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Crossness Pumping Station Bexley

Crossness Pumping Station

Crossness Pumping Station, April 2015. Photograph: Sally Williams

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The complex of buildings at Crossness Pumping Station form an important industrial landmark and example of public health engineering of the mid-Victorian era. The site, then part of the rural Erith marshes along the River Thames, was chosen for its remoteness where sewage from London could be safely discharged into the river after high tide and carried to the sea. Within the historic site are remnants of a garden terrace and the tree-lined drive over the Southern Outfall sewer to the main buildings of the Pumping Station.
Previous / Other name: Crossness Sewage Treatment Works
Site location: The Old Works, Belvedere Road, Abbey Wood
Postcode: SE2 9AQ
Type of site: Private Open Land 
Date(s): 1860s
Designer(s): Joseph Bazalgette
Listed structures: LBI: Crossness Pumping Station (Beam Engine House, Boiler House, Triple Expansion House. LBII: workshops, subterranean reservoir. Local list: Centrifugal Pump (now Storm Water Pump House)
Borough: Bexley
Site ownership: Thames Water, part leased to Crossness Engines Trust
Site management: Thames Water / The Crossness Engines Trust
Open to public? Occasionally
Opening times: Open days (for dates, check The Crossness Engines Trust website or 020 8854 0945)
Special conditions: Admission charge
Facilities: Car park, shop, refreshments. Education service including Teachers' Pack
Public transport: Rail: Abbey Wood then bus.
Crossness Pumping Station, photograph. Courtesy Bexley Local Studies & Archive Centre
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The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/04/2015
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.

Fuller information:

By the 1830s and '40s London's polluted river water was causing increasing problems for the public's health, and in 1856 the Metropolitan Board of Works was set up to address this through creating an efficient sewage system. Joseph Bazalgette (1819-91) was appointed Chief Engineer and his part in the construction of London's sewage system led to his knighthood in 1874. An Act of Parliament in 1858 enabled the MBW to raise a loan of 3million to construct the new sewage system and work began in 1859. Bazalgette was responsible for building the Northern Outfall on the north bank of the Thames, and the Southern Outfall, which was constructed in 1860-2 from Deptford to Crossness on the Erith marshes. The system had three major pumping stations, at Abbey Mills (q.v.), at Deptford, and at Crossness. The Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) officially opened the works at Crossness on 4 April 1865. Built on a 37 acre site, the complex included the Beam Engine House, workshops and outbuildings, and included 20 houses built for the workers and their families, with a well sunk to provide fresh drinking water. These houses, all demolished by the 1960s, were either side of the reservoir with the superintendent's house at the far end. The architectural style of the buildings was Victorian Romanesque, then popular, with much ornate detailing, some of which survives.

There was originally a tall chimney 207 feet high, since demolished. The sewer fed into a 6.5 acre reservoir to the south of the main buildings, which was covered by a brick vaulted roof, and this acted as a balancing tank for over 17 million gallons of sewage that was then discharged into the ebbing tide. Other buildings added in subsequent years included the Precipitation Works Complex completed in 1892, the Triple Expansion Engine House in 1898 and Centrifugal Engine House in 1914, and the original covered reservoir was extended to hold 25 million gallons. The Beam Engine House contains the 4 largest surviving rotative beam engines in the country, built by James Watt and Co. and later altered by Benjamin Goodfellow. They were named Victoria, Prince Consort, Albert Edward (the Prince of Wales) and Alexandra (the Princess of Wales). In 1913, the triple expansion steam engines were replaced by diesel engines, which are still found in the Triple Expansion Engine House. By 1956 the Watt-Goodfellow engines had been decommissioned and were left to rust, with the rest of the ironwork, and suffered vandalism.

The buildings were set within formal landscaping including a Garden Terrace between two buildings south of the Boiler House, a tree-lined drive, and the covered reservoir was at one time grassed over, now covered with solar panels. Today there are a number of mature trees and remnants of the planting scheme of the Garden Terrace. A concrete flood defence wall now divides the complex of buildings from the river, which has a riverside path and cycleway along the top. Near the access to the Thames Path a small wildlife garden has been created, supported by a Biffa Award.

Crossness Sewage Treatment Works passed from the MBW to the LCC's Public Health Engineer, and in 1965, when the GLC was formed, it passed to the newly formed Thames Water Authority. Part of the site continued to be operational, largely dealing with storm water surges, but the historic buildings became disused. In 1985 the Crossness Beam Engines Preservation Group was formed, its main task being the restoration of the buildings and engines to their state in 1899. In 1988 the Crossness Engines Trust was set up to take on this work, taking a lease from Thames Water on part of the site containing the historic buildings. An important objective was the opening of a Museum of Water Engineering and Public Health with facilities for visitors and meeting rooms. In 2010 funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage, the Homes and Communities Agency and others was confirmed and a major programme of work commenced in 2011, to create a new access road and visitor facilities as well as restoration of the historic buildings and landscaping.

Sources consulted:

LB Bexley, Crossness Conservation Area, Area Appraisal and Management Plan, February 2009. Crossness Engines Trust website
Grid ref: TQ484810
Size in hectares: c.14
On EH National Register : No
EH grade :
Site on EH Heritage at Risk list:
Registered common or village green
on Commons Registration Act 1965:
Protected under London Squares
Preservation Act 1931:
The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
On Local List:
In Conservation Area: Yes
Conservation Area name: Crossness
Tree Preservation Order: No
Nature Conservation Area: No
Green Belt: No
Metropolitan Open Land: No
Special Policy Area: Yes - Area of Archaeological Search
Other LA designation:

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