] google-site-verification: googlebff6a43135515ad3.html

Engine power

© Mike Doyle. April 2013

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               A total of thirteen pumping engine stations were eventually built at Lea Bridge from the 1850s, many housed in ‘magnificent italianate engine houses'. 

The earlier engine buildings comprised a tall main engine building with a long, low rise boiler house. Tall, often ornate chimneys acted as conventional smoke stacks, but may also have contained a stand pipe to the regulate the pressure of the engine and/or to pressurise water supply pipes serving higher level neighbourhoods directly from Lea Bridge. When the main engine buildings and chimneys were demolished, a number of boiler houses were retained and new engines installed.

Water wheels, force pumps and water turbine power was utilised from the founding of the waterworks right through to the twentieth century. It is therefore important not to assume that references to 'engines' automatically relate to steam and internal combustion engines.

Two deep wells were driven into the chalk aquifer below the works. Engines were used first to drive the drilling rigs and subsequently to pump filtered water into the aquifer in winter and extract water in summer.

Deciphering the names of the different engine building and the engines they contained is a little tricky. In some cases new engines were installed whilst the building name remained the same.

Duke and Duchess Pumping Engines    

There was a collection of engines, engines sheds and boiler houses associated with the No. 2 filter beds in the north-east corner of the works, including the Duke and Duchess engine building. The sequence of historic maps attribute  different names to  buildings  and engines over time, including: ‘Musgrave’, ‘Worthington’, ‘Connnaught’ and the ‘horizontal’. The descriptions below attempts to untangle this complicated history.

'Victoria' 1852


Cross section of the Victoria engine. The tower is shown truncated in the drawing.

The Victoria engine buiding  constructed in 1852 housed a Cornish engine, one of the largest ever constructed for London.  One of the cylinders was 100 inches in diameter with an 11 foot stroke. The engine was operational from 1853-4.

The engine pumped filtered water along a pipe from Lea Bridge to holding reservoirs at Old Ford works.

The engines were commisioned and installed by the East London Company’s engineer, Charles Greaves but possibly conceived by Wicksteed in the final years of his tenure. The engines were built by Harvey and Company of Hayle, Cornwall.

The building has been demolished. The fate of the engine is unknown. The stone circle artwork at Middlesex Wharf is composed of the foundation stones of the Victoria engine with various metal brackets and fixings still attached.                                                                                                                                                                                             

'Prince & Princess' 1867


Prince and Princess boiler sheds

The Prince and Princess engines had cylinders of 85 inches diameter, and were associated with the adjacent No.1 Essex Filter Beds (now infilled).  The main engine building, boiler shed and the detached                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Italianate campanile or chimney  once formed a bold object on the side of the Lea Bridge Road.

The engines were commisioned by the East London Company’s engineer Charles Greaves.

The main engine building has been demolished down to ground floor level but the boiler sheds remain. The fate of the engines is unknown.  

'Duke' & ‘Duchess’*1878/80

Duke and Duchess Pumping Engines    

The Duke and Duchess engine building housed two triple compound rotative beam engines made by James Simpson & Co. of Pimlico.

The engines were commisioned by the East London Company’s engineer, George Seaton.

The engines were built by John Aird & Sons.

The boiler house to the rear later housed the 'Horizontal' and/or 'Turbine' engine (see below).

The building has now been demolished. The fate of the engines is unknown.

Triples* 1889/91

The 'Triples' engine building housed three vertical triple expansion engines made by Yates &Thom of Blackburn.


Triples engine shed

The engines were commisioned by the East London Company’s engineer, W.B. Bryan.

The engines were built by Kirk &Randall.

The main engine building has been demolished except for a corner of the stone plinth. 

The boiler house building survives, although all equipment has been removed.

The Prince Consort* 1893/4

The Prince Consort engine building housed a vertical triple expansion engine made by Harvey & Co. of Hayle. The engines were commisioned by the East London Company’s engineer, W.B. Bryan and built John Aird & Sons.

The building has now been demolished. The fate of the engine is unknown.


The 'Worthington' engine was housed in the Connaught engine house. The building is possibly named after the Duke and Duchess of Connaught and the Duke and Duchess engines may also be named in their honour.

The building has been demolished and no photographic evidence has been sourced to date. 

The building is shown in plans of the waterworks of c.1913 , but is absent from post war aerial photographs and the works plan of c.1950. The fate of the Worthington engine is unknown.

The clip below demonstrates a restored Worthington engine in operation at the Dover Waterworks

Horizontal/ Turbine

The 'Horizontal' or 'Turbine' engine was housed in the western section of the former Duke and Duchess boiler house.

Well No.1/Musgrave* 1922/24

By 1895 a number of engines  served to bore well-holes down into the aquifer into which water was pumped in winter and extracted in summer.

Photographic and plan evidence indicates two linked buildings to the west of the Duke and Duchess. The photograph of the Duke and Duchess above right may indicate the well-head in the drilling stage. The building to the east (LHS) appears lower than that visible in c.1960.

The Musgrave engine was a vertical triple expansion engine made by Hathorn Davey &Co. of Leeds.

Commsioned by the Metropolitan Water Board's chief board's chief engineer  H.E. Stilgoe, the engine was either named after  the Chairman of the M.W.B, George Musgrave, or was simply the name after the type of engine installed.

The engines were built by built by J.E. Johnson & Son Ltd.

The buildings have now been demolished. The fate of the engine is unknown.  


The Number 2 Well building with IIWW bomb damage to the Leyton Filter Beds in the foreground. (Metropolitan Archives)

Well No.2 c.1895

Well No.2 was located to the south of the Prince Consort. Its is not known what type of engine it contained. The building appears in photographs of second world war bomb damage, but was subsequently demolished. A modern well-head building and pump was  constructed on the site and remains in operation today. This appears to have been built in the 1970's.


List of engines installed at the Works compiled by the GLC prior to its abolition. This may be a list of those engines installed and operational immediately prior to the closure of the works and excludes notable buildings such as the Prince and Princess Engine House. GLC records

A wider context

Waterworks pumping stations with steam engines still in existence.

© leabridge.org.uk December 2012