Crossness Engines is our local industrial museum – but by an accident of 100 yards or so of boundary has ended up in Bexley Borough. The result is we hear very little about them. Last night at the Greenwich Industrial History meeting we were privileged to have an update on progress at the museum from Mike Jones – and thank you very much Mike.
And what amazing progress it is!! Even those of us who read their newsletter and hope we keep in touch can have very little idea of how near we are to having another very major ‘heritage’ site on our doorsteps – and one that will interpret the great municipal work of main drainage in the 19th century.
The site is currently closed whilst a major programme of work is completed but, for those who have not seen the great beam engines at Crossness – go as soon as it opens again! Prince Consort, which is now regularly ‘steamed’ – is a very genuinely awe inspiring sight. The four engines – the biggest concentration of steam power of their type in the world – were last used in the 1953 floods and were then junked and left to rust. In the 1980s a small group of volunteers began work to save one of the engines, Prince Consort, and hopefully get back to work. Over the next 20 years or so they struggled on with very little help, and great deal of ignorance in official circles.
So –now – they have shown what they can do – and the money and support has become available. What Mike told of us of their plans are really amazing. There is going to be a proper road into the site, which will be publicly maintained, visitors will be able to go, through a Victorian garden, to the original front door – and pass through a replica sewer into a vast exhibition space which will describe the main drainage system of London – and many aspects of sewage treatment as well as its affect on the river and so on. They will then be able to pass through and see the four great engines – Prince Consort in steam, Victoria now being worked on – one day she too will move.
Elsewhere on site they hope to show other engines – and hopefully also put them in steam. They have engines locally made and it would be good to show how south east London was in the forefront of steam power manufacture. A longer term aspiration is to create a a workshop with steam powered line shafting. They are also building links with local wild life groups – clearly the site is of great ecological interest and there are many many birds. They are also involved with walking groups – the Thames Path goes past their site, and the Ridgeway (the Southern Outfall sewer path) comes to them directly from Plumstead Station.
The remaining problem is of course access – it is a long walk from Plumstead or Abbey Wood station and despite efforts, it has not been possible to put the site on a regular bus route. Discussions with many bodies are underway to try and address this.
Greenwich people should take a lot more notice of what is going on so near to our boundary. Current plans will make this one of the most important industrial sites in the country – I probably shouldn’t say, given the subject matter, that it is right under our noses! But it is a site which will celebrate inventiveness and ingenuity in solving a major problem in urban development and how this was achieved through local government action.