Posted by: mike on Jan 14, 2014

Category:Victorian architectureLiverpool's HeritageLife-enhancing experiencesFun PalacesCemeteries, Sewerage & SanitationLatest

Liverpool Philharmonic Hotel gentlemen's lavatory

One of the great Liverpool experiences is having a drink – or perhaps more than one drink – in the Philharmonic Hotel (1898-1900) on the opposite corner of Hope Street to the Philharmonic Hall from which it takes its name.

This palace of a pub is the result of a partnership of the architect Walter W Thomas and Robert Cain’s Brewery during the great boom in public-house building at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Thomas was well-funded and fortunately placed to call on the formidable design-skills of the Liverpool University School of Architecture and Applied Art and of the Liverpool craftsmen who executed the decorative schemes of the interiors of the great ocean-liners.

The exterior is an odd combination of Scottish Baronial and Art Nouveau, with elaborate iron gates by the German-American artist H Blomfield Bare, who also designed the repoussé copper panels inside.

The interior scheme was co-ordinated by George Hall Neale and Arthur Stratten, who employed Charles J Allen to produce the distinctive plaster caryatids and atlantes in the billiard room (the former modelled by his friend Mrs Ryan), the Irish plasterer Pat Honan and the stone-carver Frank Norbury.

The gentlemen’s lavatories at the Philharmonic Hotel are not to be missed.  Indeed, the protocol is that any respectable lady customer can request any respectable gentleman customer to check the coast is clear so she can admire the marble, the mosaic and the brass-work of this palatial pissoir.

John Lennon declared that one of the disadvantages of fame was “not going to The Phil any more”.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Sep 27, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureLiverpool's HeritageCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Liverpool St James's Cemetery (1979)

St James's Cemetery, Liverpool (1979) – Huskisson Monument in the foreground

A page of Liverpool City Council’s website [] presents the former quarry below the Anglican Cathedral as an “oasis of peace”, a bland description that matches the 1970s landscaping of one of the city’s most dramatic corners.

The stone for much of eighteenth-century Liverpool was quarried here.  As Mount Zion it was a place of resort, especially after the discovery in 1773 of a chalybeate spring which was thought good for “loss of appetite, nervous disorders, lowness of spirit, headache…proceeding from crudities of the stomach, rickets and weak eyes”.

Renamed St James’s Mount, after the newly-built adjacent parish church, around 1775, it became more genteel.  John Bridge opened “a coffee house of considerable repute…frequented principally by persons of a superior class”.  Visitors relished the contrast between the vast quarry face and the “subterraneous [entrance], supported by arches, [which] has a pleasing and romantic effect”.

When the quarry was practically exhausted in 1825 it became St James’s Cemetery, so immediately profitable that as soon as it opened in 1829 its first year of trading paid an 8% dividend.

The Liverpool architect John Foster Jnr designed a funerary chapel, the Oratory, and built a series of retaining walls, ramps and catacombs into the quarry face.  Mike Faulkner’s informative website [] provides details of the tunnels that gave access for mourners and hearses.

By the time St James’ Cemetery closed in July 1936, 57,774 burials had taken place.  From that time onwards maintenance became an increasingly severe problem.

The floor of the cemetery was almost entirely cleared by the City Council between 1969 and 1972, isolating John Foster Jnr’s magnificent 1833 mausoleum of the Liverpool MP and President of the Board of Trade, William Huskisson (1770-1830).  Huskisson’s statue by John Gibson has been removed for safety.

Other celebrated Liverpudlians buried here include the architect, John Foster Junior (1786-1846), Sir William Brown (1784-1864), donor of the William Brown Library, and the much-loved Catherine “Kitty” Wilkinson (1786-1860), an Irish-born washerwoman of Denison Street.  She is famous for making her water-boiler available to maintain cleanliness during the 1832 Cholera Epidemic, “indefatigable and self-denying, she was the widow’s friend, the support of the orphan, the fearless and unwearied nurse of the sick, the originator of baths and wash-houses for the poor”.

St James’s Gardens, as it’s now known, provides a green amenity in the midst of the city.

But I miss the Gothick atmosphere of the accumulated gravestones and monuments that filled the quarry floor until 1972.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lectures on Liverpool architecture, please click here.

The 68-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Liverpool's Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Feb 26, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

West Norwood Cemetery:  Sir Henry Tate mausoleum

West Norwood Cemetery:  Sir Henry Tate Mausoleum

There’s more to West Norwood Cemetery (1837) than meets the eye.  It’s one of the “Magnificent Seven” early-Victorian London cemeteries – the others are Kensal Green (1837), Highgate (1839), Abney Park (1840), Nunhead (1840), Tower Hamlets (1841) and Brompton (1842) – and it has more monuments than you can shake a stick at, 65 of them listed at Grades II and II* according to the Friends’ website:

Perhaps the only disappointment about this beautifully landscaped place is the loss of the original brick mortuary chapels by Sir William Tite, both damaged in the Blitz:  the Anglican chapel was demolished in 1955, and the Nonconformist chapel was replaced by a modern (c1960) crematorium which I thought quite decorous but which Pevsner dismisses as “indifferent”.

Beneath the site of the Anglican chapel the extensive catacombs remain, and can easily be seen at  The catacombs beneath the dissenters’ chapel were apparently not much used, and were replaced by extensive subterranean cremators from 1915 onwards.

Very early in the history of the cemetery, in 1842, the Greek Orthodox community took a separate plot, on which stands their St Stephen’s Chapel, attributed to John Oldrid Scott, surrounded by its own rich collection of mausolea.

An architectural highlight amongst the wealth of monuments is the Tate Mausoleum, built for Sir Henry Tate (1819-1899), inventor of the sugar cube and founder of the Tate Gallery, by Doulton & Co of Lambeth to the designs of Harold Peto, who enlisted all the richness and crispness that Doulton’s artists could contrive:  The restoration by R K Conservation & Design’s of the mosaic ceiling is illustrated at

Having built a monument for the Tate family, Sir Henry Doulton (1820-1897) chose to build his own terracotta mausoleum round the corner:  This is even more elaborate, probably the work of R Stark Wilkinson who built the Doulton factory on the Albert Embankment [see], with details designed by the company’s artist, Mark Marshall.

