Full steam ahead

Members visit masterpiece of 19th-century engineering, architecture, and design.

Summer Visit: Cambridge Philosophical Society members outside the Crossness Pumping Station in London.

Photo: Summer Visit: Cambridge Philosophical Society members outside the Crossness Pumping Station in London.

Our 2023 summer visit for members of the The Cambridge Philosophical Society was to the Crossness Pumping Station in London, a masterpiece of 19th-century engineering, architecture, and design.

The Crossness Pumping Station, situated on the river Thames at Abbey Wood in South London was constructed between 1859 and 1865. The guided tour took members around the pumping station which was designed by Sir Joseph William Bazalgette (1819–1891) and architect Charles Henry Driver (1832–1900).  The station was constructed as part of Bazalgette's redevelopment of the London sewerage system, after the 'Great Stink' of 1858.

The pumping station was decommissioned in the 1950s, but contains the four original pumping engines, although not in their original 1864 configuration. At Crossness, the four beam engines built by James Watt and Company in Birmingham each drove eight pumps which lifted the sewage another 21 feet for disposal into the river or into a holding reservoir, if the tide was coming in.

After 15 years of restoration, only one of the pumping engines 'Prince Consort' is working. The pumping station became a Grade I listed building in 1970 and was has slowly been restored since.

As testament to the build quality of Bazalgette's sewerage system, in 2015 there were 8.6 million Londoners using the 150 year old system. Although the pumping station is no longer in use, parts of the original site are. The Crossness holding reservoir is still used as a back-up to the main site, now owned by Thames Water and known as the Crossness Sewage Treatment Works.

As a benefit of membership of the CPS, members take part in free visits throughout the year to various science related locations across the UK. To join the Cambridge Philosophical Society visit our membership page here

Elaborate decorative ironwork in the Octagon.

Photo: Elaborate decorative ironwork in the Octagon.

Cambridge Philosophical Society with one of the Crossness Engines Trust guides.

Photo: Cambridge Philosophical Society with one of the Crossness Engines Trust guides.

Detail of the The Prince Consort pumping engine.

Photo: Detail of the The Prince Consort pumping engine.

Demonstration of the London sewage system

Photo: Demonstration of the London sewage system

Unrestored fly wheel

Photo: Unrestored fly wheel

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