Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Crossness Engine House

At the time I started preparing this post, I was borderline crying, hugged by my housemates, lacking of tea bags, and yeah, essentially moaning together after being in the cold windy rain all afternoon. Because in spite of being sunny and warm enough to be having pint in a terrace down in Kennington the day before, Sunday was miserable. We all were feeling like soaked sewer rats.

It all started when I wanted to make the best out of the last day of the Open House weekend, as I had ignored despite of all that I had planned in advance. I filled myself with braveness, and well suggested by my housemate, I added an extra layer of clothes for a foreseeable chillier day.

I travelled down south to London Bridge, where I catch a train to the unknown. I passed landmarks from different angles; angles that I couldn't recognise. Greenwich from the back door, the O2 Arena hidden behind residential areas and Woolwich Arsenal. But I kept travelling until I arrived at Abbey Wood. 14.9 miles away from my comfort zone, but still, that didn't put me off.

Right at the entrance of the station, covering from the already painful wind and rain, there was already a queue of around 20 people waited to be carried to our destination. The promised minibus arrived and got filled instantaneously, leaving me the first in the line awaiting for the bus to come and go for the next batch. -- Oh god, i thought. But just in time, just like an American movie hero, an old lady, wiser of the minibus driver showed up announcing that she would be carrying four more persons in her own private car. So I didn't haw to wait.

The 10 minutes ride from the station to the site where used to figure out that the closes bus stop near the site was unwalkable distance, and even more with the horrible weather, that there was a travellers site nearby and a bit more of fun facts about the surroundings and the place itself.

But we finally arrived, and run hopelessly to the entrance of the building to cover from the rain and gain some warmth. And there is was, the main hall of the Crossness Engines House. It opened as one of the few occasions during the year as part of the Open House London 2012 and I knew I wanted to containing a dozen of historic local and period memorabilia for those collectables fans.

And a main queue; because in all remarkable (or not necessarily) event, there is a queue to go through. However, in this occasion, it didn't last more than 10 minutes; just the necessary time for the great volunteers to process the used hard hats and give them a quick wipe for the rest.

And the rest is history indeed...

The first thing that we all came across is the STUNNING balustrade of cast iron remarkably decorated in primary colours. And the first thing that comes to your mind is how amazing is putting together such a beautiful peace of architecture with its purpose and function of pumping out the sewage from the City back in Victorian times. Just like a circular terrace overlooking at the internal patio of a house. Really really beautiful.

Crossness was engineered by Joseph Bazalgette, and himself was the chief engineer of the MBW. The engines house itself was part of a big and terribly important engineering solution for the Great Stink during the summer of 1858, helping to relieve London from cholera epidemics by creating a sewer network (and also helping to clean the Thames at that time, that as we can all imagine and its documented, it was pretty gross).

It is a fact that the history of the British Empire during the reign of Queen Victoria is not part of my direct history knowledge but landmarks like this make me learn quite fast and interestingly. It makes you imagine about the greatness and the power of the Empire, the wealth, the engineering, and all and all, the incredible attention to detail of such a mundane and avoided thing as sewage management.

And the you bump into those massive pumps and pistons, now restored and fully functioning on the left hand side, and the original and rusty on the right. Mastodontic structures of tones of weight of steel, moving seamlessly up and down, and you are able to picture how the whole thing works.

From the main 'square', as I called it, to the right, there was an almost empty room. To the left, the gigantic pistons. Right underneath, a beautiful non-painted cast iron staircase led to the insides of the pump, where it could be serviced. All housed in a room that could easily part of a bunker or a secret cave. Again, the signs of more than 50 years of neglect and be clearly seen on the right hand side.

Pipes, structures... all so big that makes you feel like an insignificant bedbug. How the hell did the mange to get all that in there?

The views from the upper deck were also impressive. For some weird reason, the beautiful shell-shaped grid, gave me vertigo. Probably the wholes were too coarse.
Oh, and I managed to hit my head while walking down the stairs. So turns out the hard hat is useful after all.
And the day turned out to be like the typical grim and sad day in winter. Unexpected temperatures below 15, cold wind and incessant rain. The windows were steamed up and don't allow us to see very far. The clouds just above ground level, just like thick Victorian smog caused by the sleepless exhaust from the factories revolutioning the period. But no, it is 2012 and I can distinguish a parking lot and more visitors approaching. Back to reality. But for enhanced experience, it could have been fun to experience a watered down version of the great stink. Just for a few seconds.
Somebody said tools? Those were pretty big...
We don't have such details these days. Who would take the time to paint the inside of the floor grid in red so carefully? None. That's why everything is so boring nowadays.

Worth the pneumonia? Definitely, but next time, I will go by car or in a sunny day. I was tempted to Hugh strangers just to gain some warmth as we were waiting for the minibus to return. Again, main door wide open, letting the wind and the rain come inside uninvited while we were queueing at the door. Certainly not the best conditions for most of the 70+ years old visitors around. Such a shame that I didn't have the strength to actually wander around outside and take pictures of the building itself and the ducts around... Too cold, seriously.

But yes, good decision, and I am glad I managed to have a little chat with a couple of the 60+ visitors, well aware of these sorts of gems around London and their induction about the Cornish pioneer steel.

I'm a geek. But that's another story.


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