Terracotta never caught on as a material for funerary monuments.  I know of only one other, the empty Stearn Mausoleum in Nunhead Cemetery, a few miles to the east:

Norwood Cemetery fell on particularly bad times as its income fell in the twentieth century, even though the company had astutely invested in cremation.  Lambeth Council bought the place in 1965 and initially rode roughshod over the rights of the established grave-owners:  the policy of “lawn conversion” and the destruction of monuments was eventually ruled illegal in the mid-1990s, and the cemetery is now managed more decorously.

Indeed, because the crematorium is fully operational, Norwood Cemetery feels like a place people visit for its intended purpose.

And that, compared with the quieter repose of most of the other “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries, is oddly comforting.

Blog-articles about other "Magnificent Seven" cemeteries are at Catafalque burial, Equestrian geniiFour-legged mutes, Lapidary description, and Victorian values.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Feb 24, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

West Norwood Cemetery:  Charles Haddon Spurgeon tomb

Rev Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) was one of the brightest stars of Nonconformist preaching in Victorian times, the “prince of preachers” and the kingpin of London Baptist ministry.

I was once told that Spurgeon said “Love God and do as you please”, and though I now know this was St Augustine of Hippo (AD354-430), the remark resonates with the impact of Spurgeon’s gigantic personality.

He began preaching at the age of twenty, four years after his conversion and baptism:  at that early age he became pastor of the largest Baptist congregation in London, New Park Street Chapel in Southwark.

His reputation, bolstered by regular publications, meant that the congregation had to move first to the 4,000-seater Exeter Hall, on the site that is now the Strand Palace Hotel, and then to the 12,000-seat cast-iron Surrey Music Hall in Kennington.

Spurgeon fell out with the proprietors of the Surrey Music Hall over the issue of Sunday concerts, and in 1861 opened the Metropolitan Tabernacle, where he based his ministry until shortly before his death.

He must have been an immensely powerful figure, capable of changing thousands of lives through evangelism long before the age of broadcasting and electronic media.

Once, when asked to test the acoustics before a meeting at the Crystal Palace, he “cried in a loud voice, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’” – and a workman up in the gallery immediately put down his tools, went home and underwent a spiritual conversion, which years later he related on his death-bed.

Spurgeon came to mind as I sat on the top of a 68 bus ploughing its way round the Elephant & Castle gyratory, past the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which has been twice rebuilt after a fire in 1898 and the Blitz in 1941.  This thriving place of worship is still known as “Spurgeon’s Tabernacle”:

Oddly, my 68 bus took me to West Norwood Cemetery, which I explored for some time before finding myself standing unexpectedly before the tomb of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, embellished with a portrait relief and a Bible open at the words of 2 Timothy 4, vv 7-8:

I have fought a good fight.  I have finished my course.  I have kept the faith.

Hencefore there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day, and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

Some voices resonate long after they've fallen silent.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jan 18, 2013

Category:Exploring AustraliaCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Waverley Cemetery, Sydney

Sydney is an attractive city and its finest amenity is its coastline.

Even the deceased can lie within sight of the sea, and for the bereaved, visiting loved ones can be an uplifting experience.

Waverley Cemetery is lies in the south-east of the city, in a suburb called Bronte (sic, without a diaeresis) not far from Bondi Beach on a magnificent cliff-top site.

It’s a classic example of a Victorian commercial cemetery, funded by the sale and maintenance of burial plots, established in 1877.

However, unlike the major British company-cemeteries – Kensal Green, Highgate and the rest – Waverley was established by the local council, backed by the government of New South Wales.

And unlike British municipal cemeteries, it’s financially supported by an independent sinking fund to insulate it from the vagaries of public-authority finances.

As such it continues to provide a service and pay its way:

Posted by: mike on Jan 16, 2013

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delightExploring AustraliaCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Site of Cemetery Station No 1, Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney

Site of Cemetery Station No 1, Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney

As your train leaves Sydney Central Station, you may spot on the right-hand side an elaborate Gothic building.  When I last visited in 2011 it was shrouded in scaffolding, which is why I don’t have my own image of it.

This was the Mortuary Station, designed by the Colonial Architect, James Barnett, opened in 1869 and later named Regent Street [].  It was the terminus for funeral trains to Rookwood Cemetery (1868) at Lidcombe to the north of the city, Woronora General Cemetery (1894) at Sutherland to the south-west, and – if Wikipedia is to be believed – Sandgate Cemetery (1881) in Newcastle, a hundred miles up the coast.

Whether the name Rookwood was chosen in reference to the English Brookwood Cemetery is unclear.  Rookwood Cemetery is so vast, nearly 750 acres, that today it has its own bus service.

Originally, funeral trains terminated at the very fine Haslam’s Creek Cemetery Station, otherwise known by a variety of names including Cemetery Station No 1, also by James Barnett (1867):  [ and].

The line was further extended, to Mortuary Terminus (1897), later Cemetery Station No 3, and then to the eventual terminus at Cemetery Station No 4 (1908).  Between Nos 1 and 3, the Roman Catholic Platform, latterly Cemetery Station No 2, was opened in 1901.

The line through Rookwood Cemetery closed in 1948, though its alignment is clearly visible on Google Earth, branching south-east of Lidcombe Station.  The site of Cemetery Station No 1 is in the middle of Necropolis Circuit.

The building itself was badly vandalised and damaged by fire, and was eventually dismantled and transplanted in 1958 to Canberra, where it now serves as All Saints’ Parish Church, Ainslie

In the course of rebuilding the bell-tower was moved to the liturgical south of the building.  It is now fitted with a locomotive bell presented by the Australian Railway Historical Society.

