U is for the Utilities #atozchallenge

2016-04-17 16.02.42

So what’s this within a few feet of St Paul’s?

Now please don’t ignore this, just for the title. You see I find the services that keep a city like London going completely fascinating. At its most basic we need water and we need to rid ourselves of waste. I will have a look at some of the services, some of the iconic and extraordinary structures we have in London. There are plenty more than these examples.

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In E is for the Embankment London’s true hero Sir Joseph Bazelgette had an airing since the Embankment exists, at least in part to house the sewerage pipes that take the crap down river until the tide turns and it could be washed out to sea.

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the underside of the 90 inch sewage pipes as hey head out of east london

Today Thames Water are building the Tideway tunnel, a huge piece of engineering that runs largely under the Thames and will dispose of all the untreated sewerage – we still have large sections of the Victorian system which, at times of high rainfall use overflows into the river – that means, even in 2016 and with  river as healthy as the Thames, capable of supporting 200 species including porpoises, significant untreated sewerage may be released into its waters.  Grim.

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One nice feature though is the line of pipes that ran out through east London have been covered and made into a 3 miles walkway, the Greenway

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and to think this sits on massive cast iron sewage pipes…

from the River Lea near Stratford to the river at Beckton. During the Olympics it was a major entrance way into the new Olympic Park.

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The top of the Ornate Abbey Mills pumping Station

In addition to new pipes there are new pumping and treatment stations.

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sadly the views of this structure are impeded currently by the works to the Tideway tunnel.

And the contrast is stark, between what the Victorians thought appropriate for the main pumping station and today. One, rightly is known as the Temple of Sewage, the other a functional abattoir of a structure, all smooth steel and barbed wire.

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I suppose the Victorians thought, well we might be dealing with shit but we can at least polish the idea.

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the new river

If disposal is important having fresh water is equally, if not more so. Any early example  of bringing water into London is the New River that uses water flowing of the hills around Hertford and brings it gradually along a shallow canal like structure that runs over 20 miles to Stoke Newington and the East Reservoir.

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It opened in 1612 and has run ever since.

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the East Reservoir

From Stoke Newington, today it is pumped by small dull substations but before they existed the Castle, a Dracula like structure on the south side of the reservoir was the home of the pump works.

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The Castle; today it is an indoor climbing facility

Again, like the Victorians and sewage, they knew how to make a statement.

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feeding the canal

Another example of Victoria water is here at Kings Cross.

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And an ancient pump and well near Bank in the middle of the city.

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Or down in South London the Streatham Water Works that looks like a Moorish Palace.

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After water, power is probably the next most important facility. We have two mammoth 20th century power stations in central London – the Bankside and the Battersea.

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Bankside is now the Tate Modern and an amazing interior space even if the stark lines and dark brickwork of the outside do not appeal to everyone. And the views from the members restaurant are fantastic. Next time you’re in town let me know and I’ll buy you tea and you can see for yourselves2016-03-16 12.11.23

Battersea was, until a couple of years ago, a worry. This giant was rotting, a grade 2 (protected) listed building that was dying. But some Malaysian money and vision and now the whole area is regenerating.

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Battersea from the train – one big building site

Ok, I don’t like all the apartments and I’m sceptical how it will end up but the fact the turbine hall will stay and the dangerously undermined chimneys are being rebuilt (plus the major extension to the Battersea Dogs’ Home as part of the development) gives me some hope. Here’s a video of the Power station as I approached it on the train from the south.

Before Electricity it was gas. Today gas is pumped underground but back when it first appeared there were huge gas making complexes, especially up at Kings Cross.

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Now all that is left are the skeletons of the gas-holders, one of which is a mirror park that forms part of Kings Cross’s regeneration.

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I liked this space and the way other gasometers were used as exoskeletons for new apartments.

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Which reminds of the old joke. Woman to man on platform ‘Is this Cockfosters’ Man to woman ‘The name’s Miller ma’am.’

Beyond these four principle services we are lucky in London with our public transport, our buses and tubes and trains. But today the fifth service is telecommunications.

