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Crossness Pumping Station: A stunning remainder of Victorian engineering

Crossness Pumping Station © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Crossness Pumping Station is a Victorian pumping station in Abbey Wood, south-east London

The word ‘sewage’ doesn’t bring up many positive associations. If we were to list the pros and cons of life, human waste is right at the bottom of the pile. It’s a subject we generally like to avoid and try not to spend much time thinking about. However, as over 8 million of us are cramming into the 611 square mile space we call London, a working sewage system is one of our most important utilities. Back in Victorian London, the Industrial Revolution had caused a huge population boom in the capital and the amenities were struggling to cope. The streets and rivers of the city were streaming with rubbish and human excrement… pretty disgusting and a breeding ground for disease. The frequent outbreaks of Cholera were blamed on the inhalation of ‘bad air’. Of course, it was physician Doctor John Snow (1813-1858) who found it was spread by contaminated water, not oxygen. The River Thames was essentially an open sewer and was so toxic it was unable to sustain fish or wildlife. The existing sewers built in the 17th and 18th century were in a bad state and were unable to cope with a population which had nearly tripled to 3 million. However, it wasn’t until ‘The Great Stink’ in summer 1858, when the hot weather exacerbated the smell of the capital’s untreated waste, that the Government finally took action.

Step forward civil engineer Sir Joseph William Bazalgette (1819-1891), who was the Chief Engineer for the Metropolitan Board of Works at the time of the Great Stink. He had already been working for years on plans to revolutionise London’s sewer system and came up with a solution to create a network of smaller sewers feeding into a network of larger sewers. The Government finally gave Bazalgette the OK for his ambitious plan, with work commencing in 1859. The scheme involved 1,100 miles of street sewers feeding into 82 miles of main interconnecting sewers, with pumping stations located both sides of the River.

Crossness Pumping Station © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The restoration has revealed the stunning Victorian decoration

Crossness Pumping Station © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Crossness was designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette and Charles Henry Driver

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The striking centre piece of the engine house

One of these pumping stations was Crossness, built in Abbey Wood in south-east London. The large site contained a beam engine house, boiler house, 208ft chimney, workshops, a 25 million gallon covered reservoir and homes for the employees. Crossness was designed by Bazalgette and architect Charles Henry Driver (1832-1900), with James Watt & Co building the four, huge beam engines, named Victoria, Prince Consort, Albert Edward and Alexandra respectively. Crossness was opened on 4 April 1865 by Edward, Prince Of Wales (future King Edward VII). As London’s population rapidly expanded, the need for an even more advanced sewage system grew. Crossness was further extended in 1895 with the addition of a triple extension engine house on the front of the original. This featured two triple expansion engines and reciprocating pumps. In 1916, it was extended again as 4 superheated boilers were added. However, by the 1940s, the beam engines were hardly used and eventually Crossness was closed in the 1950s with its chimney demolished in 1958. It was Grade I listed by Historic England in June 1970. Crossness has been under the care of the Crossness Engines Trust since it was founded in 1987.  Read the rest of this entry

Turner’s House: Follow in artist JMW Turner’s footsteps at his Twickenham retreat

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Turner’s House, aka Sandycombe Lodge, was built to the artist’s designs in 1813

Twickenham is home to some famous former stately homes, such as Marble Hill House and Strawberry Hill. However, there’s a rather less grand, but equally important building that recently been restored to its original Georgian splendour – Turner’s House.

Otherwise known as Sandycombe Lodge, Turner’s House is the Grade II-listed former home of one of Britain’s greatest artists, J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). In his teens/early adult life, he briefly considered becoming an architect with his Twickenham home the only one of his building designs realised in bricks and mortar. Having opened last year following an extensive renovation and restoration project, what’s left of Turner’s garden has now been completed for the spring, full of green grass and flowers to complement the stunning architecture. I went along last week with some fellow Londoner bloggers for a special tour of Turner’s country retreat.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

The stunning staircase is one of the house’s most striking features

In the early 19th century, Twickenham wasn’t a part of London but the open countryside. It had become a popular spot for the wealthy to build riverside abodes as a retreat from the bustling city. While born and bred Londoner Turner had a home and studio in the capital, he desperately sought an escape from the pressure of city life. In 1807, he purchased two plots of land in between Twickenham and Richmond and started designing his dream home in a cottage style. Finally, his plans were realised in 1813 and Turner moved in his beloved father, ‘Old William’ Turner (1745–1829), who had retired as a barber and wigmaker. Old William acted as housekeeper and tended what was then 3 acres of garden. The house was relatively modest, just two bedrooms upstairs – a large main overlooking the garden and the River Thames in the distance, and a smaller bedroom in the front. Downstairs, the ground floor featured a main living room, a dining room and small parlour, with a kitchen and further smaller rooms in the lower ground. Although Turner didn’t paint at the house, he did sketch and spent time fishing and strolling along the Thames and occasionally entertaining friends. One famous pal to visit was the Regency architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837), with his influence in the design of Sandycombe Lodge clearly visible in the hallway and staircase.

