The Great Stink was an event in central London in July and August 1858 during which the hot weather exacerbated the smell of untreated human waste and industrial effluent that was present on the banks of the River Thames. The problem had been mounting for some years, with an ageing and inadequate sewer system that emptied directly into the Thames. The miasma from the effluent was thought to transmit contagious diseases, and three outbreaks of cholera prior to the Great Stink were blamed on the ongoing problems with the river. The smell, and people's fears of its possible effects, prompted action from the local and national administrators (the smell was particularly bad in Parliament) who had been considering possible solutions for the problem. The authorities accepted a proposal from the civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette to move the effluent eastwards along a series of interconnecting sewers that sloped towards outfalls beyond the metropolitan area. Work on high-, mid- and low-level systems for the new Northern and Southern Outfall Sewers started at the beginning of 1859 and lasted until 1875. The Southern Outfall Works (Crossness Pumping Station), as the complex was originally called, was officially opened on 4 April 1865, by Edward, Prince of Wales, attended by Prince Alfred, the Duke of Cambridge, Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York and the Lord Mayor of London, and many other persons of rank


At Crossness, the incoming liquid was raised some 30 to 40 feet by the application of four large steam driven pumps. The engines were of enormous size and power. They were built by James Watt & Co. to Joseph Bazalgette's designs and specification, and were named "Victoria", "Prince Consort", "Albert Edward" and "Alexandra". The Beam Engine House is a Grade 1 Listed Industrial Building constructed in the Romanesque style and features some of the most spectacular ornamental Victorian cast ironwork to be found today. It also contains the four original pumping engines (although the cylinders were upgraded in 1901), which are possibly the largest remaining rotative beam engines in the world, with 52 ton flywheels and 47 ton beams. Although modern diesel engines were subsequently introduced, the old beam engines remained in service until work on a new sewerage treatment plant commenced in 1956. The building is aptly term ' A Cathedral in the Marsh'. It is an incredible example of Victorian engineering at it's best, beautifully decorated, eschewing the utilitarian look of modern times. Be aware: there is a 20 minute walk from the bus stop. The volunteer staff are very helpful and can arrange transportation from Abbey Wood (National Rail).


Location : Crossness, London SE2 9AQ

Transport: London Buses routes 180 and 472.

Opening Times: From 10th April.

Friday + Sunday 13:00 to 18:00

Please call to confirm it is open

Tickets : Adults £8.00, under 16 - £2.00

with talk + tour £12.00 (inc. refreshements).

No dates after 23rd October.

Tel: 0208 311 3711