It’s day two of London Open House and we’re off to Crossness Pumping Station. This has been a long-held ambition, but with so much to choose from over the weekend it has taken, ooh, six years? to get here. The instigator of this sudden resolve is our friend J who phoned and said:
I’m going, come with?
So we did. Trying to avoid using the car and with the promise of a special bus to meet the train, we meet J and C at Lewisham and get the train to Abbey Wood. There is a bus … a minibus that seats 12. I count the queue. The bus takes half an hour to make its round trip… We are going to be here two hours. We rebel and get a mini cab to the gates. We walk up to the back of the queue for the door, which is moving very slowly indeed. There is a distinct smell of drains, and I find myself absentmindedly humming Sweet Thames Flow Softly which we learnt over the summer.
Forty minutes later, we arrive at the door, and are given our tickets for the engine house. We enter, and there is another queue. We join it with dread, but it only takes another twenty minutes to finally reach the sacred portal and to be handed our hard hats.
Now. Why would I be prepared to put myself through this? I am not a patient kind of gal. And visiting a sewage works isn’t your average glamorous London day out. Well, the several thousand people who have visited Crossness will be grinning just now.
Overwhelming, over the top, Ro-co-co (except it isn’t) Byzantine, laughter inducing mayhem. The outside gives no clue to the interior. The austere if decorative brickwork could be any typical Victorian engine shed – railway architecture at its best – Lombardy arcading, arched windows, bah blah.
Inside the first hall where the queue is, it is airy, spacious and light… and then, hat on head you enter the inner sanctum, and the dazzle and razzmatazz of the theatre takes over – every surface is moulded or filigreed, even the floors. There is a feel of Moorish palace, except that the colours are wrong, and then there is the noise.
The beam engine is steady, regular, almost relaxed and surprisingly quiet, a sort of sigh and knock and hiss as it slides up and down, and the flywheel spins. it is awesome in its grandeur. There are four of these gracious monsters, but only one has been restored. And only part of the engine house is painted back to its former glory, about which I am glad – I hope they don’t restore it completely, the ironwork is magnificent and the paint is garish, and whilst amusing, once painted the true skill of the iron casting is hidden.
And the still, silent end of the hall, is magnificent in its cathedral-like space.
Up the stairs, (also pierced into a pattern) there is yet more filigree floor, which is humming ever so gently. I find this rather unnerving. In fact it brings me out in a cold sweat. I am quite relieved to get down again.
And yes, there is another queue to get into the basement. The basement is very different dark, dusty and cramped.
I’m not surprised the queue is so long, as we spend ages going round, and they can only let people in with a hard hat.
After a cup of tea and a bit of cake, we take advantage of the fact that there is a gate onto the Thames path (not normally open) and walk back to Woolwich along the river.
Copyright Cherry Potts 2011