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The 'other' steam engines at Crossness and the work they did

David Dawson

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    The large beam engines at Crossness are fairly well known now that one of them, Prince Consort, is back in steam for the first time since the 1950s when most steam driven machinery ceased to be used and the boilers were removed from the boiler house.

    Since the opening of the site at the end of the Southern Outfall in 1865, the four James Watt & Company beam engines and pumps had provided good service for many years, lifting the sewage from London into the storage reservoir to await the right tide conditions before discharging it into the river Thames.

    The history of these original engines has been covered before but little has been written about the other steam engines that were used at Crossness up until about 1916. The following is an attempt to give these engines the recognition they deserve.

    The well engines

    In the first year of operation Joseph Bazalgette, the Chief Engineer to the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW), was recommending the sinking of a well so that the site could source its own water independently of the local water companies.1 At various sites nearby wells had produced water. At Greenwich Hospital, for example, water had been found at 305ft but was stated to be 'inadequate and very hard'.2 Water was found next door to Crossness on the Woolwich Arsenal site at a depth of 214 ft. Another site much closer at a manufactory to the east had found water at 300ft suitable for domestic purposes. The amount of water required for Crossness was said to be 864,000 gallons per day.3 Two sites were selected and bore holes were sunk. The position of both wells is shown on the site plan (Figure 1). After some years water was found, not at the depths to which boring had reached, over 900ft, but at 300ft or so in one case and even shallower in the other.4

    In 1879 contracts to build a well engine house, storage tanks, water treatment plant and two pumping engines were sealed.5 The site of well number one, the 'new' well was near the main Thames water gate. The second, the 'old' well, near the workshop. The two pumping engines were to be supplied by Appleby Brothers, engineers based in Cannon Street in the City of London at this time.6 Not only engines but also two Cornish boilers and the well pumps and other equipment were included in the contract. A separate engine house was also called for at well number one to contain engine number one and the two boilers and pump. This was built by William Webster who had already built a considerable amount of the Southern Outfall system including the buildings at Crossness.

    Nothing remains of the well engine house or the engines. So far no pictures have been found. We have yet to discover exactly when the wells stopped being used and the buildings taken down; they are not shown on a site plan dated 1912.

    Figures 2 and 3 are elevation and plan drawings of the two engines redrawn from the original contract. Engine No.1 was to be housed in the well engine house. It was required 'to be erected on the site of the new well, for lifting and forcing water from it to supply the works.' It was 'to be a 12hp nominal condensing engine, which shall not require steam of more than 50 lbs/sq. in.' From the Appleby specification it had a 9½" diameter high pressure cylinder, 18" low pressure and a stroke of 24".


    No. 2 engine was housed in the fitting shop and was to be used for lifting water from the 'old well' and for other purposes. It has not been discovered yet where this engine got its steam from. It was to be a 12 hp nominal, high pressure engine and would work from a steam supply at 33 psi. Apart from its duty of lifting water, No. 2 was also required to drive an existing drilling machine and two lathes in the fitting shop. The layout drawing of the engine in its working position (Figure 4) shows the complicated system required to get the drive to the borehole pump, by running a shaft underneath a site road.

    Both engines were required to lift 40,000 gallons of water in eight hours: No. 1 from a depth of 300 feet, No. 2 from 130 feet. Water raised by No. 1 engine had to be taken from the purpose-built engine house a distance of 1,300ft then raised a further 17ft to storage tanks for softening. These tanks were in the fitting shop and some remains of these can still be seen in there at the eastern end. The treated water was stored under the fitting shop in the brick vaults on which the shop was built. Six of them were suitably modified. From here it was taken to the boiler house and the auxiliary engine house. Here two of the vaults under the floor were modified in a similar way to those under the fitting shop for storage of water which was used to supply the boilers of the broad gauge engines (see below). The wells began supplying water in 1879.


    The Broad Gauge engines

    In 1878 a Metropolitan Board minute calls for additional power at Crossness to cope with any stoppage of the main engines or excessive rainfall.7 The 'additional power' was to take the form of two ex-Great Western Railway broad gauge engines converted into stationary engines, mounted on foundations so as to drive four centrifugal pumps, two for each engine. The engines and pumps would be set up in what we know as the Valve House (Figure 5). This was originally called the Auxiliary Engine House and is shown as such on the earlier site plan. The engines and pumps would lift the incoming sewage into the internal sewage system.

