Sunday, August 23, 2009
Today I indulged the Irishman's engineering curiosity and accompanied him to a public steaming day for the Crossness Engines. Opened in 1865, the sewage pump station was and still is a feat of Victorian engineering works. Volunteers have been meticulously restoring the steam pumps and the station building itself, and it was recently awarded Grade I historic status. The station is only open to booked guided tours, but every few months there is a public steaming day when the station is open to the general public. The Irishman found out about today's steaming day and really wanted to go; since I force him to accompany me to all sorts of things that he's not really too thrilled about (shopping, art films, dog shows), I figured I could do this one thing with him.
And it was actually really interesting. Gigantic pistons pushing sewage out into the Thames may seem boring, but the fact that the Victorian engineering and infrastructure is still in use today is a testament to the quality and ingenuity of their craft. The Metropolitan Board of Works completed a number of civic engineering projects in London at the height of the Victorian period, and set the global model for innovation in public infrastructure. The Victorians put their stamp on their work by not only making it functional, but also by making it beautiful. The volunteers of the Crossness Engines are lovingly returning the pumping station to its former glory; the photograph above shows their progress. Note how colorful and careful the design of something so utilitarian as a waste removal depot can be.
Of course, the highlight of our visit was the running of the steam pumps. Only 100 people at a time are allowed in the actual engine room (all wearing hardhats!), and we were lucky enough to be inside when the pumps started moving. See below for a video of just how big (and cool) it was.