Look Inside Streatham Pumping Station
As part of Open House 2021 I had a rare chance to look inside Streatham Pumping Station – it was the first time it had been open to the public for 12 years!
Owned and used by Thames Water, the building cuts an impressive shape beside Streatham Common Station and at first glance you may think it’s a church or mosque rather than a water pumping station.
History of Streatham Pumping Station
By 1659 Streatham – like many spots outside the vey centre of London – was being celebrated for its mineral wells and natural springs. Streatham was apparently particularly good for producing a purging effect and in the 18th century the wells were inundated with customers eager to reap the benefits.
There’s a 19th century advert for the mineral spas in the British Library collection here.
In 1881 the marshy site was chosen as an ideal place to sink a well. It wasn’t only the boggy land that was handy, it was also right next to railway lines so useful for transporting the coal needed for steam powered engines.
They reached ground water at 45ft but continued to a depth of 1,271ft and by 1890 the well was pumping out 2million gallons a day (that’s around 3 and half Olympic swimming pools).
The pumping was done by two double-acting lift pumps, powered by steam boilers.
Above is an image from a Thames Water information leaflet, the engines are visible as well as the diamond-shaped tile patterns in the background. Below you can see the same room today;
An Architectural Improvement
Originally it was housed inside a corrugated iron shed, a bit of an eyesore which was damaging residential property development locally. So in the 1890s the South and Vauxhall Water Company built the pumping station we see today.
The striking architecture and attention to detail is thanks to the freeholder, Mr Thompson. Wanting an improvement on the iron shed he stipulated that the building had to be ‘of an ornamental design’ and subject to his approval. The cost was £13,489 and it was completed in 1894.
The station was designed by an engineer within the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company; James William Restler. The style is neo-Byzantine, popular at the time and reminiscent of Abbey Mills Sewage Pumping Station in Stratford (also owned by Thames Water).
The attention to detail is obvious and Streatham Pumping Station has that lovely Victorian combination of functionality with a ornamentation. Today it’s Grade II listed.
From older pictures you can see there used to be a brick tower but this was removed during the Second World War under the threat of aerial bombings.
In 1903 Streatham Pumping Station became part of the Metropolitan Water Board but the initials and symbols of the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company are clearly visible from the outside.
By 1943 electrical pumping machines had been installed, replacing the engines. For the rest of the 20th century the supply dwindled until it was no longer suitable as a direct source for public water.
However it was used as a booster pump, supplying water into Norwood Reservoir.
That all change with Thames Water’s huge Ring Main project. Starting the in 1980s, this was the Tideway of its day – a massive construction tunnel to build a ring 50 miles long and 100ft deep – supplying half of London’s fresh water.
Streatham Pumping Station is one of 11 stations serving the ring which looks totally underwhelming from above ground level.
The Thames Water Ring Main opened in 1994 two years ahead of schedule and with it he £250m budget!
Today the site is still operational and pumping into the Ring Main, providing fresh water for Londoners.
Inside Streatham Pumping Station
Inside the station today there’s two main rooms, now closed off from one another.
The more impressive is the rotunda. A beautiful circular room that once housed the steam engines.
Original pressure gauges on the wall are a reminder of the steam power
Today you have the hum of electrical boxes whirring away and the only reminders of the massive equipment is the crane and pulley from which would once hold a hanging basket for an employee, allowing him (or her) to move around the circumference of the building and oil, check and maintain the engines.
You can see it more clearly above the doorway in the image below.
Unfortunately Streatham Pumping Station isn’t regularly open to the public however one pumping station that can be visited is Crossness. Click on the image below to read more.