    An engine before conversion is shown in Figure 6. They were members of the 'Firefly' class. They had 16" diameter cylinders, a stroke of 22" to 24" and would work on steam at 100 lbs/sq. in. The two converted locos were to deliver 6,500 cubic feet of sewage to a height of 28ft. The fan in each pump was 50" diameter. Though not strictly stationary engines they were modified to carry out the work stationary engines would do. In fact the MBW bought six locomotives for use around the system to be converted in a similar manner. The two at Crossness were named Charon and Lethe.8,9 The one at Effra Pumping Station at Vauxhall was named Saturn.

    Another engine was also provided to drive a Jacob's ladder conveyor (a dredger) which was to be used during construction to bring excavated spoil up from below. This was emptied down a chute into wagons stationed outside the engine house. It was a non-condensing horizontal engine working from steam produced by the broad gauge engines. No details of the size of this engine were given. The specification states that the horizontal engine shall be 'a substantial horizontal non-condensing engine of sufficient power to drive the auxiliary pump or the dredger.'10 Steam was to be provided at 100 psi to drive it. Evidence of a cast iron pump casing has been discovered under the valve house floor. Other evidence is high up in the roof of the Valve House, at the eastern end, where metal angle brackets can be seen. These were used in 1892 to support the chimneys of two new Lancashire boilers which were installed to take over the work of supplying steam for the broad gauge engines whose boilers were, by then, worn out. The engines were scrapped altogether by the London County Council, successors to the MBW, in 1903.11


    Engines in the Precipitation Engine House

    Plans to treat the sewage had been discussed for some years but it was not until almost the end of the reign of the MBW that these plans started to come to fruition.12 In 1882, just seven years before the LCC took over, the works began to prepare for precipitation. New reservoirs and conversion of the existing ones were shown on a site plan,13 but nothing much seemed to happen until about 1887.14 Drawings and specifications were prepared in 1888 and William Webster Junior won the contract to build the required works so that precipitation could begin.15 Before this, in 1887, the first sludge vessel Bazalgette was completed by Barrow Shipbuilding Ltd and delivered to Blackwall pier and then to Crossness.16 This was to transport the sludge produced from the process down river.

    The LCC took up the work of getting the machinery installed, giving the contract to the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company in 1891.17 Several engines were to be set up in the new Precipitation Engine House (PEH) to power the new works, as well as boilers in the PEH boiler house (Figure 7). The contract drawings of the time show the floor layout of both the engine and the boiler houses with the positions of the engines and boilers shown (Figure 9).

    The engines to be supplied under the contract numbered ten in all. They were to perform various tasks and were supplied by a number of manufacturers. Thames Ironworks supplied two three crank vertical compound pumping engines to drive pumps. They had 14" and 18½" diameter cylinders (shown as engines 'A' in Figure 7). They had a stroke of 2ft, ran at 25 rpm, took steam at 100 psi and were 19 ihp. They were used to lift diluted sludge from the precipitation channels for treatment in the liming stations.



    John Cochrane of Barrhead, Glasgow provided four horizontal compound engines to pump mixed effluent and liquor from the reservoir to the liming station. They had 14" and 26" cylinders and a stroke of 2ft, also running at 25 rpm. These were each of 24 ihp. Again steam pressure was 100 psi (marked 'B' in Figure 8). The engines marked 'C' were supplied by Thames Ironworks and were used to pump sludge from the store below the sludge settling channels to the sludge vessels at the pier. These were two compound engines with cylinder diameters of 18.5" high pressure and 24" low pressure with a stroke of 2ft. They ran at 25 rpm on a steam pressure of 100 psi and developed 40 ihp each. Tangyes in 1895 and Drysdale in 1901 supplied one engine each. They were two-cylinder tandem compound engines used to lift liquor (as opposed to sludge) to the sumps of the pumps marked 'B' driving centrifugal pumps. These were smaller than the other engines mentioned so far. They had cylinders of 7" and 13" diameters and the stroke was 9". They ran at 290 rpm on steam at 100 psi. (designated 'D' engines in Figure 8).

    Three Lancashire boilers provided steam for the original engines: one was supplied by Spurr, Inman and the others by Thames Ironworks. They were all 30ft long and 8ft in diameter with 3ft 2" diameter furnace tubes. The plan of the boiler house, dated 1891, only shows the two Thames Ironworks boilers installed.


    These details were taken from a document dated 1905 called 'Particulars of Machinery', held at the Kew Archives.18 Two hydraulic engines not mentioned in the above document were shown on the drawing. These were to be used to charge up two accumulators to provide power to the many penstocks and weirs that were in operation in the altered reservoir channels. No details of supplier or cylinder sizes etc. have yet been discovered. Their position in the PEH engine room are however shown as are the accumulators.

