Thamesmead: A late 20th century New Town


The Crossness Pumping Station stands at the northern tip of Thamesmead, right beside the river in an area now occupied by the Thames Water Authority Sewage Treatment Works. The station was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1865 and was built by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, who at that time was the Chief Engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works. In those days sewage from the nearby area was pumped untreated into the River Thames and Crossness was part of Bazalgette’s new system of sewers and treatment works intended as the solution to the poor sanitation levels in the capital.

It was hoped that this would in turn greatly improve the health of Londoners and particularly their resistance to epidemics of typhoid and cholera that were fairly commonplace in the mid-19th century.

The engines at the works picked up the effluent from the sewage outfall works and held it until after each high tide so that when it was pumped out into the River Thames the tide would carry it out to sea.

The station and its engines are slowly being restored by the Crossness Engines Trust and the engine house is one of the few Grade I listed industrial buildings in the Greater London area. The engines were last working in 1953 and are the largest surviving rotary beam engines in the country and probably in the world.