Turner sold the house in 1826 to a neighbour Joseph Todd, who extended it and rented it out. Turner’s garden was dramatically shrunk in the 1880s after the nearby opening of St Margaret’s railway station saw the area transforming into a more built-up commuter suburb of London. The house remained a residential home until World War II, when it was converted into a ‘shadow factory’ to make goggles. It was during this period, the house really began to deteriorate. However, a saviour came in Professor Harold Livermore (1914-2010), who bought the house in 1947. He was particularly proud of its history and campaigned for its Grade II listed status in the 1950s. Following Prof Livermore’s death in 2010, he gifted the house to the Turner’s House Trust with the provision it should be enjoyed by the nation.  Read the rest of this entry

A rare chance to get up close to the painted ceiling at the Old Royal Naval College

Back to their Victorian glory: The restored sphinxes of Crystal Palace Park

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

One of the restored red sphinxes in Crystal Palace Park

Crystal Palace Park is a South London gem. Although well-known by locals, many people living in the other parts of the capital haven’t made the journey… and they’re missing out! As a born and bred South Londoner, I’ve been visiting the park since I was little and continue to today. The park was established in 1854 as a permanent base for the Crystal Palace – built for the Great Exhibition three years earlier. The Crystal Palace – a huge iron and glass structure designed by architect Sir Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) – had already wowed visitors in Hyde Park, and would have a long-term home at the expansive Sydenham grounds with views across Croydon and Surrey. Together with the surrounding land, the park became a Victorian pleasure ground. Two train stations serviced the park, while an Italian garden and fountains, a maze, an English landscape garden and dinosaur exhibition were opened.

The Crystal Palace stood for decades until it was destroyed by a fire in November 1936. Today, the only remainder of the Palace is its Victorian terraces, ruins of its water towers and the surviving six of the original collection of 12 sphinxes. The sculptures of the half-man, half-lions flank flights of steps on the Upper Terrace and feature cartouches and hieroglyphs on their bodies and base. The sphinxes were based on the red granite sphinx at the Louvre museum in Paris – from the reign of Egyptian Pharaoh Amenemhat II (1929-1895 BC). They are likely to have been the idea of architect Owen Jones (1809-1874), who was partially responsible for the decoration and layout of the Palace in its new environment and designed the Egyptian, Greek and Roman courts within the exhibition.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

One of the sphinxes before and after restoration

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

One of the Crystal Palace sphinxes looking south over the terraces and park in 2015 – before restoration

For decades, the sphinxes were painted red to match their original inspiration across the channel in France. Tests have shown the re-painting stopped in the 1900s when the popularity in the Palace had declined. For most of the 20th century, the sphinxes were their base grey colour. Understandably, they’ve taken quite a battering from the elements over the years and were cracking, ending up on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register.

In 2016, the Grade II-listed sphinxes were restored as part of a £2.4million project funded by the Mayor of London, Historic England and Bromley Council. The project also includes the restoration of the terrace steps, the famous Victorian dinosaur sculptures and a new café. The work included repairs to the holes and cracks and repainting to their original Victorian colour of red with a mineral paint to help conserve them longer. I’ve loved the sphinxes since I was a child and having witnessed their deterioration over the years, I was thrilled to see them restored to their former glory. I hope they continue to survey the park for another 150 years and beyond.

  • The Sphinxes are located by the terraces on the northern-western part of Crystal Palace Park (access from Crystal Palace Parade, Upper Norwood, SE19. Nearest station: Crystal Palace. For information about visiting the park, check out Bromley Council’s website.
© Paul Furst/Wikimedia Commons

Some of the sphinxes (circled) outside the Crystal Palace in 1854
© Paul Furst/Wikimedia Commons


Read about the Victorian subway hidden under Crystal Palace parade here.

To find out about another set of London sphinxes on the Victoria Embankment, click here.

