Crossness Pumping Station
Western exterior of the Crossness Pumping Station
LocationCrossness Sewage Treatment Works
London, SE2
United Kingdom
Coordinates51°30′33″N 0°08′18″E / 51.509142°N 0.138418°E / 51.509142; 0.138418
OS grid referenceTQ4849781080
ArchitectsCharles Henry Driver and Joseph Bazalgette
Architectural style(s)Romanesque
OwnerThames Water
Listed Building – Grade I
Designated24 June 1970
Reference no.1064241
Crossness Pumping Station is located in London Borough of Bexley
Crossness Pumping Station
Location of Crossness Pumping Station in London Borough of Bexley

The Crossness Pumping Station is a former sewage pumping station designed by the Metropolitan Board of Works's chief engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette and architect Charles Henry Driver. It is located at Crossness Sewage Treatment Works, at the eastern end of the Southern Outfall Sewer and the Ridgeway path in the London Borough of Bexley. Constructed between 1859 and 1865 by William Webster, as part of Bazalgette's redevelopment of the London sewerage system, it features spectacular ornamental cast ironwork, that Nikolaus Pevsner described as "a masterpiece of engineering – a Victorian cathedral of ironwork".

It is adjacent to Erith Marshes, a grazing marsh, the northern part of which is designated as Crossness Nature Reserve. This provides a valuable habitat for creatures ranging from moths to small amphibians and water voles.[1]


The Southern Outfall Works, as the complex was originally called, was officially opened on 4 April 1865, by Edward, Prince of Wales, attended by Prince Alfred, the Duke of Cambridge, Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York and the Lord Mayor of London, and many other persons of rank.[2]

Following an address by Joseph Bazalgette, the Royal party toured the works and reservoirs, and the Prince then turned the wheel which started the engines and, as the Illustrated London News observed, "a sensible vibration was felt throughout the building, showing that the enormous beams, lifting-rods and flywheels were in operation."[2]


At Crossness, the incoming liquid was raised some 30 to 40 feet (9–12 m) by the application of four large steam driven pumps. The engines were of enormous size and power. They were built by James Watt & Co. to Joseph Bazalgette's designs and specification, and were named "Victoria", "Prince Consort", "Albert Edward" and "Alexandra".[3]

Interior of the pumping station

At 11 revolutions per minute, 6 tons (approximately 1,500 imp gal or 6,800 L) of sewage per stroke per engine were pumped up into a 27-million-imperial-gallon (120,000 m3) reservoir, and was released into the Thames during the ebbing tide.[3][4] The steam required to power these engines was raised by 12 Cornish boilers with single "straight-through" flues situated in the Boiler House to the south of the Engine House, and which consumed 5,000 tons of Welsh coal annually.[3]

The Crossness Works merely disposed of raw sewage into the river seawards, and in 1882, a Royal Commission recommended that the solid matter in the sewage should be separated out, and that only the liquid portion remaining should be allowed, as a temporary measure, to pass into the river. In 1891, sedimentation tanks were added to the works, and the sludge was carried by steam boats and dumped further out into the estuary, at sea.[3]

During the 1880s, chemical engineer William Webster developed a system for the electrolytic purification of sewage (patent application filed on 22 December 1887; US patent awarded on 19 February 1889),[5] trialled in 1888 at the Southern Outfall works[6][7] which had been built by his father's firm over 20 years earlier.

By 1897, additional pumping capacity was needed, and four extra pumps operated by triple-expansion steam engines were installed in an extension, designed to fit in with Bazalgette's main engine house, to the north of the older building. Later, in 1899, a further increase in London's population necessitated an increase in the efficiency of the original Watt engines, and considerable alteration to their design was carried out by Goodfellow & Co of Hyde, Manchester, for London County Council. They were converted from simple to compound engines with the original single cylinders were augmented by high and intermediate pressure cylinders. The additional steam required was provided by replacing the earlier Cornish boilers by more efficient Lancashire boilers with double flues and in 1901, the improved engines were fully working.[3]

In 1913, the triple expansion steam engines were replaced by diesel engines, which are still to be seen in the triple expansion engine house, and by 1956, the Watt-Goodfellow engines had been decommissioned, (Prince Consort having been temporarily put back in steam in 1953 to assist with draining the flooding of the eastern Royal Arsenal and Abbey Wood) and were left, with the rest of the ironwork, to rust and to vandals.[3]


The Prince Consort pumping engine.
Elaborate decorative ironwork in the Octagon.

The pumping station became a Grade I listed building[8] in 1970 and will remain on the Heritage at Risk Register until the restoration is completed.[9] The Crossness Engines Trust, a registered charity, was formed in 1987 to oversee the restoration project[10] which was due to be completed in 2013.

