Why does Claymills Victorian Pumping Station exist?

Article By Lesley Hirst W

ell, even the modern brewing process requires eight pints of water to produce one pint

of beer, and in the mid 1800’s it took 10 pints. The natural springs and wells of Burton upon Trent were filtered through layers of gypsum, which made excellent beer, and the output of the brewing industry grew rapidly.

So of course, the town soon had had an acute problem of sewage disposal due to the huge volumes of beer being brewed there. The waste products of the brewing process – including spent hops, yeast and hot water – 10 pints per one of beer, remember - discharged into local brooks and from there into the west arm of the River Trent where it decomposed rapidly, giving rise to foul odours and concerns about disease. Indeed, Burton had its own Great Stink, in 1858, the same year as London.

In 1866, to overcome the problem, a sewer was built to take this waste to

Claymills, where precipitation tanks were constructed. Here the sewage was allowed to settle before being discharged into the full flow of the river. However, as brewery volumes increased the situation worsened, and by the early 1880’s it was clear that the river couldn’t cope. A better solution was required.

It was decided to build a pumping station at Claymills, which would consist of four Woolf compound rotatative beam pumping engines located in two separate engine houses, to pump the effluent some 21/4 miles to a sewage farm located at Egginton and Etwall commons. By 1886, the pumping station and sewage farm were operational, although problems with the smell from the farm resulted in lawsuits, and required lime to be added to the effluent, so a lime shed (later demolished) had to be erected at the western end of the site.

In 1900 the workshop and offices side

of the site was built, including a building to house two Compton dynamos. The first had been set up in 1889, powered by a Buxton and Thornley stationary steam engine, and is the oldest working dynamo set in the country. When it was decided that another was required, both were placed in the new building, where they remain, along with a vertical engine which was built in the Claymills workshop to power the newer one.

The pumping went on non-stop until 1969, when the new sewage treatment works adjacent to the pumping station took over the work of the sewage farm and the steam plant was no longer required. The workshop and lacksmith’s forge were emptied, and numerous engines left the site. The last chief engineer, George Mander, was instrumental in sending many artefacts, including whole engines, away to other museums and societies, to protect them from being stolen or scrapped. The fabric of the buildings allowed to deteriorate to the extent that theft became a real problem.

During the early 1980's a preservation group, which became the Claymills Pumping Engines Trust was started with a view to preserving the engines and workshop. In the Visitors Centre there are photographs on display which show the devastation, and the reason why, when instead of ‘preservation’ words like ‘restoration’ were used, this caused a great deal of disbelief and derision. However, when the whole site was listed Grade II*, resulting in the buildings being repaired and the chimney restored, all funded by English Heritage and the owners Severn Trent Water, there was a new impetus. The site was handed over to the Trust in October 1993.

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