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

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Strawberry Hill: A Gothic, Georgian masterpiece in Twickenham

Strawberry Hill © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

Strawberry Hill is an 18th century Gothic Revival house in Twickenham

Without a doubt, Strawberry Hill is one of the most unique houses in the capital. I was first introduced to it when I saw an Instagram photo of the building’s stunning Gallery and wanted to find out more. Built as a private home, it stands in Twickenham, south-west London, a short walk from the Thames and is now open to the public as a museum.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

The Holbein Chamber fireplace is based on Archbishop Warham’s tomb at Canterbury Cathedral

Strawberry Hill was built in stages from 1749 to 1776 as a home for Horace Walpole (1717-1797), a politician and the son of the first British Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745). Horace was under pressure to find himself a country seat (18th century Twickenham was countryside) and found one of the last sites available in the very fashionable area. The original house on the site was called Chopp’d Straw Hall, which Horace wasn’t too impressed with and renamed his new build Strawberry Hill after finding the name on an old lease.

Work on the house started in 1749 with Horace conceiving a vision of a Gothic castle. His inspiration from Medieval architecture predated the Victorian architectural fashion for Gothic revival many decades later. Horace and his team of amateur architectures looked at the Henry VII chapel and tombs at Westminster Abbey, as well as tombs from Canterbury Cathedral for ideas. The resulting building looks like a cross between castles and Gothic cathedrals. The first stage of construction was complete by 1753, with a second stage of alterations taking place in 1760, a third in 1772, with work finally being completed in 1776, costing £20,720 – a rather hefty sum in the 18th century. Read the rest of this entry

Photo Friday: Looking up the grand staircase at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2016

The grand staircase at the St Pancras Renaissance London Hotel

I know I’m not alone when I say St Pancras station is one of my favourite London buildings. The Gothic Revival, Victorian masterpiece puts its (rather dull in comparison), rival London mainline stations in the shade. St Pancras was built as an hotel and train station in 1868 to a design by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878).

The Midland Grand Hotel as it then was known was very luxurious when it first opened and boasted fireplaces in every room (although sadly not ensuite bathrooms, which contributed to its demise in the 1930s when it was closed). The centrepiece of the hotel was – and still is – its grand staircase and gold leaf wallpaper. When the building was taken over to reopen as the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in the 21st century, the double staircase was restored to its former glory. Why not take a look on a visit to the Gilbert Scott restaurant and bar and gaze up at the starry vaulted ceiling and its Neo-Gothic features.

  • St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, Euston Road, NW1 2AR. Nearest station: King’s Cross St Pancras.

For a review of Afternoon Tea at the Gilbert Scott at the St Pancras Renaissance, click here.

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Regent Street Cinema: Check out Britain’s oldest cinema… and sign up for free membership

Regent St Cinema

Watch a film in Britain’s oldest cinema at the Regent Street Cinema

It was off limits to the public for 35 years. However, 2015 saw the reopening of the Regent Street Cinema, the oldest cinema in Britain. Situated moments from Oxford Circus, the Grade II-listed cinema now shows a wide range of quality world cinema including current and classic releases, as well as hosts special screenings, workshops, lectures and events.

Situated on the University Of Westminster’s Regent Street campus, the stunning Victorian building played host to the first ever film screening to a British audience back in 1896. French film pioneers Auguste and Louis Lumière brought their cinématographe to the capital on tour with 54 people paying a shilling to watch 40 second clips of moving images – a major landmark in the history of film. During World War II, it – like many UK cinemas – screened newsreels. Following war in 1951, it also made history by hosting the first UK screening of an X-rated film – La Vie Commence Demain, a French movie featuring graphic violence. In its heyday, the cinema was a favourite of the late Princess Margaret. However, in 1980, the cinema was closed off to public and became a student lecture hall for Westminster students.

Back in 2012, the University of Westminster launched a campaign to fund a £6.1 million restoration to restore the cinema to its former glory for both students and the public to enjoy. Following opening last year, the 1920s Art Deco refit has been restored, as has the stunning domed ceiling and 1936 John Compton organ. It’s now the only cinema in the country which can show 16mm, 35mm, Super 8 and 4K digital formats.

Currently, the Regent Street Cinema is running a limited offer to sign up for free one year membership. Usually costing £40 (seniors/students £20) a year, you’ll get discounts on tickets, no booking fees and priority booking to special events, as well as other perks throughout the year.

  • Regent Street Cinema, 309 Regent Street, W1B 2UW. Nearest station: Oxford Circus or Regents Park. For listings and bookings, visit the Regent Street Cinema website.

