Monthly Archives: December 2019

Temples of Sanitation – Abbey Pumping Station, Leicester

Abbey Pumping Station, Leicester Museum of Science & Technology

While Burton Corporation was building Claymills Pumping Station to rid the town of brewery and household effluent, sending the ordure and the smell to the unsuspecting village of Egginton across the county border in Derbyshire, their colleagues in Leicester were also catching up with the effects of rapidly expanding population on their town’s limited sanitation.

Sewage-disposal had been a problem for the expanding borough from the 1850s onwards. 

The civil engineer Thomas Wicksteed (1806-1871) designed a scheme for his Patent Solid Sewage Manure Company to drain the town and purify the resulting solid matter as manure. 

Though the scheme markedly improved the condition of the River Soar, the manure failed to sell and the enterprise failed. 

Indeed, pail closets continued in the poorer districts of the town and the removal of ordure by carts, canal barges and railway wagons was a continuing nuisance.

A new scheme was devised in 1885 providing two arterial sewers linking to a sewage farm on the outskirts of the borough and the Abbey Pumping Station was constructed between November 1887 and May 1891 to pump sewage 1½ miles away at Beaumont Leys, off Anstey Lane. 

The imposing Elizabethan engine-house, begun in 1889, was designed by the Leicester architect Stockdale Harrison (1846-1914).

The four pumping engines, very like the slightly earlier ones at Claymills and by the same local firm of Gimson & Company, are now the largest surviving Woolf compound steam-engines in the United Kingdom, and Abbey Pumping Station is one of the few places where four steam pumping engines can still be seen within one engine house. 

The high-pressure cylinders are 30in × 69¼in, and the low-pressure cylinders are 48in × 96in.  Each flywheel is 21 feet in diameter, and the beams are 28 feet long.

Leicester’s population grew more than threefold between 1861 and 1901 and continued to expand through the first half of the twentieth century. 

At Abbey Pumping Station settlement tanks and an electric pump were installed in 1925, and capacity was reinforced by the installation of a ram pump in 1939. 

The station continued to steam until the opening of the Wanlip Sewage Treatment Works in 1964.

The site was then converted into the Leicester Museum of Science and Technology which opened in 1974.  

The original eight Gimson Lancashire boilers had been replaced in 1925:  of these replacements only one survives, and the boiler house now contains other museum exhibits.  Two of the engines are restored to working condition, though limited boiler-capacity prevents them both being steamed simultaneously for longer than a very short time. 

There are other sewage-related experiences in the Museum. 

The site railway, first installed in 1926 and operated by a small petrol locomotive, has been adapted for passengers.  Trains are hauled by a restored steam locomotive, Leonard, from the Birmingham Tame & Rea District Drainage Board’s Minworth sewage treatment works.

A display entitled ‘Flushed with Pride’ (a title borrowed from Wallace Reyburn’s inimitable 1969 biography of the water-closet manufacturer, Thomas Crapper) includes a lavatory with see-through bowl and cistern, into which visitors can drop artificial faeces and watch them journey from the U-bend to the main sewer. 

Such rare delights are not to be missed.

Details of public openings at Abbey Pumping Station are at http://www.abbeypumpingstation.org/default.asp.

Abbey Pumping Station  is included in the itinerary of the ‘Cemeteries and Sewerage: the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness’ tour, based in Sheffield, September 17th-21st 2020.  For further details of the tour please click here.

Temples of Sanitation – Claymills Pumping Station

Claymills Pumping Station, Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire

By coincidence two of the three pumping stations we’re visiting on the grandly but accurately titled Cemeteries and Sewerage:  the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness have similar steam engines – Woolf compound pumps built by Gimson & Co of Leicester.  In other respects the two sites offer very different experiences.

Claymills Pumping Station, which stands beside the Midland main line from Derby to Birmingham, was built for Burton-on-Trent Corporation in 1885.

Burton-on-Trent had begun to install effective street sewers from 1843 but did nothing to deal with the liquid waste of its principal industry.

One of the major disadvantages of the nineteenth-century brewing process was the considerable quantity of hot, foul-smelling effluent, rich in sulphate and suspended vegetable matter, that was discharged into local streams. 

A sewer constructed in 1866 to carry industrial effluent, domestic sewage and rainwater to sediment tanks at Claymills, near the village of Stretton, simply moved the problem further from the town:  the offensive material was separated and discharged into the River Trent.

The population of Burton-on-Trent – 9,450 in 1871 – was expected to produce about a million gallons a day, but when the town became a borough in 1878 the outfall was between five and six million gallons. 

The new council included a number of prominent brewers and in 1880 promoted an Act of Parliament to build a pumping station at Claymills to pump the effluent 2½ miles to a 300-acre sewage farm at Egginton – a vertical lift of seventy feet.

Though lime was added to the material, offensive smells remained a problem around the village of Egginton and as far away as Repton and Calke until the farm closed in the 1970s.

The paired engine houses each contain two mirror-image engines, designated A and B, C and D, with the boiler house between. 

The beams are each 26 feet 4 inches between their end centres, and weigh thirteen tons.  The flywheels are 24 feet in diameter and weigh twenty-four tons each. 

In normal circumstances two engines worked at a time, running at ten revolutions a minute.  In periods of high demand, a third engine would be engaged.

The five original Lancashire boilers were renewed in 1937, and the replacements incorporate Green’s economisers and Meldrum’s mechanical stokers.  Two boilers operated at a time, with a third on standby.

The steam engines were replaced by electric pumps in 1971, and when Burton Corporation’s sewerage system was transferred in 1974 to the Severn Trent Water Authority, the new owners enlisted the assistance of industrial-archaeology groups to take over Claymills Pumping Station as a preservation project. 

Once practical repairs and asbestos-removal work was completed, the Claymills Pumping Engines Trust took over the site in 1993. 

Steam was first raised in 1998 and ‘C’ engine ran in May 2000, followed a year later by ‘D’ engine.  ‘B’ engine returned to steam in 2017.

Claymills Pumping Station is magnificent in the way of such places – a grand complex of buildings, huge beam engines – but it has a special appeal to engineering enthusiasts because most of the steam-powered ancillary equipment is preserved and restored. 

Much of the auxiliary machinery was stripped out to create storage space, and has been gradually repatriated by the Trust. 

The 26-foot-long bed lathe had been scrapped, but the Trust identified and acquired a near equivalent machine from Bamford Mill, Derbyshire.

The blacksmith’s forge, which had been demolished after the station closed, was rebuilt by the Trust in 2005. 

Claymills has a welcoming atmosphere, and it’s always heartening to see young people involved in heritage industrial archaeology.

The photograph I wish I’d captured but missed was of a youth in full Victorian workers’ rig of flat cap, waistcoat and muffler, tapping into his smartphone.

Details of public openings at Claymills are at http://www.claymills.org.uk.

Clay Mills Pumping Station  is included in the itinerary of the ‘Cemeteries and Sewerage: the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness’ tour, based in Sheffield, September 17th-21st 2020.  For further details of the tour please click here.