As the Industrial Revolution developed new challenges were thrown up. A rapidly growing population in the nineteenth century, much of which was concentrated in new mining villages throughout the Northumberland and Durham coalfield, together with the growth of new industries and expansion of older ones in towns like Sunderland, produced a rapidly increasing demand for water for domestic and industrial requirements. Various sources were used to meet this demand. Rivers, natural springs, surface reservoirs and wells were used. In North East Durham, however, abundant supplies of good quality water were on the doorstep, or, more correctly, in the cellar, for it lay within the geological stratum known as magnesian limestone. During the first half of the nineteenth century repeated cholera outbreaks, both nationally and locally led to a much greater concern for water supplies. The creation of the Sunderland and South Shields Water Company in 1852 was one local result of this. At the time the Company received the Royal Assent there were several pumping stations in districts around Sunderland but the urgency of water demands pressed heavily upon the Company. In 1864 four acres of land at Ryhope were acquired and in May of the following year Thomas Hawksley, in his position as Engineer to the Company, was asked to provide designs and specifications for the 'new works'.
Construction of the engine house was not without its problems. The beam engines and their house form an integrated structure. Not only did the foundations have to serve as foundations for most of the engine components, as well as provide support for the well heads, but also the massive rocking beams had to be supported at some twenty-two feet above ground level. Therefore engine and engine house construction had to proceed together, but not in such a manner that they would interfere with the sinking of the wells. There were various reasons for the discontinuance of the use of the station in 1967. Ryhope is very close to the North Sea and the persistent abstraction of water by a few fairly local pumping stations led to the water table dropping below sea level, with the risk of salt ('brackish') water entering the system. Since water from Ryhope was untreated there would have been major problems! Another reason for the demise of Ryhope as a water source was that the water from such a supply was very 'hard' since the water, as it filtered through the magnesian limestone, collected various undesirable salts, such as calcium carbonate. Remember the inside of your kettle some 50 years ago? Impounding reservoirs such as Derwent and Kielder were coming 'on line', with lower running costs than local pumping stations, and producing quite 'soft' water - reckoned to be better for the heart than hard water, and better for laundry, but not as good for making tea!
The two engines at Ryhope are identical, apart from one being a mirror image of the other. They are described as double-acting, compound rotative beam engines. 'Compound' means that the engine has more than one cylinder; high pressure steam from the boiler enters the high pressure cylinder then passes via any intermediate cylinders to the low pressure cylinder, so as to get as much energy from the steam as possible - there are two stages in the Ryhope engines. 'Double-acting' means that steam acts alternately on the top then the bottom of the piston - in other words steam pushes the piston down, then pushes it up. There is wheelchair access. There are accessible toilets. Guide dogs are welcomed.
Location : Waterworks Road, Ryhope, Sunderland SR2 0ND
Transport: Sunderland (National Rail) then bus. Bus routes Sapphire 22, 23, 60, 61 and X21 or 38 and 38C stop nearby.
Opening Times: Sunday 14:00 to 17:00. Steaming Weekends 11:00 to 16:00. Steam Dates.
Tel: 0191 521 0235