The church has two English stained-glass windows, the War Memorial east window from St Clement’s Parish Church, Newhall, Sheffield, and another from St Margaret’s Church, Bagendon, Gloucestershire.

Posted by: mike on Dec 23, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureTransports of delightCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Shrine of St Edward the Martyr, Brookwood Cemetery

Shrine of St Edward the Martyr (former South Station), Brookwood Cemetery

South of the London-Southampton main line, just beyond Woking, lies the vast spread of Brookwood Cemetery, founded by the London Necropolis & National Mausoleum Company in conjunction with the London & South Western Railway in 1852.

"Necropolis", in Greek, translates as “city of the dead”.

The idea was to provide practically limitless space to bury London’s dead away from the insanitary churchyards and the high-priced commercial cemeteries such as Kensal Green, Highgate and Brompton.

Funeral trains left the Necropolis Station at Waterloo, reversed at a specially installed siding at Brookwood, and proceeded along a ¾-mile branch through the cemetery grounds to one of two funeral stations, one Anglican and the other Nonconformist.

There were, inevitably, concerns about this innovative prelude to the last great journey.  The Bishop of London worried that “the body of some profligate spendthrift might be placed in a conveyance with the body of some respectable member of the church, which would shock the feelings of his friends”, so the company provided hearse-vans with first-, second- and third-class compartments for coffins.

Nevertheless, Brookwood funeral trains soon attracted something of a reputation, especially on the return journey.  The Builder reported in 1856 that “At the funerals by the Necropolis Company, we are told that not unusually, mourners have carried drink with them, of which on the return journey, they had partaken to such an extent, that they have been found dancing about the carriage, by the ticket-collector.”

Of the original 2,100 acres purchased from Lord Onslow, only 400 were laid out as a cemetery and much of the rest was sold for residential development.  Nearly a quarter of a million burials have so far taken place, and there is still 200 acres to spare.

After the First World War parts of the Brookwood Cemetery were given over to military cemeteries for British, American, Canadian, Turkish and Czechoslovakian combatants, and many of its more recent burials are for religious groups with specific needs and requirements – Russian Orthodox, Muslim, Zoroastrian.

By the 1930s the daily funeral trains had reduced to twice a week at most, and the service abruptly stopped in 1941 when a bomb destroyed the building at Waterloo and much of the rolling stock.

The trackbed within the cemetery is now landscaped, and the South, Anglican station belongs to the Brotherhood of St Edward, an Orthodox Christian community dedicated to maintaining the shrine and relics of the Saxon king St Edward the Martyr (c959-978/9).

The cemetery itself was purchased by Mr Ramadan Houssein Guney, Chairman of the UK Turkish Islamic Trust, in 1985.  He painstakingly reversed the cemetery’s long decline, clearing encroaching undergrowth and reinstating the lake in the Glades of Remembrance, aided by the voluntary efforts of the Brookwood Cemetery Society who have organized the restoration of significant graves.

It’s a fascinating cemetery to explore – but it does involve a lot of walking.

For information, see

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Aug 15, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureExploring AustraliaCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Springthorpe Monument, Booroondara Cemetery, Melbourne

Quite the most astonishing Victorian edifice that Gabe showed me on our trip round suburban Melbourne was the Springthorpe Monument in Booroondara Cemetery, in Kew not far from Villa Alba.

Dr John Springthorpe (1855-1933) erected this tomb in memory of his wife Annie, who died giving birth to their fourth child in 1897 at the age of thirty.  The power of his grief led him to commemorate her in a rich, intense, uplifting memorial.  It cost around A£10,000 – ten times what he spent on his three-storey house and surgery in Collins Street in the city-centre.

Within a massive Greek temple twenty feet square, designed by the architect Harold Desbrowe-Annear (1865-1933), lies an exquisite Carrara marble group by the sculptor Bertram Mackennal (1863-1931) showing the deceased with two angels, one placing a now-lost wreath on her head, the other playing a lyre.

Both these artists were Melbourne natives, though Bertram Mackennal gained prestige for his work in England as well as Australia:  his is the relief of King George V that appeared on British and Empire coinage, medals and postage stamps.  He was also responsible for the tomb of George and Mary Curzon at Kedleston in Derbyshire.

The crowning architectural glory – literally – of this monument is the dome of deep red Tiffany glass, which bathes the statuary in a warm light that is the opposite of funereal.

The tomb is inscribed with a plethora of quotations from the Bible, the classics and from nineteenth-century poetry.  The one omission is Annie Springthorpe’s name.  Instead there is a simple, poignant inscription:

My own true love
Pattern daughter perfect mother and ideal wife
Born on the 26th day of January 1867
Married on the 26th day of January 1887
Buried on the 26th day of January 1897

Professor Pat Jalland, an Australian academic best known in the UK for her fascinating book Death in the Victorian Family (OUP 1996), wrote about the Springthorpe monument in The Age in 2002:, and there is further detail in George Nipper’s contribution to

Further illustrations can be found at

There is a biography of Dr John Springthorpe at

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on May 11, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's HeritageCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Tinsley Park Cemetery, Sheffield

I’ve known Tinsley Park Cemetery, Sheffield, all my life, because my maternal grandfather and a bevy of Salvation Army aunties and uncles lie there.  When you visit a cemetery for a funeral, or even simply to tend a grave, as my mother and grandmother did when I was little, you don’t take notice of the surroundings.

The cemetery was built by the Attercliffe Burial Board to supplement their earlier cemetery adjoining the burial ground of Christ Church parish church, a Commissioners’ church built in 1826 and demolished after it was ruined in the 1940 Blitz.

In recent years, when I’ve found my way to Tinsley Park Cemetery, I’ve been intrigued by the quality of the architecture of the funeral chapels, a typical pair – one for the Church of England, the other for the Nonconformists – with an archway, a timber loggia, a clock in the gable and twin bell-turrets.  Each of the arches of the carriageway is decorated with angel headstops carrying Biblical mottoes.

The superintendent’s house incorporated a boardroom for meetings.  It opened in 1882.