    A view of the Precipitation Engine House, looking east (Figure 7) shows the two Thames Ironworks 'A' engines on the right and the two 'C' engines on the left. The next pair of engines, in the middle distance, are the horizontal engines providing the power for hydraulics, one each side of the central aisle and beyond them would have been the 'B' engines, again horizontal and four in number. There were no stairs down from ground level at the east end of the house and the entrance to the boiler house was just beyond the hydraulic engines and on the left. The picture is dated 1894, before the installation of the electric light engines which arrived in 1899 during the installation of electric power replacing the locally produced gas.19

    New engines in the Boiler House

    In 1896 the 12 Cornish boilers in the main boiler house were replaced with ten Lancashire boilers and a mechanical stoking system.20,21 This was the first step towards the upgrading of the beam engines. The need for this had been identified by the London County Council when they took over from the MBW. Coal was brought into the house from the western side at firing floor level by side tipping wagons and the coal was emptied into an under floor storage hopper in the centre of the house, about 10ft below the door against the southern wall. The wagon way had turntables situated so that by turning the wagons through a right angle they could be pushed in front of the boilers and the ash removed into the wagons and then transported to an ash elevator at the eastern side of the house.


    The coal in the storage hopper was lifted by two bucket elevators, shown in the picture, to a height of about ten feet, one to feed the eastern side boilers and the other the western side. The coal was then allowed to drop onto a screw conveyor which ran, at high level, south to north, along the front of each range of boilers. If a boiler required coal, a door in the bottom of the conveyor could be opened and coal fell into a chute which delivered it to hoppers then onto the grate. The grate was driven by belt from an overhead shaft which also ran in front of the boilers. The drive rotated eccentric cams which were connected to the firebars of the grate so that they moved forward and back feeding the coal into the boiler furnace. This system, the elevators, the screw conveyors and the firebars were all driven by two steam engines. These were supplied when the house was extended, around 1912, by Bumstead & Chandler Ltd. of Hednesford, Cannock Chase in Staffordshire.22 They were double crank compound, double acting, vertical, closed in, forced lubrication engines each having 4½" diameter cylinders on the high pressure and 7" low pressure with 4" stroke. They developed 7 bhp at 250 rpm. Steam pressure was 140 psi exhausting to atmosphere. In the words of the specification, 'each engine fitted with governors, steam inlet stop valve, sight feed lubrication, relief valves, drain cocks and pipes to the cylinders, crank case drain cock, oil pressure gauge, oil sump and strainer.' Cylinders were lagged with asbestos mill board and cased with teak. Each engine was fitted with a flywheel to act as a belt pulley and provided with barring gear.

    Engines in the Triple Expansion Engine House (Figure 9)

    In 1896 the programme for the upgrading of the beam engines had been progressing. The pumps had been altered, the boiler house roof had been altered, new boilers had been installed and the changes necessary in the beam engines was being considered. A minute in March 1896 pointed out the fact that since the LCC had identified the need for more pumping power in 1891 the situation at Crossness had become much worse.23 Also it would be necessary to provide auxiliary power while the existing beam engines were compounded.

    The Engineer decided that to meet the new requirements an extension to the beam engine house to accommodate two new triple expansion engines with vertical cylinders would be required. These would provide the additional power required while the beam engines were altered and would become a permanent increase in the power available once this was completed. Plans for the new system of culverts from the new house were drawn up.24 The proposed plans for the engines were also prepared and an invitation to tender for the two engines was published in July 1896.25 In November 1896 the contract for the engines was awarded to Fleming & Ferguson of Paisley.26 The cost was £34,350.

    The engines and pumps were expected to lift sewage from a depth of 30ft. The engines had high pressure cylinders of 22" diameter, the intermediate were 35" and the low pressure 58". The stroke in each case was 4ft. Steam was to be provided from the new boilers in the main boiler house at 150 psi. In the words of the specification,


    The engines were named Duke of York and Duchess of York and operated until they were replaced by Crossley diesels around 1948.27 In the drawings taken from the proposed plans for the engines (Figures 10 and 11), the front elevation shows the pumps and their intakes. Having been lifted the sewage was discharged into the 8'9" diameter culvert. The end elevation shows surface condensers, one for each engine and other details including the steam supply pipe from the boiler house and an end view of the discharge culvert.

    'The valve gear must be such as to allow the throw of the valves to be altered when required.' A note in the spec. calls on the contractor to 'state the difference (if any) for fitting the main engines with Corliss valves and gear in lieu of that specified above, variable cut-off being fitted to each cylinder and each HP cylinder provided with an approved tripping gear.'28 The cost was given as £280 for each engine and Corliss valve gear was fitted to both engines.

