Abbey Mills Pumping Station
(aka Crossness Pumping Station)
Abbey Lane, E15
Nicknamed ‘the Cathedral of Sewage’, this Victorian sewage pumping plant was tastefully disguised under Moorish towers and a Slavic dome and had an interior like a Byzantine church. Designed by Bazalgette and Cooper, it was built in 1865–8 as part of Bazalgette’s main drainage scheme for London and named after the nearby site of Stratford Langthorne Abbey.
The towers were demolished during the 2nd World War as they were thought to present a too easily recognized landmark to German bombers on raids over London’s docks. Decommissioned in the 1990s, the shell of the original pumping station survives and has recently been restored. It now hosts tours, but none of the original steam-powered pumping plant remains.
Its function has passed to the gleaming aluminium ‘barn’ nearby, built in 1996–7 to award-winning designs by Allies & Morrison and housing 16 state-of-the-art submersible pumps with a 2-cubic-metre-per-second capacity powered by four diesel generators.
The costs of pumping London’s sewage have thus been substantially lowered, and the efficiency of the process vastly improved. The sewage itself still ends up in the same 1869 main outfall sewer on its way to the same treatment plant at barking.
Excerpted from The London Encyclopaedia by kind permission of the Publishers, Pan MacMillan.