I can really understand why the Crossness Pumping Station is sometimes called the cathedral on the marshes. The Open Day on the 23rd June provided the opportunity to explore the inside and it didn’t disappoint. Crossness was part of Joseph Bazalgette’s radical sewerage system for London, which improved the city’s health. It also had the beneficial effect of improving the smell. The Big Stink of 1858 brought London to a standstill because of the stench coming from the human excrement in the Thames.
Equipped with a hard hat I spent most of my visit exploring the engine hall. If you find industrial archeology interesting you will find the engine room breathtaking. It is from inside this space that you truly get the reference to the cathedral. The intricate carved stonework around the door arches would be at home in any sacred building. There is an ironwork octagon structure in the centre of the hall and it was designed to let as much light in as possible. You cannot fail to be impressed by the effects of the light.
There are four beam engines in the hall named – Victoria, Prince Consort, Albert Edward and Alexandra. Prince Consort has been fully restored and was in operation. The ambition of the Trust and its volunteers is staggering. I spoke to Harry one of the volunteer engineers who told me that it had taken 17 years to restore Prince Consort. The volunteers were plentiful at the Open Day and were informative and helpful.
Walking between the buildings I could see the intricacy of the external brickworks. You certainly wouldn’t get this quality of work on an industrial building today. The Prince of Wales opened the pumping station in 1865 and there was a celebration meal held in the fitting shop. The reservoir is still in use but the buildings were abandoned sometime in the 1950s. Thankfully, restoration began in 1985. It is a real testimony to the greatness of Victorian building, engineering and also the dedicated volunteers bringing it back to life.
The next open day is 28th July