Even after 10 years in London, I’m still crossing off the things on my Open House list. This year I finally grabbed a spot for a guided tour through the Victorian sewage pumping station. Something I’ve been trying to do ever since 2016!
A sewage pumping station you might wonder? Yes, leave it to the Victorians to build a sewage pumping station into something like this. The Abbey Mills Pumping Station, also known as the Cathedral of Sewage, is such a grand building that every time I walked past it on the Greenway, I kept getting more and more curious about what was inside.
The pumping station was built in the 1860s to fix the increasing amount of sewage produced in London and move it away from the city’s center to the sewage treatment plant at East London. These days the actual pumping work is carried out in a newer building nearby, but the main building still houses electric pumps which can be used to assist if required during times of excess water.
It’s not just the exterior that looks amazing. Even if you are not into Victorian engineering you can really appreciate how intricate it looks inside. Most people who were there that day came for the ceiling, which is a mix of different designs that you can easily keep staring at for 20 minutes.
But I was also impressed with the Accidentally Wes Anderson nooks and corners with pastel coloured equipment and retro signboards dating from the 1970s.
What was fascinating to me was that the complex had a lot more buildings than just the station itself, with lots of small workshops which were originally used to construct all the tools and equipment needed for maintaining the building and systems. Very self-sufficient!
The guided tours are done by actual people who work for Thames Water and have worked across London’s sewage system. They’ll share the history of the station and can answer any questions.