‘The Great Stink’, the cholera crisis, the obsolete theory of miasma and the political stimulus behind one of the largest engineering projects of its time.

The museum, which is open to the public, has interesting exhibitions explaining the workings of sewer systems through the ages and the evolution to current day. It also tells the story of Crossness, including the lives of those who lived and worked there and the restoration of the site.

The crown jewel of the pumping station is certainly the four original pumping engines. These engines are rotative beam engines, believed to be the oldest surviving in the world.

Originally single cylinder engines manufactured by James Watt Co., they were all upgraded to three cylinder engines by 1901.

Bazalgette named each of the engines in honour of a member of the royal family at the time and the site hosted the Prince of Wales, Duke of Cambridge and two Archbishops for the opening ceremony.

As a group of engineers, members discussed the technical operating By Louis Quinn, London, Southern & Eastern Section committee member principles of the pumps, cylinders, and flywheels as well as the power required to drive them.

In addition to the magnificent engines and the intriguing museum, the architecture and design of this original Victorian building is truly astounding, especially considering it was built in a sewage works to hold engines. The restoration project is still underway and there is a marvellous contrast between the restored engines in their magnificent green and red against their dark and faded counterparts.

The group also had an opportunity to visit the valve house, which contains a large variety of restored engines from the past.

Thanks must go to the volunteers who facilitated our day at Crossness and the work they have done on the restoration.

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