Abbey Mills Pumping Station

Abbey Mills Pumping Station

A fun part of living in England is finding obscure and interesting places to visit that would not be on the itinerary of most tourists (and, indeed, not visited by most English folks either.) A recent visit was to the Abbey Mills sewage pumping station, pictured above. I visited on a class field trip in a course entitled "The Slum and the Sewer in Victorian London". It was a fascinating class, and my fellow students were a most interesting, convivial lot, genuinely interested in the subject.

I could go on about London sewers (and will, at the slightest provocation), but I won't now. Maybe later. But I would like to share my pictures of this grand building that was built in the late 19th century for the purpose of taking sewage from the north of London and lifting it around 40 feet so that it could then flow several more miles to be emptied into the Thames at a point downstream where it would not flow back into London with the tides each day. It is well known what flows downhill, but this pumping station had to give it some help to keep it going.

This building, built by engineer Joseph Bazalgette to pump sewage, was nothing less than a temple of sewage. Built in a cruciform shape with a central dome (lantern), the ornate exterior was in contrast to its utilitarian purpose. The interior is similarly ornate with extensive ironwork. It resembles a medieval castle in some aspects, with its turrets and tower---one thing I found quite interesting was the gargoyles on the lantern. Check them out. Hope you enjoy the photos.

Walking down the embankment from the tube station, Abbey Mills comes into view. We were walking above five sewer lines, two of which were original.

Our first full view of the pumping station was from the embankment.

To the right of the main room was the boiler room which provided the steam for the original pumps (later replaced with electric pumps).

The higher ranking staff members of Abbey Mills had some rather nice quarters.

Where the embankment crossed over a road we got a good view of the large pipes overhead.

This is a map of London you won't often see---the entire sewer system. Abbey Mills is in the upper half, towards the right.

Walking into the spacious grounds, the first sight was the base of one of the two 200 foot chimneys which were destroyed during WW II.

Doorway of chimney base---note the capstone. It is both functional and ornate and seems to be the signature of the architect.

This is a picture of Abbey Mills shortly after it was built. It is from the Illustrated London News.

The pumping station is in the form of a cross. A 2nd boiler room was along side the left wing above, but has been demolished.

This is the one remaining boiler room. The steam engines were replaced with electrical motors in the 1930's.

Ornate boiler room windows on the opposite side from the previous picture.

This window was above the west entrance---note the ornamental iron work.

West entrance---check out the door.

Even the drain pipes are ornamental---as well as functional.

The high windows show beautiful brick work.

A closeup view of one of the door hinges.

Capitals that depict various native English plant species.

Brass emblems (of different London Boroughs?)

The lantern---which was assembled separately, lowered, and bolted into place. Note the gleaming brass work.

Another view of the lantern, showing the gargoyles (if you enlarge the picture.)

In vivid contrast, but on the same site, the new Abbey Mills Pumping Station.

Members of the class view the output of the new station.

A centrifugal pump such as used in the modern station.

Inside the old Abbey Mills, the ornate ironwork was in keeping with the exterior of the building, but contrasted with its mundane function.

A view of the lantern from inside.

Another inside view showing the ironwork and arches.

The electrical motors that replaced the steam rocker-arm pumps look like something out of a 50's sci-fi movie.

The electric controls for the pumps.

And the instrument arrays are precious. Note that the station is still on line and operating, although it pumps only in times of rain.

"Cambridge Distance Thermometer"

Depth gague

A small historical display showing a wooden water pipe used in the good old days when the water system was a source of all kinds of disease.

The pipe itself.

And the other end.

There is an extensive archive of drawings and documents relating to the station, including this one which bears the signature of head engineer Joseph Bazalgette.

And then the archivist served us all tea in the garden. Very enjoyable!

Sir Joseph Bazalgette, the head engineer for the London Metropolitan Works Commission, was responsible for the design and construction of the London Sewers, including the Abbey Mills Pumping Station. His bust may be found on the Embankment, at the end on Northumberland St.

If you're interested in further information, I recommend highly a book titled The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis by Stephen Halliday (available from

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