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BT’s HQ; shame they don’t have the ambition of the Victorians

BT had a monopoly and in 1980, opposite my office a large bland office emerged as its HQ. shortly after it was privatised and such institutional statements were no more.

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they don’t have the character, do they?

We still have the old red phone boxes but there is one building that is worthy of a visit in its own right. The first London telephone exchange, opened back in the early 1900s was a monster.

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Indeed the Faraday Building was hugely controversial.

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As you can see it blocked views of  St Paul’s from the River. Many complained and the law was changed. Today, courtesy of this grand statement of science we have protected corridors creating the city scape we have.

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But the Faraday building is in its way beautiful and the key stones above the windows have symbols that show elements of the telephone exchange mechanisms:

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The phone

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The magneto

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The coil

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The power.

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Today, of course it is mobile telephony that is essential and masts, such as we have near us at Crystal Palace are the new normal. I prefer buildings generally but there is something elemental about this spire.

And this?

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An air-vent to an electricity substation; sometimes, today, we do get it right.

This is part of the 2016 A to Z Blogging challenge. Please click here to find your way to other participants.

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About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
This entry was posted in A to Z blogging challenge, buildings, London, miscellany and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to U is for the Utilities #atozchallenge

  1. trifflepudling says:

    Excellent. An essential, if not The essential, part of any modern civilisation which keeps it all going, always of interest, especially the quirky buildings. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. gordon759 says:

    The Victorians who carried out the work of setting up a proper water supply and sewerage system were proud of their work and wanted it to be recognised. That is why they built beautiful buildings for their pumping stations. There was a practical reason as well, if you were told there was to be a pumping station built near your house, you might object. If you were getting a Grecian temple, or Moorish palace you might object less. Perhaps this was a way the Victorians would placate NIMBYS

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tee water works alone is well worth the £150 asking price. 😉

    Keith Channing A-Zing from http://keithkreates.com


  4. davidprosser says:

    Fantastic shots Geoff, show that not only the Victorians had some style, though I prefer theirs mainly.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. More cool stuff. Good design is good design – and even better if cleverly functional.
    Enjoyed the tour!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Ritu says:

    More wonderful info!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. esthernewton says:

    I feel like I’ve really learned something after reading your posts! Thanks, Geoff.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Jools says:

    Always an education. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  9. M. L. Kappa says:

    I find the utilities fascinating – in every society. Tells a lot about them. Amazing the Minoans and the Romans had better plumbing than Versailles!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Lisa Reiter says:

    Heavens above! Excellent – How long did this post take you?! Weren’t you lucky with the weather!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Really interesting again Geoff – the beginning and ending wrapping it all up neatly – it is quite amazing – yes they got it right with this one! The Faraday building amused me – it certainly appears it was a sneaky little ‘science is more important than religion’ visual from the funders …… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Sacha Black says:

    Did you have to go out and take photos for all these things or did you already have them? Also *cough* hometown mention! *swells with pride* how do you know SO much about london?! and just having lived there for a bergillion years doesn’t count. I’ve lived in hertfordshire for a decade and I know sod all about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I had some already but I planned about 6 trips to collect others. As for knowing I’m fascinated by how it fits together. Maybe being invoked in its buildings professionally helped


  13. Judy Martin says:

    I love those Victorian buildings. They seemed to take pride in their architecture. regardless as to what the building was going to end up being used for!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Gulara says:

    Another great tour, Geoff, great photos too!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. jan says:

    Fascinating. I hope you’re saving all your London blogs for a potential book.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. roweeee says:

    This would have to be the ultimate alternative tour of London, although my parents did go on a tour of London with a homeless person when they were there 2 years ago. I used to work for the Australian Water Association many years ago and can appreciate the need.
    By the way, Bilbo said that he’d like one of those fancy huts as a kennel and that an air vent wouldn’t go astray either after Lady has rolled in a dead animal. She’s had a bit of a stash lately,
    xx Ro

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Pingback: Flushed and Fabulous – a homage to sewage | TanGental

  18. Pingback: Objects Of Curiosity | TanGental

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