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Thursday, 11 July 2019


Completed in 1868 by a team led by Joseph Bazalgette, creator of a sewage network for central London which was instrumental in relieving the city from cholera epidemics, while beginning the cleansing of the Thames, the original ABBEY MILLS PUMPING STATION is a Grade II* listed building. It was decommissioned in favour of a modern station just adjacent to it but the original is an architectural delight. Two large chimneys ceased to be used in 1933 but were demolished in WW2 because of the very real threat of bomb damage. The building is a ‘cathedral to sewage’ (or the Cistern Chapel?) in an Italianate Victorian Gothic style. 
The Abbey Mills Pumping Station. Completed 1868

Although the main engineer was Bazalgette, the architect Charles Driver was responsible for the use of the elaborate iron-work internally, thus raising the use of iron above mere utility.  The fabulous interior has frequently been used for filming most notably for some of the Batman Films.
Part of the magnificent interior.
I'm listening to The Three Tenors singing 
O Sole Mio. You can listen here

8 comments:

Hels said...

Impressive!!! It is easy to understand why a major Victorian city, suffering from cholera epidemics, would want to pour money into an efficient sewage system. And to commission the best engineers. Now I want to ask why the Abbey Mills Pumping Station (1868) was not just scientifically efficient but also an architectural and decorative delight.

Have a look at Crossness and a couple of other stations.
Hels
https://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com/2009/05/crossness-london-amazing-victorian.html

Parnassus said...

Hello Bazza, It's funny how often utilitarian buildings such as pumping stations were made so magnificent. The Abbey Mills Pumping Station, however, is particularly elegant. Perhaps some of the reasons were that waterworks showed how up-to-date a city was, and as Hels has suggested, advertised the increasing awareness of the link between clean, abundant water and public health. I also have seen Victorian prints of people promenading in the waterworks parks, dressed in their finest. Perhaps the reason is also the same one that caused Victorian machinery to be adorned with intricate and often flowery patterns embossed into the cast iron.
--Jim

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

My, what beautiful architecture for a pumping station. They certainly fon’t Build them like they used to.

bazza said...

Sorry for the late replies. I've been in France helping some friends celebrate Bastille Day (or as the French say "la Fête nationale"; only the English speaking world call it Bastille Day!)

HELS: There are many more modest pumping stations that are also Listed Buildings. Most of them are architecturally very interesting. I wonder if the grander ones were because we weren't really building so many cathedrals in the nineteenth century. Abbey Mills and Crossness are wonders to behold, both internally and externally.

JIM: I refer you to my previous answer! Cast iron was tremendously important as architectural decoration to the Victorians.

ARLEEN: I wonder what future historians will think of modern architecture? They will probably decry how 24th century building can't emulate what we have done!

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

What a gorgeous building! It's hard to believe something that beautiful was used for something as mundane and unromantic as purifying water. Believe me, the place near where I grew up didn't look anything like that, and it also smelled to high heaven.

Cistern Chapel! HA! That made me laugh out loud. :)

bazza said...

Susan: Public architecture meant a lot to the Victorians. I think they were inordinately proud of the status of what we now take for granted. The number of disused water pumping stations around London is large because most of them are Grade II Listed buildings. That means no-one is allowed to alter the appearance of the structure because of either architectural or historical interest (Grade I Listed means you can't touch the interior either). This system certainly helps to preserve our heritage.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

It's a very smart system. Too many historical buildings have been torn down in the name of progress.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - eventually I get here. I've loved this pumping station ever since I heard about its refurbishment and sometime I'd love to visit - just looks amazing.

We're so lucky to have had the Victorian era ... their brickwork, their attention to detail - their thought about nature - including the gargoyles, the tiles decorating the houses .. I'd love to know more about their architecture ...

So pleased you gave us the link to Charles Driver ... as he's a connection I didn't know about ...

Cheers - thanks for the reminder about this brilliant building - Hilary