The cemetery was designed by a local practice, Holmes & Johnson.  Samuel Furness Holmes (1821-1882) was essentially a civil engineer:  he had been a highway surveyor and was Borough Surveyor from 1864 to 1873.

It’s likely therefore that the architectural work was done by his partner, C H Johnson, about whose career and work I’ve so far been able to trace nothing of any substance.

The Burial Board was taken over by the city in 1900, and Tinsley Park Cemetery remains under the care of what is now called Sheffield Bereavement Services:  The Anglican chapel is still available for funeral services, while the Nonconformist chapel is a store.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on May 9, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's HeritageCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Burngreave Cemetery, Sheffield

Burngreave Cemetery, Sheffield:  Anglican Chapel

The great company cemeteries of the early Victorian period attract a great deal of attention [see Catafalque burial, Equestrian genii, Four-legged mutes, Lapidary description, Steel barons' ValhallaVictorian values and Wool barons’ Valhalla], but the major push to bring decent burial to Britain’s industrial towns and cities followed the Burial Acts of 1852-7, which recognised that most people couldn’t afford the fees of the cemeteries companies, and empowered local authorities to provide dignified burial facilities for all.

In most towns this led to the establishment of an elective Burial Board, backed by the power to levy rates and led by local figures who knew, and felt a responsibility to, their local community.

This meant that overcrowded, insanitary churchyards could be closed.  It also enabled Roman Catholics and Nonconformists to be interred by their own clergy, rather than by the local Church of England priest.

I recently visited my local Victorian municipal burial ground, Burngreave Cemetery, Sheffield, which has a small but active Friends’ group:

The cemetery was opened in 1861, and extended by Sheffield Corporation when they took over from the Burial Board in 1900.  It’s still open for burials in existing graves, and the magnificent chapels by Flockton & Son are intact and listed, but in urgent need of weather-proofing and restoration.

In more prosperous times a company called Creative Outpost devised a grandiose restoration scheme but it seems to have closed down:

This leaves the Friends seeking fresh support, expertise and – most of all – funds.  They’ve digitised the cemetery records to provide an invaluable service locating graves for relatives and descendants, and they’ve begun a detailed study of some of their more celebrated “residents”:  

They open the chapels as often as possible on Sunday mornings, and they serve as a link between the local community and the council’s Bereavement Services department.

Their existence is the vital factor that keeps Burngreave Cemetery safe and civilised, and encourages its use as a place to walk, jog and enjoy the fresh air in a built-up area that is not blessed with many amenities.

Every cemetery deserves friends like the Friends of Burngreave Cemetery.  The co-ordinating body for such organisations is the National Federation of Cemetery Friends:

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on May 7, 2012

Category:Victorian architectureSheffield's HeritageCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Sheffield General Cemetery (1976)

Sheffield General Cemetery:  Nonconformist chapel (1976)

When I first knew the Sheffield General Cemetery in the late 1960s it was an undignified, sometimes frightening eyesore.

It was hard to believe that when it was opened in 1836 the Porter Valley was Sheffield’s classical Elysium.  On the north side of the valley stood the classical terrace The Mount (William Flockton c1830-2), the Botanical Gardens (Benjamin Broomhead Taylor & Robert Marnock 1833-6) and the Palladian Wesley College (William Flockton 1837-40, now King Edward VII School).

Opposite, the General Cemetery was laid out in terraces by the designer and curator of the Sheffield Botanical Gardens, Robert Marnock, with Greek Revival buildings, the Lion Gate, the Nonconformist chapel and the Secretary’s House, all designed by Samuel Worth, the designer, with B B Taylor, of Sheffield’s Cutler’s Hall (1832).

The original nine acres were extended by a further eight in 1850 to provide a consecrated section, dominated by William Flockton’s fine Gothic Cemetery Church.

The valley became built up in the later nineteenth century.  The turnpike road became a tram-route and Cemetery Avenue, originally built across open fields, is now one of the very few streets of terraced houses in the city with trees on either side [].

The Cemetery is now recognised as one of the finest provincial company cemeteries in England, built in response to the 1832 cholera epidemic (which in Sheffield killed 404 people, including the Master Cutler), founded as a joint-stock company by Nonconformists, with picturesque landscaping and a fondness for Egyptian detail on otherwise classical buildings.

It is the resting place of many of the great names of Victorian Sheffield – Samuel Holberry (1816-1842), the Chartist leader;  James Montgomery (1771–1854), newspaper editor and hymn-writer;  Mark Firth (1819-1880), steel magnate and philanthropist and the brothers John, Thomas, and Skelton Cole, founders of the Sheffield department store. 

Like all early-Victorian company cemeteries it fell into ruin as the income streams of plot-sales and burial fees dried up after the Second World War.

A development company bought the cemetery company, but gave up on the idea of building apartments on the site when they realised they’d have to exhume up to 77,000 corpses.

Eventually, in 1978, Sheffield City Council took it over, secured an Act of Parliament to extinguish burial rights, and perhaps ill-advisedly cleared eight hundred gravestones to create a green recreational space.

In 1989 a Friends’ group, now reconstituted as the Sheffield General Cemetery Trust [], took on a voluntary role as custodians of the place, encouraging conservation, preservation and appropriate use of a fine amenity that at one time seemed an insoluble liability.

There is still much for the Trust and the City Council to do:  the Lion Gate has been fully restored, but both chapels are empty shells awaiting a creative and sympathetic use.

In the meantime, the Trust works constantly to “encourage everyone to enjoy this historical site by walking its paths, learning its history or simply as a quiet place to sit and contemplate”.

Without their voluntary labours, the place would simply slip back into dereliction.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Oct 31, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Undercliffe Cemetery, Bradford

The best view of Bradford, sitting in its valley bottom, is from Undercliffe Cemetery, which from 1851 was the resting place of many of the great and the good of the booming wool town.

At the vantage point stands a prominent thirty-foot obelisk, commemorating Joseph Smith, the original land agent for the Cemetery Company.

