Before I go into detail of our visit I will give a brief insight as to why the Pumping station was built.
As the Framework Knitting and Lace Industries expanded, so did Nottingham’s population. Between the years 1720 and 1830, the population rose from 10,000 to 50,000. The River Leen , Nottingham’s water supply, quickly became contaminated with sewage and industrial waste, resulting in cholera and typhoid epidemics.
In 1845 the Nottingham Enclosure Act was passed which enabled the town to expand on the surrounding land. Prior to this all building had to be done within the medieval town boundaries. During the same year, the Nottingham Water Act amalgamated all of the existing small water companies into the Nottingham Waterworks Company.
As the local water supplies were becoming increasingly polluted Thomas Hawksley, engineer to the new Waterworks Company, looked underground for a fresh supply of water. Much of the surrounding area of Nottingham is situated on Bunter Sandstone, with some 20% of its volume made up of interconnecting spaces, thus enabling it to act as both a filter and sponge, storing vast quantities of pure water.
Three Pumping Stations were built between 1850 and 1871, with the water being stored in four reservoirs built by the Company, alongside one reservoir already in use. Papplewick reservoir was built in 1880, but more about this will follow later.
Also in 1880, the responsibility for the water supply passed over to the Nottingham Corporation Water Department whose Engineer, Marriott Ogle Tarbotton. Tarbotton realised the need for increased production and storage capacity for water and was quick to submit a report drawing attention to this. The result of this was for another reservoir to be built near Nottingham and the construction of Papplewick Pumping Station, complete with two 140 HP James Watt rotative beam engines. These engines continued to be used for the next 85 years until June 1969 when an electric pumping station was built.Surprisingly when we arrived for the start of our day out we managed to walk straight into the grounds without paying. This was due to the fact that we were an hour too early and the staff were still setting up for the day. All was not lost as we were able to sit down, have a drink and talk to the preservation society treasurer. This gave us the opportunity of purchasing a family season ticket for about the same cost as getting all of us in for the single visit.
At this moment in time, little did we know how much use this ticket would get!
As the day slowly awoke, there was a morning chorus of a local group of Austin owners coming to display their fine motors for the day.
There was so much to wander round, look at and watch it was difficult to know where to start, so I stood watching two gentlemen fettling their mini traction engines.
For our first view of the beam engines we started by going in via the tradesman’s entrance and warmed ourselves by the Lancashire boilers. There are six in total, three of which were in use at any one time when the station was in operation, but as the pumps now provide enjoyment and education as opposed to water only one is required. About 2,000 tons of coal was required every year when fully operational.
Walking along the length of the two central boilers we enter the Victorian splendour of the pump house. In front of us stand the two beam engines. Due to the size of these gentle metal leviathans it was impossible to photograph them in one shot, so I will explain each section individually.
When looking over the safety rail into the basement area there are some heavy timbers that cover the 200ft well that had been cut through the sandstone into the water bearing area. The well is connected by a horizontal tunnel to the original pilot well near to the main gate, which in turn now has some submersible pumps supplying water to the Nottingham area.
On the left of the photo we can see the 21 inch pipe that the pump rod is protected by. The rod and pipe go down 200ft to the bottom of the well lifting the vast quantities of water to the reservoir. Also visible is the connecting rod that is connected to the flywheel by a crank. The flywheel rotates at a steady 11 ½ rpm, thus keeping the pump at an even movement. In front of the flywheel is the Watt’s Patent Governor. This can be found on many steam powered engines. As the flywheel gains momentum the heavy steel balls on the governor rise, thus helping to keep a regular momentum.The un-victorian screen in the background is one of several scattered around giving an audio and visual explanation of the pump’s operation.
Passing by the manual valve gear with its starting handles, complete with a brass nameplate dated 1884, we head upstairs to the middle floor, known as the “Packing Flat”. Here we are level with the tops of the steam cylinders. These provide the power to operate the pump rods to obtain the water. For the steam cylinder and pump rods to be connected we have to go up another flight of stairs and view the beams.
The beams are a mere 25ft in length and weigh 13 tons. The rocking motion, combined with the lazy sound of the engines make this floor a delight to spend some time in. Around the walls are various displays with information of the site and surrounding area.
There was no shortage of decoration on the ground floor pillars either. On the top of these there are ornate birds, just visible in the steam cylinder photo. They are looking down at the fish in the cooling pond, an easy meal for them. The fish grow to a good size due to the water temperature.
We spent several hours watching the steam pumps in action, along with other exhibits scattered around the grounds. It is certainly a hidden gem of British heritage that needs investigating if you ever get the chance. We never thought that we would use the family ticket for more than one occasion, however as the year unfolded…….
Finally, here is a short film of the day’s events put into some form perspective.