When the pumping station was decommissioned in the 1950s, it was not considered economic to dismantle the engines, as the cost of doing so far exceeded any scrap value. The more valuable metal items (made from brass), such as the engine oilers, much pipework, and even the handrails from the stairs, were removed. The remaining building and engines were left to suffer considerable vandalism and decay.

As Prince Consort was the last steam engine decommissioned, in 1953, it is this engine on which the restoration activity has been concentrated. After some fifteen years of effort the engine is now working again and is run on the open days organised by the Trust.

When the buildings were abandoned, the pumps and culverts and all the subterranean areas below the Beam Engine House were filled with sand to reduce the risks from methane. This has meant that some 100 tons of this sand has had to be excavated from around and underneath the pumps before there was any hope of moving the beam and flywheel. Further, there was a considerable ingress of rain water which resulted in serious rusting of the engine parts.

The station contains the four original pumping engines, which are thought to be the largest remaining rotative beam engines in the world, with 52-ton flywheels and 47-ton beams. Although the engines are original, they are not in their original 1864 configuration, as all four were converted from single-cylinder to triple-expansion operation in 1901 and 1902. Prince Consort was returned to steam in 2003 and now runs on Trust Open Days. The other engines are not in working order, although work has begun on the restoration of Victoria.

The original boilers did not survive and Prince Consort is now steamed by a small 'off the shelf' boiler. This boiler has nowhere near the steam capacity of the originals, but this is not a problem as the engine no longer operates under load.


Having received over £2 million in initial funding, including, in 2008, £1.5 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund,[11] £150,000 from English Heritage[11] and £700,000 in match funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government,[12] work began at the site to build an access road, protect the buildings and to develop a museum. Financial and other support was also provided by Thames Water, Tilfen Land, the London Borough of Bexley and the City Bridge Trust.[13]

A further £1.5 million in funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund was secured in April 2015, the 150th anniversary of Crossness's official opening.[14] This was to help fund a museum exhibition focused on the "Great Stink" of 1858 and the role of Crossness in improving London's sewerage system.

In popular culture

Prince Consort engine under steam

The 2003 BBC Series Seven Wonders of the Industrial World: The Sewer King episode featured a segment filmed in the pumping station.

The pumping station has been used as a filming location for the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes[15] and for the 2011 BBC production of Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White.[16] The building was also used as the setting for the final mission of the video game The Getaway: Black Monday.[17] The pumping station is used as the interior of Gustafson's factory in the 2020 film Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey,[18] and was the location for the 2021 revival of GamesMaster.[19]


See also


  1. ^ "Crossness Nature Reserve". Thames Water. 11 February 2013. Archived from the original on 11 March 2016. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  2. ^ a b "The official opening". The Crossness Pumping Station. The Crossness Engines Trust. 2012. Archived from the original on 8 August 2013. Retrieved 8 August 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "The Engines". The Crossness Pumping Station. The Crossness Engines Trust. 2012. Retrieved 8 August 2013.
  4. ^ The Crossness Engines. London: The Crossness Engines Trust. 1995.
  5. ^ "C02F1/463 Treatment of water, waste water, or sewage by electrochemical methods by electrolysis by electrocoagulation". Google Patents. Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  6. ^ "Electrical Treatment of Sewage". The Daily Telegraph. 30 May 1889. Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  7. ^ Merdinger, C.J. (March–April 1953). "The Development of Modern Sewerage. Part II". The Military Engineer. 45 (304): 123–127. JSTOR 44561586.
  8. ^ Historic England. "Crossness Pumping Station (Grade I) (1064241)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  9. ^ Heritage at Risk Register: Crossness
  10. ^ "The Crossness Engines Trust, registered charity no. 297585". Charity Commission for England and Wales.
  11. ^ a b "Historic pump station gets £1.5m". BBC. BBC. 12 November 2008. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  12. ^ "Crossness Engines". London Borough of Bexley. London Borough of Bexley. Archived from the original on 24 June 2015. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  13. ^ "Crossness today (12 November 2008)". Greenwich Industrial History. Greenwich Industrial History. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  14. ^ "Westminster historian secures Lottery funding for Crossness Engines Trust". University of Westminster. Archived from the original on 24 June 2015. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  15. ^ Plowman, Paul. "Sherlock Holmes (2009) – Blackwood descends to the sewers". British Film Locations. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  16. ^ "What We Do – April 2011 – Crossness Engines Trust". Film London. April 2011. Archived from the original on 25 October 2014. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
  17. ^ "The Getaway – London gets a virtual makeover". BBC London. BBC News. November 2004. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  18. ^ Mutter, Zoe (13 December 2020). "Remi Adefarasin OBE BSC / Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Story". British Cinematographer. Retrieved 11 February 2023.
  19. ^ "Here's Where They're Filming The New Series Of GamesMaster". Time Extension. 5 October 2021. Retrieved 11 February 2023.