Swithin Anderton, a wealthy wool-stapler, lies beneath a version of the Scott Monument which Ken Powell aptly describes as “scaled down” rather than miniature.

Less luminous but no less interesting characters buried at Undercliffe include Charles R Whittle, the author of ‘Let’s all go down the Strand’, Charles Rice, “comedian...for many years lessee and manager of the Theatre Royal, Bradford”, and David Brearley, an official of the United Ancient Order of Druids whose inscription is distinguished by at least five spelling mistakes.

Undercliffe Cemetery was used as a location in the film Billy Liar (1963).

Stranded by the tide of changing economic conditions and funeral fashions since the last war, the Bradford Cemetery Company went into liquidation in 1976 and the site was purchased for £5 by a developer who went on record saying, “I was very concerned to see the cemetery had fallen into disrepair and I thought it was terrible to see the place being neglected.”

The local newspaper later alleged that inscribed kerbstones were sold for scrap stone, and Bradford City Council, spurred by the small but energetic group of the Friends of Undercliffe Cemetery, took it on in 1984, by which time the chapels and lodges had all been demolished.

Now the Cemetery is well cared for by Bradford City Council in partnership with the Undercliffe Cemetery Charity [].  A replacement lodge was transplanted from Bowling Cemetery, Bradford in 1987.  All it needs is for someone to donate two matching Gothic funerary chapels in need of a good home.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Yorkshire Mills & Mill Towns tour, with text, photographs and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Mar 31, 2011

Category:Country HousesCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Tower of Elphinstone

Tower of Elphinstone (1982)

Before the Murray Earls of Dunmore built Dunmore Park House [see Could have done more], the place was called Elphinstone, after the family that had lived there in the sixteenth century, and the residence was a substantial 57-foot-high tower, alternatively known as the Tower of Elphinstone or Elphinstone Tower.

A curious structure with enormously thick walls, and major rooms on the first, second and third floors, it seems to have been unoccupied after the 3rd Earl of Dunmore bought the Elphinstone property in 1754, until in 1836 the barrel-vaulted ground-floor room was converted into a mausoleum.

In 1840 the two-storey service wing was cleared away to give space for St Andrew's Church, a modest Gothic building with a bell-turret.

By the time I visited the place in 1982 the Tower had collapsed, and St Andrew's Church had been completely demolished, leaving free-standing wall monuments surrounded by thin air.

Since then, the Tower has been neglected and vandalised, and the Falkirk Local History Society's website [] indicates that it may not survive for many more winters.

The corpses that had been interred in the vault have apparently been removed, but not – so it seems – the coffins, which were left to tempt passing vandals.  The 2009 state of the place, and also the ruins of Dunmore Park House, are illustrated at

It's not a pretty sight.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Mar 6, 2011

Category:Victorian architectureCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Crossness Pumping Station

Crossness Pumping Station

I received some very strange looks on a train recently, reading Paul Dobraszczyk's Into the Belly of the Beast:  exploring London's Victorian Sewers (Spire 2009).  It's a perfectly sensible subject, with an entirely respectable cover, but maybe the title is a little over-wrought.

(The last time I got funny looks on a train was years ago when I first read Sue Townsend's delightful The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13¾ [1982]:  I was rolling around the carriage at the Christmas lunch scene where Adrian is lusting after his aunt's prison officer girlfriend, and ends up eating the wing of the turkey because he's too embarrassed to ask for any other part of its anatomy.)

Paul Dobraszczyk's book is a very interesting addition to the somewhat limited literature about what the Victorians called the "sanitary question", the great environmental issue of the nineteenth century – how to provide the rapidly growing urban areas with clean drinking water, sewage disposal and a dignified, hygienic way of disposing of the dead.

Dr Dobraszczyk analyses how Sir Joseph Bazalgette's Metropolitan Main Drainage system, constructed at huge expense and upheaval, initially between 1859 and 1868, is represented by the illustrative material left behind – maps and drawings, photographs and press coverage.

Among the insights he uncovers is the fact that before Bazalgette could begin to lay down a coherent drainage system for London he needed the area to be surveyed systematically.  All the previous maps had stopped at some arbitrary district boundary, and they were all at different scales or levels of detail.

Another revelation is the identity of the architect of the great steam pumping stations which are the glory of London's industrial archaeology – Crossness (1862-65), Abbey Mills (1865-68) and the less flamboyant sites at Deptford (1859-62) and Pimlico (1870-74).  This was Charles Driver (1832-1900), who also worked for the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway, provided architectural detail for the seaside piers at Llandudno (1878) and Southend-on-Sea (1887-90), and collaborated on the Mercado Central [Central Market], Santiago, Chile (1868-70) and the Estação da Luz [Station of Light], São Paulo, Brazil (1897-1900).

I was concerned that I'd never encountered Driver's name before, and began to feel I needed to keep up, until I read a review of Dr Dobraszczyk's book in the Victorian Society's magazine, The Victorian, which admits "this reviewer had never heard of Charles Driver".  The reviewer was Stephen Halliday, whose book The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis (Sutton 1999) I greatly admire.  If the name is news to Stephen Halliday, then Charles Driver is a real discovery.

Abbey Mills Pumping Station is a working installation operated by Thames Water and is very rarely accessible to the public.  Crossness Pumping Station is cared for by the Crossness Engines Trust, but is currently closed for building work.  Details of its reopening will be posted at in due course.

The pumping stations at Abbey Mills and Crossness feature in Mike Higginbottom's lecture Temples of Sanitation (aka Victorian Sewerage).  For details, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Aug 10, 2010

Category:Sacred placesCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Milton Mausoleum, Markham Clinton

Authoritarians have a way of undermining themselves.

The 4th Duke of Newcastle (1785-1851) was a clumsy politician.  Queen Victoria sacked him from the post of Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire because he wouldn't appoint magistrates he disapproved of:  "for though his integrity could never be suspected, his discretion was by no means remarkable".

