History of the Pumphouse & Low Hall Manor

The area now occupied by the museum formed part of Low Hall Farm, purchased from the Bosanquet family by Walthamstow Urban District Council in 1875. Since the 14th century, the 200-acre site had been home to a moated country house, Low Hall Manor, which subsequently gave its name to the farm. The council acquired the land in order to build a sewage pumping station.

Despite the considerable antiquity of the site, nothing now remains above ground of the medieval manor house, nor of the 17th century building that succeeded it. Both were completely destroyed by a V1 'flying bomb' in 1944.

In 1997 the Museum of London Archaeology Service excavated the site and a number of interesting artefacts were found. Some of these will be displayed at the museum in due course.

The Pumphouse 1885

The original building was constructed of yellow London stock brick with blue engineering bricks around the doors and windows. Two Hayward Tyler steam pumps were installed in a pit at the front of the building to raise the effluent coming from the Blackhorse Road area. Two boilers situated in the left bay generated the steam for these. Accommodation for the chief engine room attendant was provided in No. 1 Farm Cottages in Acacia Road at a rent of 10/- per week.

The Council’s minutes of 1885 record that Tangyes of Birmingham also installed a single horizontal engine next to the pit at a cost of £420. However, what this engine was used for remains a mystery despite extensive research.

The Pumphouse 1896-7

In 1896 the two 1885 bays were lengthened and a third bay was added to the left of the building. Two 'C'-type horizontal steam engines built by the Lincolnshire firm of William Marshall Sons & Co, together with boilers and plant equipment, were also added at this time. The engines bear the makers’ numbers 27834 and 27835 and were installed during the Spring of 1897 at a cost of £220 (including a new boiler), being steamed for the first time in May of that year. However, no plans of the 1896 extension have been found to date.

The Council invited tenders in early 1896 for designs for a way to connect the new Marshall engines with the original 1885 Hayward Tyler steam pumps. It must be presumed that this was successful and the engines did in fact power the pumps via overhead line shafting, elements of which can still be seen today. This shafting was supported by steel beams, an early example of the use of steel rather than wrought iron in building construction,

The engines were not designed to be run together, rather one engine was run continuously for two weeks whilst the other received maintenance. It would have taken about forty minutes to disconnect one engine from the flywheel and to connect the other. This process was generally carried out in the early hours of the morning when the sewage flow was at its slackest.

In addition to this, various pieces of workshop equipment were placed in the pump house. The engines also provided the power to drive these machines, again by overhead line shafting. Steam was originally produced by coke-fired boilers but in 1905 a rubbish incinerator was built nearby and this then provided the steam from two Lancashire boilers. The Great Eastern Railway provided a connection to the site from Lea Bridge Road, together with a small locomotive shed.

The Pumphouse: 20th Century

From 1928 the pumps fed effluent directly into the capital-wide sewerage system run by the London County Council. However, by the early 1970s the general state of the boilers made the raising of steam a rather haphazard affair. The installation of electric pumps then sealed the Marshall engines' fate, and some of the 1885 buildings were demolished. The original Hayward Tyler pumps were removed but the Marshall steam engines were left in situ, presumably being too difficult to dismantle and scrap.

The Pumphouse Today

The pair of Marshall 'C'-type horizontal steam engines are believed to be the only ones still in existence. They are Grade II listed along with the steel beams that form part of the building’s roof. One of the engines is run on compressed air on the last Sunday of every month throughout the year.

Soon after the pump house became redundant in the 1970s the concept of turning it into an industrial museum was conceived. The museum is currently run by the Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum, a company limited by guarantee, and supported by volunteers and a Friends of the Museum group.

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