Abbey Mills Pumping Station was a sewage plant on Abbey Lane in East London, England. It has been called the Cathedral of Sewage by some observers as a result of its grandeur in spite of its usage. It was replaced by a new modern facility in 1997.
In the mid 19th century, London was the world’s largest city and was growing rapidly. The Summer of 1858 became known as The Great Stink as the stench from the streets and the river Thames was so bad that they had to close the Houses of Parliament. Engineer Joseph Bazalgette was tasked with fixing the problem and the London sewage system was created, one that is still in operation today.
Bazalgette’s solution was to build six sewers to carry waste to the Thames further downstream. Within a few years, Cholera and typhoid were almost wiped out and the sewer network was seen as a great success. Bazalgette would go on to design Victoria Embankment, Hammersmith Bridge and Shaftsbury Avenue. He also proposed what would eventually become Tower Bridge.
Abbey Mills Pumping Station built between 1865 and 1868 on the site of an earlier watermill in Stratford Langthorne Abbey from where the name Abbey Mills is derived. It was dissolved in 1538. The North Woolwich Railway ran through the site by the 1840s and was home to a number of factories when the pumping station was built.
It was designed in an elaborate Byzantine style with Edmund Cooper and architect Charles Driver involved in the project. The design was elaborate for a building of its kind and featured two chimneys in the Moorish style. They were subsequently demolished in 1941 after they had been unused for a number of years when the original steam motors were replaced by electric ones. There was a fear that German bombers might bring them down on the pumping station, thus causing havoc for the London sewer system.
The purpose of the Abbey Mills Pumping Station was to raise the sewage in London’s lower sewer system to the higher one which was designed to get the waste away from the busy and crowded city centre.
The original station has grade II listed status and can be used as a backup system if needed. The modern Abbey Mills Pumping Station was built about 200 metres (660 ft) south of the original station and is a facility designed specifically for the increased population density of London’s centre. It is under the management of Thames Water. The Lee Tunnel, also known as the Stratford to East Ham deep tunnel, opened in 2016 and carries waste from Abbey Mills Pumping Station down to pumps and storage tanks at Jenkins Lane, Beckton Sewage Treatment Works as part of the Thames Tideway Scheme.
Although activity was moved to the new facility (Station F) in 1997, the original building (Station A) still houses electric pumps which are used to assist the new facility nextdoor when required.
Station B has recently been used as a location for movies including Batman Begins. Station C has been stripped for use as a set too. The building was cleaned up for the 2012 London Olympics which was held nearby.