Steaming Crossness

IMG_1503After my wander up the Greenway last year, it was exciting to finally see Crossness pumping station in action this weekend. Bazalgette’s sewers were/are gravity-fed, so by the time south London’s sewage reaches the Thames at distant Crossness, it’s some thirty feet underground, and needed to be pumped up to surface level before it could be discharged into the Thames. Fear not, those plucky Victorians waited until the tide was going out; in the meantime, it was stored in a giant sewage reservoir onsite.

While the lake of sewage has been replaced by a field of solar panels*, much of the original building and mechanisms remain, restored by volunteers over a number of years. And yesterday was steaming day, so we got to see one of four giant and colourful beam engines in action.

The building itself is home to some beautiful Victorian ironwork. From April next year, they will be open much more regularly, but until then, there is a list of open days on their website.

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*I’ll leave you to insert your preferred glib comparison, or more nuanced insight about bountiful resources and centralised infrastructure, here

Travelling through time

Last week The Londonist kindly mapped out the locations of a variety of Dr Who themed spots in London, so the motivated nerd could plan a tour over Bank Holiday weekend. Some friends seemed keen, so I mapped out a route to cover as many of the central locations in a day as we could, ending up with a ramble which looked a bit like the route of the circle line:

(The basemap here was created by the Londonist, I’ve only added the route).

The bad news first: we didn’t quite finish it; we got tired by London Bridge and ended up in a riverside pub. The good news is that the Dr Who that night apparently featured the Shard, so that was coincidentally on-theme.

The thing is: I’m not a massive Dr Who nerd. I have an autographed Colin Baker book which ages me (35 years young) but I only own the books in which a Doctor dies, and despite the fact that my 13 year old incarnation once went to homebase dressed as the aforementioned Colin Baker doctor, I haven’t watched it since David Tennant took over because I got sick of it being set in Queens Road Peckham every episode (I lived in Peckham at the time).

This makes a fictional Dr Who tour of London problematic. The site where Silurians introduced the plague into London… well, that’s just Baker Street. The Yeti ravaging the London Underground made its home at… Goodge Street station, my regular commute. Trying to overlay a new iconography onto places with strong existing iconography, sense of place, or personal connection – well it just didn’t happen for me. I was walking with someone who was a big enough Dr Who fan to have made an iPad stylus from a sonic screwdriver, and she seemed similarly nonplussed.

I’ve been to other film and tv locations – notably Snoqualmie and North Bend, where David Lynch’s mystical gothic noir TV series Twin Peaks was shot, and Rosyln, home of the slightly-less-well-remembered 90s existential comedy¬†Northern Exposure. These are small towns on a different continent, and obviously I had no pre-existing connection to them, so it was easy to overlay the fantasy and the fictional onto their roads and landmarks. New York, San Francisco – they are cinematic, they are iconic, but ultimately they are New York and San Francisco, not just the place where Harry met Sally or where Steve McQueen did a thing. London, I think, falls into the same category.

I’ve been promising for ages to organise a ramble which follows Alan Moore’s mystical route from From Hell – here, I hope, the way he’s shoved his fingers into the soil of London will mean the overlay is historical and in tune with the city. It will ring that which is there and yearning to ring, instead of being a shouted a grace note over a fugue.

On a final note, thanks to the Londonist for providing the inspiration – the walk is one that takes in Kensigton Palace, Hyde Park, Marylebone (including St Mary Le Bourne, widow of the Tyburn), Bloomsbury, and if you get all the way, the South Bank and some of the classic tourist spots; and the ramblers for rambling, especially if they weren’t even big enough Dr Who fans to remember Bonnie Langford.