Crossness Pumping Station
The Old Works, Crossness Sewage Treatment Works, Belvedere Road, Abbey Wood, London. SE2 9AQ.
The beam engines are gradually being restored. One is fully restored and is operated on steaming days. A number of smaller engines are on display, or are awaiting restoration and reassembly.
For information on the beam engines, see Crossness: Beam Engines.
This magnificent station has much to delight anyone with an interest in engineering, photography, Victoriana, and social history.
An 1893 Report 
'A DAY AT CROSSNESS.
LONDONERS in general are wonderfully apathetic about matters which concern them closely and which conduce to their health, happiness, and comfort. We turn on a little tap and are at once supplied with abundant light or plenty of water, but little heed is given to the previous deep thought and incessant care which have brought us to this well arranged state of affairs. Water-pipes and gas-pipes ramify through every street and lane and alley, distributing their valuable contents to the inhabitants of the dwellings therein. Then there are huge sewer-pipes which carry away for us all that is disagreeable and unwholesome. We do not say that our present supply of gas and water is perfect, nor that our mode of dealing with the disposal of our sewage is perfect, but at all events they are on the high road to perfection. It was one day, a short time ago, when cogitating on the vast machinery requisite to meet the demands of Londoners, and more especially to keep them in a healthy, sanitary condition, that I was led to visit the outfall works at Crossness, where the sewage from the south side of London is poured into the Thames.
'It was a warm summer morning when I alighted at Abbey Wood station, and walked across the marsh-land to the little isolated colony at Crossness. Beyond the actual works, which comprise a block of handsome buildings, there are the houses of the superintendent, the chemist, the assistant, and the workmen; a small church, and the school for the workmen's children. The fine block of boiler-houses, engine-houses, &c., from which the sixty to eighty million gallons a day of sewage are treated, merit description.
'The boiler house, 107 ft. by 58 ft., where the steam is generated, contains twelve large boilers, which at present are being worked at 40 lb. pressure, but will later on work at 100 lb. pressure, as new ones are being put in. There is not a finer boiler-house to be found in the country. We must not omit to draw attention to the handsome chimney shaft, 207 ft. in height. The men find it very comfortable to work in this boiler-house, as the ventilating arrangements are excellent. Close at hand to the boiler-house is the coal-house, where the coal is weighed before being brought to the boilers. Some 130 to 150 tons of coal are used in a day, according to the amount of sewage to be dealt with, which varies largely with the rainfall. Welsh and North-country coal is used, and the coal strike has occasioned anxiety in the minds of those in charge, owing to the difficulty in getting their customary good coal. In the amount of coal just referred to as being burnt in a day there is an accumulation of dust of four or five hundredweight.
'Passing on from the clean, comfortable boiler-house and the spacious coal-house, the visitor enters THE MAIN ENGINE-ROOM, 145 ft. 6 in. in length and 45 ft. 6 in. in width, where he is at once confronted with some great engineering feats of the nineteenth century. The main engine-house contains four huge fly-wheels built up in eight parts, the diameter of each wheel being 27 ft., and each weighing 52 tons. The wheels make eleven revolutions in a minute, four engines turning the wheels. Two great rocking beams weighing 28 tons each, connect each pair of wheels. The pumps are situated each side of the beam centre to bring it into equilibrium. The pumps are single-acting plunger pumps, 9ft. in diameter and are the largest in the world, Each plunger lifts 5½ tons of sewage each stroke to a height of 30 ft. to 32 ft., the lift varying with the height of the sewage in the sewer. While lingering to marvel over the immensity, precision, and neatness of these works, we are asked to ascend the spiral staircase, which leads to the beam floor, whence oscillate the two monster cast-iron beams, 42 ft. in length, on two large bearings.
'The beam floor overlooks a graceful octagon, supported by several cast-iron columns. Leaving the engine-house, we pass on to the auxiliary pump engine-rooms, where we find two of the old broad-gauge Great Western locomotives are used for driving vertical spindle centrifugal pumps. One of these, it is interesting to note, does as much work as the beam engine.
'The penstocks for suction at Crossness and the delivery channels are operated by hydraulic power. The penstocks are necessary and very important in order to shut off the sewage if there is too great a flow, which in wet weather sometimes reaches as much as 150,000,000 gallons a day. Wet weather is an anxious time at the works, and necessitates incessant watching and great care on the part of those in charge.
'The sewage received from the south side of London comes along in a sewer 11 ft. 6 in. in diameter. The main pumps pump the sewage into reservoirs, where the sewage is treated chemically with lime and proto-sulphate of iron in the proportion of four grains of lime per gallon and one of proto-sulphate of iron. The sewage in its course of treatment flows along large reservoirs. The flow is very slow, in order that the majority of solids may be deposited. It flows finally over a weir wall, and thence into the river. This is called effluent. This treatment necessitates the use of fifteen to eighteen tons of lime per day, and four to five tons of proto-sulphate of iron. The sewage is drained off the reservoirs every two days, and men go down and thoroughly clean all the sludge out, which is swept down to a sump, and pumped from there into the sludge-settling channels, where it undergoes a further draining. It is then let down into a lower sludge store, and pumped from there on to ships and taken to sea. Fifteen to twenty thousand tons per week of sludge are sent to sea.
'There are five sludge ships altogether, which are sent out at every tide. They go some forty miles away to the Barrow Deeps. Two engines are required for pumping up the sludge from the reservoirs to the sludge-settling channels, and two for pumping the sludge from the sludge store on to the ships. There are four precipitation reservoirs, the capacity of two being 6,250,000 gallons each, and that of the two smaller ones 3,125,000 each, or a total precipitation reservoir capacity of 31,250,000 gallons. In the warm weather the effluent is deodorized by means of manganate of soda and sulphuric acid in the proportion of one grain of manganate to .75 gr. of sulphuric acid per gallon of effluent. This deodorizing at Crossness costs Londoners just £100 a day, so that it is not continued longer than absolutely necessary. Crossness Outfall Works employ from 190 to 200 men. They have an engineer's shop on the spot fitted up to carry out various repairs that are constantly being required to be done.'
Sources of Information
- Pall Mall Gazette - Friday 20 October 1893
- The Engineer 1866/01/12