This South East London Sewage Station Is Surprisingly Beautiful • Crossness Pumping Station

Way over yonder, near Abbey Wood, is a surprisingly beautiful sight. It’s not surprising because it’s in Abbey Wood – we’re not trying to suggest anything of the sort! Instead, it’s surprising because it’s, erm, well it’s a a city sewage system that dates back to the 1800’s. But don’t be put off. Crossness Pumping Station is actually a resplendent sight to behold. Heck, we’ve been to museums that weren’t as pretty as this…

the shiny resplendent interior of crossness pumping station
Credit: Peter Scrimshaw via Flickr

Known as the ‘Cathedral of Sewage‘, Crossness Pumping Station first opened after The Great Stink of 1858. To summarise, this public disaster came about after commissioners were unable to reach an agreement regarding the city’s sewage systems. This meant that the Thames became heavily polluted and, combined with the unusually warm weather that year, it created a putrid smell – a smell so bad that it almost drove MPs out of the Palace of Westminster. (This was back in the days when MPs actually seemed to turn up to do their jobs…)

a close up look of some of the symmetrical details at crossness pumping station
Credit: Peter Scrimshaw via Flickr

Eventually, the Victorians recognised that they should probably get their act together and come up with a plan to de-stink the city, so they reviewed Joseph Bazalgette’s plan. The plan consisted of two sewers, as far away from the city centre as possible, that would drain sewage eastward and allow clean water to flow into the river. And in the process of making it, somehow, they decided to make the place simply gorgeous.

I mean, just look at it:

The interior of the crossness pumping station, with an access hatch in the centre of the floor
Credit: Peter Scrimshaw via Flickr

Crossness Pumping Station opened in April 1865 and was a fully functional, and frankly stunning, sewage station until the 1950s. After the site fell into disrepair, a group of volunteers kept the engines looking lovely, and funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the English Heritage have meant that you can still visit today. It’s now recognised as a “Grade 1 Listed industrial heritage site and a masterpiece of 19th-century engineering, architecture, and design.​”

Crossness Pumping Station

Adult tickets start at £12.

Also published on Medium.