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Hidden History of London

London's Hidden History
Pudding Mill Lane

Now this is something else! Admittedly a brisk walk from the station but well worth the effort to walk the Greenway path and wonder at the Abbey Mills Pumping Station. What?

Let's go back a bit then - in the early 1800s London's water supply was heavily polluted with raw sewerage causing many cholera outbreaks. 20,000 people were dying annually, 6,000 in Poplar alone.

In 1858 named the year of the "Great Stink" the Metropolitan Board of Works were told by Parliament to do something about it. Now along comes our hero, Joseph Bazalgette, who constructed eighty five miles of new sewers re-routing the sewage from directly flowing into the Thames up river.

Three pumping stations, powered by steam engines, were built to push the sewage far out to sea, one at Abbey Mills, another at Deptford and one at Crossness on the Erith marshes. None of them today are operational but Abbey Mills, nicknamed "The Cathedral of Sewage", remains virtually intact as Bazalgette designed it. No wait a minute not quite still as he built it, it used to have two tall ornate chimneys either side of the church-shaped structure.

Well what happened to them? They were demolished during the Second World War as Hitler's pilots were using the chimneys as landmarks to bomb the London docks. I don't believe it! Sad but true.

All right, not the place to take a lady for a picnic on a summer's day but this building has got to be one of the best kept historic secrets of the East End. And Joseph Bazalgette, thankfully not quite as forgotten as his "Cathedral", played a huge part in eradicating London's cholera and he went on to be responsible for the building of Putney, Hammersmith and Battersea bridges. From troubled waters to bridges, there's a song there somewhere!


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