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  • Posted 5 June 2018

    Fly by Night at Crossness Pumping Station

    Beam Engine House and Boiler House
    Beam Engine House and Boiler House

    Fly By Night takes place next to the historical site of Crossness Pumping Station, situated on the banks of the river Thames about 12 miles east of central London. As part of Fly By Night there will be a free exhibition housed within Crossness Pumping Station exploring the military history of the Thamesmead area and the role of the pigeon in WW1.

    We would like to thank Crossness Engines for partnering with LIFT on this epic outdoor work.

    Boiler House in original configuration

    As you may know, the assembly point for Fly by Night is in the Boiler Houser of the Southern outfall of Joseph Bazalgette’s sewer system.  The building was opened in 1865 and is now Grade I listed, built in a Victorian re-creation of the Romanesque style.  The adjoining Beam Engine House still contains the four original pumping engines, (though the cylinders were upgraded in 1899).   The engines represent the largest concentration of rotative beam engines in the world, with 52 ton flywheels and 47 ton beams. The installation was taken out of service in the 1920’s, although one of the engines was run in 1953, when there was a risk of flooding nearby.

    Unfortunately the engines and the decorative iron work around them are not currently accessible but the building can be seen, along with an exhibition that that traces the development of Bazalgette’s system.

    BEH Prince Consort
    BEH Prince Consort

    The building of the system had a direct impact on the health of Londoners.  Cholera first appears in London in the 1830’s.  During the 1850’s and early 1860’s there were  several  outbreaks of Cholera and, at worst, 20,000 people were dying each year from the disease. Charles Barry’s new Houses of Parliament had only opened in 1851 but during the long hot summer of 1858, the year of The Great Stink, the building became so smelly as to be almost unusable. The Metropolitan Board of Works, which had been set up in 1855, was promptly allowed to raise funds and was charged with finding a solution to this problem.

    The then Chief Engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works was Joseph Bazalgette and, between 1860 and 1865, he oversaw the building of  85 miles of sewers to intercept the existing sewers and take the contents to Crossness on the south and Abbey Mills on the north.

    The introduction of the sewer system directly resulted in the eradication of cholera from the capital and Bazalgette’s system still forms the backbone of today’s sewer system, even though it goes unnoticed.

    Fly By Night runs from 21 – 23 June as part of LIFT 2018, book here. Find out more about Crossness Pumping Station on their website.