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 (September 16th-20th 2021) tour, based in Sheffield. For further details of the tour please click here.