    Two other engines were also called for to drive two 5" centrifugal circulating pumps, one each to each condenser and also two 8" centrifugal pumps for filling water reservoirs. No detail is given about these two engines except that they were to be 'direct acting self-governed tandem compound engines.'

    More engines in the Precipitation Engine House

    Crossness had been lit by gas from about 1866.29 It was manufactured on site and all the equipment necessary was installed and the gasman lived on site in a purpose built house. The position of the gasworks is shown on a site plan of the time on the eastern side of the works.


    By the time the LCC took charge concern was being expressed about 'the extensive repairs' that had had to be made to the gas plant in recent years and, in February 1898, that 'the gas plant at the Crossness outfall has become worn out and inadequate, and that it is necessary that steps should be taken without delay to provide means of lighting the works before next winter.'30 Steps were taken and electric lighting was installed.31 As part of this improvement steam engines to drive generators were to be used and they were to be erected in the Precipitation Engine House as mentioned earlier. The contractors for that part of the contract recommended Messrs. Thwaites of Bradford to supply the necessary engines and Easton, Anderson & Goolden of nearby Erith for the dynamos.32 These engines and dynamos were added to the PEH layout.


    In 1912 problems with the loading of the sludge vessels were identified in a minute dated 20th February.


    Part of the improvements, as outlined above, was the need for more pumping engines to load the sludge direct to the vessels via pipelines to the pier where the vessels were moored, a distance of about 500ft. Three engines and centrifugal pumps were needed. Tenders were received and considered and the contract to supply and install went to John Cochrane of Glasgow, who had supplied the 'B' engines in the PEH some twenty odd years earlier.34 To accommodate the new engines alterations to the existing layout in the PEH were necessary. The two engines labelled 'A' on the previous PEH west end plan (Figure 8) which were used to lift diluted sludge from the precipitation channels were removed and replaced by the three new engines. The elevation (Figure 12) shows the new engines in place, with associated piping, suction and delivery. The construction of a platform on which to mount the new engines and the installation of storage tanks, outside, at high level 'similar to those installed at Barking' was also carried out.

    The John Cochrane engines are shown on the 1912 drawing with their suction piping at the bottom and delivery piping running away to the right. The centrifugal pumps provided the necessary lift. The pipes continued out of the PEH and on to the sludge vessel pier at the eastern end of the site. Details of the engines were given in the specification as having 10½" diameter high pressure cylinders and 20" low pressure with a stroke of 12" and designed to run at a maximum speed of 325 rpm.

    The Centrifugal Engine House (CEH)

    A new engine house was called for in 1910 for dealing with storm water.35 This was due to the increase in the quantity of sewage arriving at the Southern Outfall at this time as a result of extensions of the system in central London to deal with flooding and the construction of a new outfall sewer from Deptford to Crossness resulting in a doubling of discharging capacity at Crossness. In times of heavy storms the pumping power was not up to dealing with the increase in flow. There was also a new low level sewer being constructed from Battersea to Deptford and this too would affect Crossness.


    The CEH is not part of the Crossness Engines Trust site as it is still used by Thames Water.

    Figure 13 shows the western side of the house which is situated 115ft from the eastern end of the Beam Engine House. The new house was to be built for eight steam engines with centrifugal pumps, although to begin with only four engines and pumps would be installed. The engines would be worked by steam from the main boiler house by four additional Lancashire boilers. This led to the extension in 1912 of the original boiler house to accommodate the new boilers. These would be superheated and the steam produced taken to the new engine house which was built on the eastern side of the site.36

    The engines were to be supplied by Fullerton, Hodgart and Barclay Ltd of Paisley and the contract was placed in April 1912.37 Figures 14 and 15 show three of the four engines – the first picture seems to be taken from an elevated position at the southern end of the house and the second at ground level from the northern end.

    Feed pumps

    G & J Weir feed pumps were used in the main boiler house and in the precipitation boiler house.38 A similar one that was recovered from Darenth Park Hospital can be seen at Crossness in the display of small engines area as well as one feed pump which did see service at Crossness. This is one of probably two pumps used to return condensate to the boilers and was found in the basement of the Octagon in the Engine House. It is an early model built by Henry Worthington of New York. In 1885 Simpsons of Newark, Nottinghamshire, secured sole rights to manufacture Worthington pumps and in 1917 the name changed to Worthington Simpson. It was in a sorry state when it was discovered but has now been restored. It is the only 'other' engine still remaining on site.