When his Duchess died giving birth to twins in 1822, he built the stern and chilly Milton Mausoleum at Markham Clinton, Nottinghamshire designed by Sir Robert Smirke.  This project, which took eleven years to complete, became a lugubrious farce.  Known in the family as the "Dormitory", it was intended to supersede the cramped family vault at Bothamsall Church, and was designed to accommodate 72 coffins.  It was also to serve as a replacement for the tiny medieval parish church of All Saints', West Markham.

The fourth Duke himself was eventually buried there with his wife, but only fourteen members of the family lie in the vault, and the parishioners of West Markham abandoned its dismal isolation to return to their more homely church in the heart of their village.

Sir Richard Westmacott's superb monument to the Duchess was carried off to Clumber Chapel, and later returned to its original resting-place where it remains.

The Milton Mausoleum is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust and can be visited:  There is a description at h

Visitor-information for Clumber Park, including the Chapel, is at

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Aug 8, 2010

Category:Historic YorkCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

York Minster (detail)

York Minster, West front (detail)

John St John Long, the quack doctor who is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery [see Equestrian genii and Lapidary description], could have had an alternative, much less dangerous career.

One of his oil paintings, 'The temptation in the wilderness' (1824), belongs to the Tate Britain collection [].  Apparently, he spent the early 1820s as a painter of biblical subjects before turning to medicine.

His tutor was the apocalyptic painter, John Martin (1789-1854), a fascinating character who took time out of a commercially successful artistic career to support his eldest brother William's career as an inventor, to join in the controversy over how to solve London's sewage problem, and to care for his demented elder brother, Jonathan (1782-1838).

Jonathan Martin witnessed the murder of his sister, a trauma which he never overcame. At his confirmation he was "astonished at the wonderful size of the bishop", and took to an abusive correspondence with clergymen, who tended to exclude him from their churches because of his antics.  He was for a time a Wesleyan minister, and was locked up for threatening to assassinate the Bishop of Oxford.

One missive began, "Blind Hypocrits, You serpents and vipers of Hell, you wine-bibbers and beef-eaters, whose eyes stand out with fatness..." and another made the more sinister prophecy, "You whitent sea pulkirs...your Gret Charchis and Minstairs will cume rattling down upon your Gilty Heads.")

Perhaps someone should have kept a closer eye on Jonathan Martin.  On February 1st 1829 during evensong at York Minster he was apparently distressed by a buzzing in the organ, and concealed himself inside the building.  He started a fire, before escaping through a window, and succeeded in burning down the entire east end.  One of the bystanders remarked that the spectacle reminded him of one of John Martin's canvases, not realising that the sight was the result of the artist's brother's work as an arsonist.

Jonathan Martin was committed to an asylum for the second time in his life, and remained there until his death.

York Minster suffered further fires in 1840, when a workman's lamp set fire to the south-west tower, sending the bells to the ground "with a deep hollow sound" and gutting the nave, and again in 1984 when lightning set alight the roof of the south transept.

The south transept was restored by 1988.  Now there is a major campaign once again to safeguard the east end of the Minster.  See

The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Historic York tour, with text, photographs, and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Posted by: mike on Aug 6, 2010

Category:Cemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Kensal Green Cemetery, John St John Long monument

Dr Johnson remarked that "In lapidary descriptions a man is not upon oath".

But how do you frame an epitaph when the life of the deceased has been marked by scandal?

Dr John St John Long (1793-1834) lies beneath a tomb in Kensal Green Cemetery that is a masterpiece of lending dignity to a remarkable man who is, perhaps, remarkable for unfortunate reasons.

Long is usually described as a quack doctor.  In fact he practised from a Harley Street surgery, though he "had not been regularly educated as a surgeon".  On at least two occasions the deaths of his patients led to manslaughter charges:  in the first instance he was fined £250;  on the second, though the coroner's jury returned a manslaughter verdict "on the ground of gross ignorance, and on other considerations", Long was exonerated at the Old Bailey and "several ladies, elegantly dressed, remained with the prisoner in the dock throughout the day, to whom this verdict appeared to give great satisfaction".

Nevertheless, he received glowing testimonials from patients who felt they had benefitted from his treatments – among them the Countess of Buckingham and the radical politician, Sir Francis Burdett, who recommended Long to the Marquess of Anglesey for a treatment for tic doloureux.

His tomb at Kensal Green carries a lengthy and delicately poised inscription:

It is the fate of most men to have many enemies, and few friends.  This monumental pile is not intended to mark the career but to shew how much its inhabitant was respected by those who knew his worth and the benefits derived from his remedial discovery.  He is now at rest and far beyond the praises or censures of this world.

Stranger as you respect the receptacle for the dead as one of many who must rest here, hear the name of John St John Long without comment.

Most commentators quote only the final paragraph – which has a more terse effect.

Of the "benefits derived from his remedial discovery" nothing further was heard after Long's death.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Aug 4, 2010

Category:Fun PalacesCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Kensal Green Cemetery, Ducrow monument

Probably the most bombastic monument in Kensal Green Cemetery is that to Andrew Ducrow (1793-1842), the equestrian owner of Astley's Amphitheatre in Lambeth.

Ducrow's entry in Wikipedia [] likens his stage act to the modern-day Chippendales, because he and his sons dressed in flesh-coloured body stockings and posed on the backs of white stallions.

Even though Astley's burnt down three times, Ducrow was clearly worth something.  His plot in Kensal Green Cemetery is a prestigious location near to the Duke of Sussex, and his monument cost £3,000.  Built initially for Mrs Ducrow, its design by George Danson is a ponderous mix of classical and Egyptian motifs, originally coloured and surmounted by a statue of Hygieia, goddess of health, cleanliness and sanitation.

The inscription, which Ducrow clearly wrote, declares that the tomb was "erected by Genius for the reception of its own remains".  It was described in the contemporary periodical The Builder as "ponderous coxcombry".

