The Electric House Project
The building was constructed in 1891-93 to house a large horizontal, triple expansion 'Worthington' type non-rotative steam pumping engine by James Simpson & Co. This was the last steam engine to be installed at Kew Bridge. The new building consisted of 3 new walls and roof, joined to the existing external wall of the Maudslay & Bull Engine House. The four existing windows at this time had their frames removed and to provide three archways down to floor level, masonry was cut away below the cills. The two Southern ones were also increased in width towards the bottom and scalloped out, where they met the original return higher up.
The Simpson engine was mounted at ground floor level, supported on brick foundations down to the basement, which accommodated all the water suction and delivery pipework.The engine worked reliably, without alteration (in some contrast to all the other plant at Kew Bridge) and carried a large part of the Stations' output.
By the mid 1930's the expectation of war, age of the other steam plant and its unreliability lead to the installation of back up emergency 'Allen' Diesel engine plant. Following the introduction of a reliable electricity supply to the Brentford area soon after, it was decided to replace with some urgency all of the steam plant with electric pumps instead. In 1943-44, the Worthington engine was scrapped and removed and its house converted to house five new electric pumpsets, with a sixth added into the old engine's boilerhouse, currently the Museums cafe/kitchen.
The new pumps were made by Hathorn Davey & Co of Leeds and were one of the first large installations of their kind in London. Once operational the steam engines were immediately retired along with a substantial part of the station staff shortly after. The motors were manually controlled by two men working on shift, sharing their duties with attending to the Allen Diesel engine driven pumps housed elsewhere on the site.
Without steam, conditions in winter were far from ideal so the four windows between the new Electric and old Maudslay House were bricked up by 1946 in an effort believed to help conserve heat. In the 1970's one of the pump motor switch starter units developed a fault whilst being turned on and in the ensuing electrical arcing and fire one of the station attendants was very badly injured. Following a compensation claim and Union action, all of the original starter boxes and electrical distribution systems were replaced.
With changes to the water supply distribution network and increasing age and unreliability of the electric and diesel plant at Kew, a new automatic pumping station was built next door to the Museum site in 1983-5.The electric pumps were then retired and given over to the Museum in 1987. All of the modern electrical switch gear and distribution panels were sold on for continued service elsewhere and pumps numbers 2 to 6 along with their basement pipework were scrapped and removed. No 1 pump, its pipes, fixtures and fittings were retained as part of the Museum, with a view to creating an electrical themed display in the future.
Over many years a small collection of electrical objects and artefacts was built up to help illustrate the storylines which were planned. Recently the Electric house was completely re-roofed and restored externally having been allocated part of the grant funding awarded to the East & West Engine Houses.
Design & Layout Considerations:
It is recognised that the Museum has a need to generate continued income on a yearly basis to survive and much of it comes from commercial activities, such as building hire for special events, parties, lectures etc. With this in mind and at the Trustees request an attempt has been made to provide a flexible exhibition space which has a reasonable clear floor area to accommodate additional needs as required. The suggested layout of historic electrical exhibits has had also to take into account; the strong light coming through the Westerly facing windows, pedestrian and disabled traffic flow, doorway access and sympathetic treatment of the Eastern wall, which if its windows and doorways are unblocked as shown, will provide exciting unhindered views into the Maudslay & Bull Engine House and vice versa.
Further layout restrictions have been imposed due to the basement; floor depths, foundations and drainage tunnel layouts. The exhibits themselves to be displayed logically have been positioned and grouped as standalone dioramas.
Exhibit & Storyline Overview:
The storyline intends to cover the simple use of electricity for pumping, generating, control and monitoring, over time, as found in typical medium to large sized London Waterworks. It will be made up of several grouped 'diorama' collections of artefacts and objects each with simple supporting graphic panels. As a collection it is hoped that it will be one of the finest of its type in the country without competition. There is very little of a similar nature within the U.K's other Museum collections and almost nothing now survives in the industry.
The social history is of interest in terms of now prohibited dangerous working conditions, with exposed electrical contacts and the risks they entailed. With initial electrification the staff levels at all sites were reduced, but the plant still required attendants 24 hours a day to manually start and stop the motors and regulate mains pressures to prevent pipe bursts. They also still had to carry on the 'steam age' traditions of polishing all the brasswork up and keeping the pump houses scrupulously clean. Some were even still lucky enough to live in accommodation provided by the Board a tradition going back to the earliest days of the industry. This employment and practice only came to an end abruptly with full automation in the 1990's and leads onto contemplation of today's society and the meanings and outcome of 'progress'.
