Visitors to the celebrated Papplewick Pumping Station in Nottinghamshire are always impressed by the elaborate engine house and the mighty engines in motion.
They tend not to notice that the site is oddly asymmetrical.
The ornate fountain in the centre of the cooling pond is aligned with the 120-foot-high chimney, but the engine house stands to one side.
This is because the original plan for the layout envisaged a second engine house which proved to be unnecessary because the two Boulton & Watt engines and six boilers could meet the maximum demand, lifting water from the Bunter Sandstone 202 feet below ground. A second pair of engines would have depleted the source and simply wasted energy.
Pumping water to ground level was not all the engines did, however.
To understand the full power of Papplewick Pumping Station it’s necessary to book a visit to the Papplewick Reservoir, half a mile away.
The reservoir was built by the engineer Thomas Hawksley in 1880, an impressive vaulted space that could hold 1,500,000 gallons – the amount that the engines could lift from the well each day.
The pumped water was pushed 137 feet higher than the pumping station to a covered brick tank.
When cracks appeared in the brickwork in 1906, probably caused by mining subsidence, the reservoir was emptied and abandoned, and water was sent directly to other reservoirs nearer Nottingham. A replacement reservoir was eventually built in 1957 and serves the modern electric pumps that replaced steam in 1969.
Visiting the Papplewick Reservoir requires forethought. It’s open to the public on steaming days, and access is by a bumpy trailer-ride up the unmade road which follows the line of the water main. To secure a place it’s necessary to arrive soon after opening time: Papplewick pumping station: Industrial museum and unique wedding venue in Nottinghamshire – Visit us.
Exploring this impressive space and admiring the craftsmanship of the brickwork is a memorable experience. It has the sort of echo that might enable you to sing the Pearl Fishers’ Duet as a solo.
Outside, looking over the 1957 reservoir to the chimney of the Victorian pumping station in the distance indicates exactly how far the engines pushed the water that they had already lifted from the well. This is Victorian engineering at its most robust and ingenious, and its construction gave health and longer life to the people of Nottingham.