The real genius of Astley's Amphitheatre was, of course, its founder, Philip Astley (1742-1814).  In many ways he is the originator of the modern circus, because he was the first professional trick-rider to perform in a circle, though he never used the Latin term "circus" or the English "ring", but called it a "ride".  He introduced clowns and acrobats into his show to extend and vary the performance.

Most significant of all, he determined that the diameter for the circus ring, as we now call it, should be 42 feet, for that caused a cantering horse to lean at the optimum angle for a man to stand on its bare back.

Now that's genius.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jul 24, 2010

Category:Humber HeritageCemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Hull King William III gentlemen's lavatory

Queen Mary's advice to her eldest son was (reputedly) – "Take every opportunity to take the weight off your feet and to relieve yourself."

It's widely known in Hull that if you seek relief in the city centre it's a good idea to head for a royal statue.

There are two, and they're very fine indeed – one beneath the fine Scheemakers statue of King William III (1734) on the Market Place and the other beneath the H C Fehr's 1903 monument to Queen Victoria in Queen Victoria Square.

Both are listed Grade II.  The King William III gents was designed by the City Engineer, W H Lucas, at a time when such creations were a matter of pride.  It has fittings by Finch & Co of Lambeth dating from c1900, including marble-and-glass cisterns, faience Ionic columns and original doors with leaded lights.  The Queen Victoria lavatories are later than the statue, dating from c1925 when the Ferens Art Gallery was under construction:  again the gents has its original earthenware fittings.

There's an account of the local pride in these magnificent facilities, told by the people who care for them, at

The Hull historian, Paul Gibson, includes in his website a lengthy account of the history of Hull's public lavatories:

Posted by: mike on Jul 19, 2010

Category:Cemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Kensal Green Cemetery, Anglican Chapel arcade

Kensal Green Cemetery, Anglican chapel, colonnade

The Cemeteries & Sewerage:  the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness (October 14th-18th 2010) tour provides two opportunities – at Kensal Green Cemetery [] and Brompton Cemetery [ and] to see Victorian catacombs.  Here, in lead-lined coffins, the Victorian dead lie awaiting the Second Coming.  Indeed, it is still possible to be buried in the catacombs at Kensal Green:  according to the Friends' website [], "both private loculi and shelves or vaults for family groups" are still available.

A catafalque is the raised base on which a coffin rests before and during a funeral service.  In the Anglican Chapel at Kensal Green, the catafalque acts as a lift, lowering coffins into the catacombs below.  The original mechanism, installed in or soon after 1837, was based on the cider press, and proved difficult to operate with decorum:  the two sides had to be screwed at exactly the same speed or the catafalque tilted and jammed.

The engineering company of Bramah & Robinson provided an improved coffin-lift design for West Norwood Cemetery in 1839, using smooth and silent hydraulic power to give the deceased a dignified exit through the floor.  The proprietors of Kensal Green Cemetery were so impressed that they replaced their original lift with a Bramah & Robinson hydraulic lift in 1844 for £200, half the cost of the original.

Highgate Cemetery [] also used a hydraulic lift to lower coffins from the south chapel to a tunnel into the East Cemetery to save the cortège crossing the public road, Swains Lane.

The West Norwood coffin lift is unusable, but is beautifully illustrated at  The Kensal Green lift was restored to working order by the Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery in 1997:

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jul 17, 2010

Category:Cemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Brompton Cemetery

Victorian governments hated nationalisation.  The upper-class Lords and Commons, Liberals and Conservatives alike, believed in their different ways in what we'd now call "small government".  Every possible public service in the emerging urban society – roads, railways, utilities – were operated by private joint-stock companies authorised at arm's length by Parliament.  Almost all operations that were government-controlled were directed in the name of the Crown – the armed services, police, the Royal Mail and even the Ordnance Survey.  Perhaps this is what Margaret Thatcher meant when she referred to "Victorian values".

Brompton Cemetery [] in West London is an unusual and unequivocal example of Victorian nationalisation.

It was constructed in 1836-40 – in the same decade as Kensal Green, Highgate and Nunhead Cemeteries – on a flat site between the Fulham and Brompton Roads, to a design by Benjamin Baud that suggested an open-air cathedral with a magnificent central avenue leading to the chapel, based on St Peter's Basilica in Rome, at the east end.  The approach to the chapel is embraced by twin colonnades, suggesting Bernini's great piazza.

Baud's scheme proved over-ambitious, and the cemetery company's shareholders became increasingly restless, so that when the Metropolitan Interments Act of 1850 closed the insanitary London churchyards and provided for government purchase of company cemeteries, they jumped at the chance to offload the liability of the cemetery's shaky finances.

Ironically, a further Metropolitan Burials Act of 1852 effectively reversed government policy by obliging local authorities to set up municipal cemeteries, but by that time the negotiations over Brompton had passed the point of no return, and so the place has remained the only government-owned cemetery in the UK.  As such it is part of the Crown Estate, and is administered by the Royal Parks.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jul 7, 2010

Category:Cemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Kew Bridge Steam Museum

One of the highlights of the Cemeteries & Sewerage:  the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness (October 14th-18th 2010) tour will be a morning at the Kew Bridge Steam Museum.  This celebrated treasure-house of steam technology shows stationary pumping engines and other steam-age machinery, live and in action on a regular basis.  Such is the concentration of exhibits that the place runs six days a week – not simply for periodic steaming days like most out-of-town steam-engine museums.

The pumping station was originally built by the Grand Junction Water Company, whose name disconcertingly advertised that they originally drew their water from the Grand Junction Canal:  after two inlets had proved to be polluted even by early Victorian standards, the Kew Bridge pumping station was built in 1838 to pump water from the supposedly cleaner River Thames to its existing reservoirs.

As demand increased a succession of beam engines were installed on the site, including two of the largest ever built, the 90-inch and 100-inch Cornish engines, and a strange beast that is effectively a beam engine, but with no beam – the Bull engine.

By the time the steam engines were finally decommissioned in 1945 the Metropolitan Water Board, realising that here was a ready-made museum of steam, took the enlightened decision to preserve the site.

