Crossness pumping station was designed by engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette and completed in 1865 as part of his ambitious sewer network for London. The four original engines, thought to be the largest rotative beam engines, are currently undergoing restoration by the Crossness Engines Trust. The beams for two of the engines can be seen in the background of the above photo. The Grade I listed building is regarded as a masterpiece of Victorian engineering and features spectacular ornamental cast-iron work, more at home in a bespoke museum than a building used to pump human waste. The pumping station is currently closed but hopes to open to the public sometime next year.
Cholera was widespread in the 1840s and 50s on the streets of London and thought to be due to “miasma” or so-called bad-smelling air. This prompted the Metropolitan Board of Works (symbolized as “MWB” in the picture above), of which Bazalgette was chief engineer, to embark upon the most ambitious sewer network ever built. Built in reaction to the “Great Stink” of 1858, thousands of miles of underground brick sewers were constructed to divert human waste from cesspits in streets and pump it into the Thames at stations such as Crossness. Bazalgette’s contribution to this vital piece of infrastructure has provided the urban resilience, without which London’s growth in population density could not have been sustained over the last 150 years.