    This then is the story of the 'other' engines at Crossness up until about 1916 when the Centrifugal Engine House opened. As time went by changes did take place. Consideration was given to replacing the beam engines before the Second World War but the decision was put off. The Fleming and Ferguson engines in the triple expansion house were replaced in about 1948 with two Crossley Diesels. The four engines in the CEH also changed to diesel operation in 1938. In the 1950s the CEH finally got the eight pumps it had been designed for back in 1912, when four electrically driven pumps were added to the diesels. Also in the late 1950s a new works was built and the beam engines ceased working. The boilers were removed from the boiler house and, with the addition of a floor 10ft above the firing floor, it was converted into workshops and stores etc. Today all the interior walls have been removed, although the floor remains. The only part of the 'Old Works' still in use by Thames Water is the CEH. The PEH and boiler house still exist but are not in use. The rest of the Old Works is in the care of Crossness Engines Trust.


    Drawings are by the author and photographs are by the author unless otherwise detailed. Contracts, specifications, drawings and minutes of the MBW and LCC were consulted at the London Metropolitan Archive. Thanks to Peter Skilton for information in this article and for the Worthington details and thanks to Mike Dunmow for the information about the original engines in the PEH.

    The author

    David Dawson is a former teacher in further education and has been a volunteer at Crossness for more than 20 years. A graduate of the Birkbeck College IA course run by Denis Smith and Sue Hayton, he is also a long standing member of GLIAS. Restoration of the engine at Crossness is now complete and it is in steam on six occasions each year.

    Notes and references

    1. MBW minute 10/2/1865 p 201 Sinking of a well

    2. MBW2377 Report by the Engineer on boring operations at Crossness Pumping Station 22/12/1868

    3. MBW2377 Further reports 5 & 9/4/1869

    4. MBW2378 Further reports 7/5/1869

    5. MBW2427 Contract with William Webster. Contract 508 31/10/1879

    6. MBW2427 Contract with Appleby Bros. Contract 514 To supply donkey pumps, well pumps, sluice valves. 22/12/1879

    7. MBW2824 Specification/Report outlining the need for additional pumping power (Broad Gauge Engines) at Effra Creek, Falcon Brook and Crossness. 1878

    8. MBW minute p 355. Repair to Charon 25/9/1885

    9. LCC minute p 876. Repair to Lethe 1/8/93

    10. MBW2427 Contract with Easton & Anderson for conversion of Broad Gauge Engines. Contract 467. 2/8/1878

    11. LCC minute p 1401. 28/7/1903

    12. MBW minute p 167. Letter from Major General Scott dated 21/1/82. 27/1/1882

    13. MBW2552 Site plan of changes necessary. 4/5/1882

    14. MBW2563 Surface survey showing new work required. 17/7/1887

    15. MBW2427/933 Contract to William Webster for sewage works at Crossness. 22/6/1888

    16. MBW minute p 22. Bazalgette sludge vessel arrives at Erith. 1/7/1887

    17. LCC/CO/CON/02/1234 contract with Thames Ironworks for 'Sewage Precipitation Works and Machinery'. 14/1/1891

    18. LCC Particulars of Machinery, 1905 book N5 20/B/0125B. Copy dated 18 November 1992

    19. LCC minute p 279. Foundations for engines and pumps. 7/3/1899

    20. LCC/CO/CON/02/1812 Contract with Tetlow Bros to supply 10 Lancashire boilers. 1/2/1896

    21. LCC/CO/CON/02/1897 Contract with W.B. Haigh for mechanical stoking equipment. 12/8/1896

    22. LCC/CO/CON/02/5522 Contract with Bumstead & Chandler for stoker engines. 31/12/1912

    23. LCC minute p 234. Report on pumping power. 31/12/1912

    24. LCC/PP/MD/36 Drawings. 26/3/1896

    25. LCC/PP/MD/41 Drawings. 11/9/1896

    26. LCC/CO/CON/02/1904 Contract with Fleming & Ferguson for triple expansion engines & c (2 off). 10/11/1896

    27. LCC minute p 1346. Naming of new engines. 5/10/1896

    28. LCC minute cost of fitting Corliss valves to be included in tenders. 2/10/1896

    29. MBW minutes p 145. Report on lighting works by gas

    30. LCC minute p 351. Report on the condition of the gas plant

    31. LCC/CO/CON/02/2161/Contract with Safety Concentric Wiring Company. 6/10/1898

    32. LCC/MIN/8508 Letter from Safety Concentric. 29/9/1998

    33. LCC minute p 386. 20/12/1912 34. LCC/Contract Drawings/5451 Contract with John Cochrane to supply engines

    35. LCC minutes p 1429. Crossness pumping station enlargement

    36. LCC/CO/CON/02/5210. Contract with Dick, Kerr for the building of engine house... 31/12/1912

    37. LCC/CO/CON/02/2182. Contract with G. & J. Weir Ltd for a boiler feed pump


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