The Kew Bridge Steam Museum [] grew from a trust founded in 1973 to enable volunteers to operate the site, and it has become a significant London tourist attraction, easily accessible by rail and providing entertainment as well as education all the year round.

I once took the members of what was then the Guide Dogs Adventure Group to Kew Bridge as part of a 'Cemeteries and Sewerage' weekend (the people, that is, not the dogs – the engine-house cast-iron floors were not paw-friendly).  You can't show blind people a beam engine without getting a bit greasy:  they need to sense the height and breadth of the thing and to feel its motion.

One blind teenager in the group asked if he could drive one and, sure enough, he was given the opportunity to grab the levers and make the earth move.  Health-and-safety might prevent this now, but at that time the people at Kew Bridge were able to provide a life-enhancing moment for a guy without sight who wanted the hands-on experience of driving a vast steam engine.

I can't find the Guide Dogs Adventure Group on the web, but a story that's founded in its work is at

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Temples of Sanitation, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jul 5, 2010

Category:Cemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Highgate Cemetery George Wombwell monument

My favourite monument in Highgate Cemetery [] is the tomb of George Wombwell (1777-1850), the proprietor of the greatest travelling menagerie of nineteenth-century Britain, guarded by a statue of Wombwell's much-loved and docile lion, Nero.

George Wombwell's career began when he bought two boa constrictors that had accidentally landed at London Docks.  Showing them round London pubs made such a profit that he expanded his collection to fill fifteen showman's wagons and toured the fairs of Britain.  When animals died he often had them stuffed, arguing that poking a dead animal was an even better experience than seeing a live one.

He was repeatedly invited to show his animals to Queen Victoria's court.  After one visit he declined a gift from Prince Albert saying, "What can you give a man who has everything?"  On his next visit the Prince Consort presented him with something he hadn't got, an oak coffin, which he promptly added to his exhibition at an additional admission charge.

There are other animals among the wealth of monuments at Highgate.  A horse with its head bowed adorns the grave of John Atcheler (d 1853), horse-slaughterer to Queen Victoria.  The other named animal that is commemorated on a Highgate tomb is the bull mastiff Lion, who belonged to Tom Sayers (d 1865), the bare-fist boxer.  Lion had been in effect the chief mourner at Sayers' funeral, sitting alone in the leading carriage wearing a black crêpe collar.  Chris Brooks wrote an interesting account of Tom Sayers' funeral, which drew larger crowds than the Duke of Wellington's, in Burying Tom Sayers:  heroism, class and the Victorian cemetery (Victorian Society reprint from Victorian Society Annual 1989).

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Victorian Cemeteries, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jun 23, 2010

Category:Cemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Markfield Beam Engine House

What could you possibly do with a redundant sewage works in the middle of north London?  The surroundings of the Markfield Beam Engine House [], which we're visiting on the tour Cemeteries & Sewerage:  the Victorian pursuit of cleanliness (October 14th-18th 2010), show how to make an amenity out of the most unpromising situation.

Tottenham, formerly a genteel, salubrious, semi-rural place, suddenly expanded with the arrival of the railway to Liverpool Street in 1872.  The fields disappeared under housing, and with them the estate of Markfield House.

To deal with the inevitable problem of sewage disposal, the Markfield Engine was set to work in 1888.  It's an elegant machine, free-standing rather than house-built, its superstructure supported by formal Doric columns.

Its surroundings were anything but elegant:  alongside the settlement tanks and filter beds was a slaughterhouse and a pig-farm.  This was the location of the famous "Tottenham pudding", a wartime recycling project that transformed kitchen waste into pig food, and gained the approval of Queen Mary.

The site pumped sewage until 1964, when the local sewerage system was rearranged and the land transferred to the London Borough of Haringey.  The Borough took the enlightened decision to mothball the beam engine, bricking up the windows to protect it from vandalism.

In recent years, with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund and others, the Borough turned the area into a pleasant facility that you'd never guess had been a sewage works, and the restored engine was steamed in September 2009.

The heavy concrete of the settlement tanks and filter beds has been adapted as gardens and a BMX park.  The engine-house is now fully restored and volunteers run the engine half a dozen times a year.  Alongside the engine building is a superb new community café, Pistachio in the Park [].

The whole project has cost £3.8 million.  There is an attractive history of Markfield Park at

It's a modest, understated place, where mums bring kids in pushchairs and youths play football and ride their bikes.  The nearest you see to sewage now is dog-owners with plastic bags over their hands.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Temples of Sanitation, please click here.

Posted by: mike on Jun 21, 2010

Category:Cemeteries, Sewerage & Sanitation

Kempton Great Engines

Of all the places that might be described as a "cathedral of steam", the 1928 engine-house at Kempton, Middlesex, has a stronger claim than most.

When you walk up a flight of steps to the entrance and through the front door, you're on a level halfway up the height of two magnificent pumping engines, 62 feet high, which lifted Thames river water on its way to supply much of North London for the New River Company.  These two giants are, in domestic terms, five storeys high, and climbing to the very top is a vertiginous experience.

When they were completed in 1929 they represented almost the ultimate in steam-engine design, gloriously over-engineered so that, if necessary, they could pump 24/7.  The space between the two triple-expansion engines was intended for a third, but in 1933 a much more compact water-turbine unit was installed instead.  In a sense, that six-year period marks the point when technology moved on past the age of steam.

These huge machines were the last of their type when they ceased operating in 1980.  Electric pumps, delivering slightly less water with a tenth of the staff, took over.  In 1995 the Kempton Great Engines Trust [] began to restore them with the support of Thames Water, and seven years later the northern engine Sir William Prescott was back in steam.  The southern engine remains cold, and enables tour-groups to inspect its working in detail while observing the twin in motion across the building.

It's a sight not to be missed. The earth moves.

For details of Mike Higginbottom's lecture Temples of Sanitation, please click here.

Previous page: Amenity bodies