Visiting Crossness Pumping Station: a great day out

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Ever heard of Crossness?

I had never heard of Crossness Pumping Station myself until a couple of years ago when a colleague told me about it, recommending a visit. I looked it up and it seemed really interesting. Problem was, it’s not always open and tickets for open days go really quickly. COVID happened, and it took a while to finally manage to book. I was really looking forward to our day out and then..Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II passed away, so of course, the open day was cancelled, tickets refunded, back to square one.

But one sunny Sunday in Spring 2024 we were finally set to visit. I had booked tickets quite a few months in advance and had been lucky also to pick a day when not only the steam engine would be running but also there would be a trial run of a return shuttle from Abbey Wood (nearest station) to Crossness and back, in a vintage Routemaster!

I have to say, the entire experience truly exceeded my expectations. Read on to find out more and book your tickets pronto!

How to get to Crossness

Crossness Engine Trust – the full name of the non profit site – is actually not that far from SE London, being located just east of Plumstead and Woolwich. The nearest station, served by national rail and Elizabeth Line (a better options at weekends for sure) is Abbey Wood.

Once we got to Abbey Wood, we walked to the lower level by the side exit and there we waited for the scheduled shuttle bus. There were already a handful of people for the first run and as the bus arrived everyone was excited and in a festive mood, honestly it felt like the sort of excitement you feel on a school trip. We boarded the vintage bus, snapped photos, took our seats and, as soon as the bus departed, were each issued with a proper old fashioned ticket by the conductor. Good memories to those of us over a certain age, and a novelty to the younger ones for sure!

After a short drive, we got off at the main gates of Crossness by the Thames’ edge and walked up the ramp towards the entrance.

RANG surprise

One can walk all the way to the main attraction however there is a cute vintage train that takes visitors back and forth; it’s semi open and also run as a charity by volunteers and we loved it. It was a complete surprise and really added to the day, especially since we visited with my young son and the staff were so lovely to kinds, letting them blow the horn (as many times as they wanted!) and letting them pose at the helm.

The RANG railway trust has a large shed with interesting bric a brac, machinery, an electric mini train set, beautiful plants for sale (to raise funds) and a wishing well. It’s very much worth a stop by and a chat.

Crossness Engine Trust

After leaving RANG behind, we walked a minute or so and we arrived at the pumping station. This is a Grade 1 Listed industrial heritage site, last operational in 1952, before behind abandoned. It housed 4 beam engines pump and yes, it pumped sewage. Called “The cathedral of the marshes” it is huge and so richly decorated, it seems crazy not only that a sewage pumping station looked like this but also that it was subsequently left to rot!

The Crossness Engines Trust was set up in 1987 to restore the engines. A large part of the work is done by an unpaid volunteer workforce and they fundraise via the onsite little shop, cafe’, donations and of course, open days.

There are two side buildings (the Valve and the Boiler, housing different objects from restoration machinery and sewage memorabilia) and the main central building where the stunning Octagon is located as well as the ticket office, cafe’ and shop and the toilet exhibition (and the Great Stink one).

engines at crossness

Once inside, we made our way to the cafe for some refreshments first and picked up a timed entry to the steam engine sessions.

The engines

The museum’s star attractions are the four Victorian triple expansion beam engines in the Grade 1 Listed Beam Engine House. They have royal names and while two are in the state they were left in the 50s, one (Victoria) is being restored and the one called Prince Consort has been fully restored, and is operational on steaming days such as when we visited. It’s huge, majestic, mesmerising. That’s the best way to describe it. We watched it going up and down, forward and backwards. it’s beautiful even if you’re not into engines!

The entire space of the Octagon is just incredible. It’s got a bit of nostalgia in the derelict, decaying walls and rusty metal; it’s got a bit of Punchdrunk (it’s been used in a few movie sets!) and it’s got grandeur (the colours, brought back to their original sheen, are stunning). It’s intricate, and it really underlines how ugly most modern buildings are, compared to what our predecessors built.

Great day out for families

The volunteers, mostly elderly and all lovely, provide free craft activities for all families visiting on Open Days. The activities are designed for children and their adults to make and create together in a supportive and fun environment; Oli made a pomander, and had great fun and kept sniffing it all the way home.

Child looking at model trains

Each ‘make and take home’ activity explores a different theme related to the Crossness story and participants are introduced to a range of materials and techniques.​

There are demos and talks for the adults too, all very informative and interesting.

For further information or to book a visit, please contact the Crossness Learning and Outreach officer via learning@crossness.org.uk or visit their events calendar

Inside the Crossness Engines Trust
Inside the Octagon at Crossness

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