For the latest guide to what’s on in London, click here.

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Revisiting the now-restored Georgian water pump on Cornhill

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Before and art: Peeling blue and red paint (left) of the Cornhill water pump has been restored to a white and cream colour (right)

Less than two years ago, I blogged about the sorry state of the old Georgian water pump on Cornhill in the City of London. I’m happy to say, it has since been restored and repainted a completely different colour. This post will revisit the history behind the Cornhill pump, which has long stopped providing water, but is now an attractive piece of London’s street furniture and a protected piece of our heritage.

Cornhill is a road in the heart of the City of London, known for its bustling offices and designer boutiques. Located a stone’s throw from the Bank of England, the name Cornhill comes from it being one of the city’s three hills – the others being Tower Hill and Ludgate Hill.

While demand for public wells has ceased over the past 100 years, the staggering history and aesthetics of the City’s old street furniture means many of these pumps can still be seen today. The Cornhill pump is outside the Gucci store at the Royal Exchange, just a minute’s walk up from the junction of Cornhill and Leadenhall Street, the location of ‘The Standard’ – the first mechanically pumped water supply in London. Constructed in 1582 on the site of previous hand-pumped wells, it was discontinued in 1603. As well as being a source for water, The Standard became a meeting place and also the mark from which distances from London were judged, before this later moved to Charing Cross.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2014

Shiny and new: The restored pump is looking a whole lot better following its restoration

Although The Standard pump was discontinued in the early 17th century, back down the hill outside Gucci, the current pump was erected nearly 200 years later. Following the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the rapidly expanding population of the developing city, there was a growing demand for water pumps in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1708, the Government passed the Parish Pump Act, ordering that every parish in London must have a water pump and designate men to extinguish fires.

In the late 18th century, two of the City’s big players of the time, the East India Company and the Bank of England, together with the local fire stations and the bankers and traders who worked in the area, jointly funded the cast iron pump (it is believed adjoining granite trough is likely from a later date). It was designed by architect Nathaniel Wright, who built St Botolph Aldersgate in Postman’s Park and was the surveyor to the north district of the City of London.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Sorry state: How the pump looked in 2012

The inscription on the road-facing side of the pump reads: ‘On this spot a well was first made and a House of Correction built thereon by Henry Wallis Mayor of London in the year 1282.’ It continues on the Royal Exchange-facing side: ‘The well was discovered much enlarged and this pump erected in the year 1799 by the contributions of the Bank of England, the East India Company, the neighbouring fire offices, together with the bankers and traders of the Ward of Cornhill.’ As well as the inscriptions, the Grade II-listed pump has fire insurance emblems on each side at the top – Royal Exchange, Sun, Phoenix and County. The base facing the Royal Exchange reads ‘Phillips & Hopwood, Engine makers, fecerunt’, which was practically invisible when it was previously painted in black until the restoration. Philips & Hopwood were a Blackfriars-based firm co-owned by Samuel Philips and James Hopwood, who made pumps and fire engines, which existed between 1797-1811. Fecerunt is a Latin term, meaning ‘to put in place’.

When I first spotted the pump in 2012, it was in a sorry state. It was painted in the City of London’s light blue colour, just like the Old Police Telephone posts. However, the paint was peeling, rust was setting in and it generally looked neglected amid the flashy surrounding buildings of the City. The pump had actually been Grade II-listed by English Heritage in January 1950. Fortunately, at some point in 2013, the pump was restored and repainted. It now stands shiny and bright, in cream and white paint, complementing the nearby boutiques of the Royal Exchange. The inscriptions have been painted black so are now clearer to read. Unfortunately the granite trough has gone and has been replaced by a small wrought iron railing – presumably to protect the pump from potentially bad parking or drivers! However, the missing trough means you can now read the architect’s name across the road-facing base.

As a little side note, the pump in it’s original blue state can be seen in the climax of the first Bridget Jones’s Diary movie, where Renee Zellweger’s Bridget enjoys her first kiss with Colin Firth’s Mark Darcy after he buys her a new diary from the Royal Exchange.

  • The Cornhill pump is located on the north side of Cornhill, outside Gucci (9 Change Alley), City of London EC3V. Nearest station: Bank.
© Working Title Films

The pump in its original blue state can be seen in the climax of Bridget Jones’s Diary film (2001)
© Working Title Films


For a Metro Girl post on London police telephone posts, click here.

Or to read about the history of Charing Cross – the ‘centre’ of London after The Standard click here

Or for other Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

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