Much of the equipment is of a very high quality in terms of visual design and construction as it was specifically made for water supply use. Every effort was made to secure items associated directly with the water industry at the time, but due to the speed of change and replacement this proved often difficult. With regard to the pre 1920's it was impossible as there was simply nothing left. To cover this early period we have been forced to rely on items from non water supply related sources which will still provide the desired outcome by being of a similar age and design to those originally used.
Appropriately displayed and lit, with various lights and dials back illuminated and the Rectifier bulb glowing in a mysterious blue light, the various components will look stunning and will provide an exciting backdrop to the room as a whole. This will be an added advantage in terms of hospitality, venue and film location hire and will add a new dimension to the Museum.
Displays and stories
1.Power Supply & Distribution:
This display intends to illustrate the electrical power supply generating equipment which was used at the more modern Metropolitan Water Board waterworks sites from the mid 1900's through to the 1930's, highlighting how the M.W.B worked as an independent undertaking, without relying on outside energy suppliers. It suggests part of a typical installation which has grown over time as newer technologies have became available and is set somewhere in the 1930's to 50's. Much of the equipment was highly dangerous if accidentally touched and shows working practices which are now prohibited.
The main mechanical exhibit is a 'Reader' high speed steam generating engine dating from 1910 (ex Bifurcated Tubular Rivets Co of Aylesbury) which of limited power would provide station lighting and ancillary motor drives.
Mounted above the 'Reader' set is a gallery of slate switch panels and meters used to distribute and control power use around the site. These date from the late 1920's (ex Thames Water -Mogden SPS Powerhouse) and suggest the idea of additional power coming in from extra and much larger generating plant hidden elsewhere. They are of interest in terms of social or employment history, as just by touching the exposed parts of the copper switches would result in severe electrocution or death.
A working Mercury Arc Rectifier is displayed to bring the story up to the 1950's onwards. This is shown converting the newly available A.C mains supply from the National Grid into old fashioned D.C which can be fed in as a supplementary and larger supply to compliment the older generating plant. This was a 'half measure' choice, often used on older sites which would be too expensive to convert.
Finally a steam turbine generating set is also displayed, mounted on a mobile base. This set supplied power for lighting at the MWB's Wanstead Pumping Station and is a very early example dating from 1903. It is now partially sectioned. Whilst illustrating early turbine and electrical practice it also shows how the basic principles are still in use today in modern grid power stations using nuclear fuel.
Mounted above it and suspended out of reach from the roof girders are the remains of one of the Rotors removed from one of the Steam Turbine Combined Pump & Generating Sets, formally at Hampton Waterworks. When shut down in 1986 this was the last steam installation in use for water supply in the U.K and brought to a close an era which started in 1712 at the York Buildings Water Works with the use of a Savery Engine.
2. Water Pumping:
This display will focus on electrically driven pumping plant of mixed ages and design covering the Post War era, through to the present day and even the future. In addition to the pumps themselves we hope to show some period electric control and monitoring equipment displayed alongside. Some items may be interactive and most will be lit and illuminated to suggest operation. A sound projection will on pressing a button show how noisy some of this plant used to be.
The most important item is the original No.1 pumpset which was installed at Kew in 1944 and apart from being important in the development of the sites history also illustrates typical design and practice of the era. It and the vertical spindle set listed below represent the hundreds which went onto replace the steam engines across London and the U.K. and are now the oldest survivors left in London.
Alongside the pump are the original Plastic framed pressure gauges (due to Wartime brass shortages) reservoir level gauges and water powered ejectors for pump priming. A first aid stretcher (for electric shock) and sound proofed 'acoustic' telephone hood, to overcome pump motor noise is mounted alongside.
When re-painted in 1944 the room conformed to the Institute of Electrical Engineers approved colour scheme-(cream upper walls with black line at shoulder height and yellow ochre down to the floor) It would be fitting to return the Southern end of the house to this scheme, including the pumps and would allow the area to have its own identity, separate from the other exhibits within the room.
To suggest the correct type of electrical starting equipment, several fine examples of illuminated Pillar type glass fronted switch cabinets would be displayed alongside. (Ex Hampton Waterworks.1930's)
To complement the horizontal pump, a vertical 'spindle' type unit is also shown which came from Hammersmith Pumping Station and is smaller than would usually be expected. It was built in 1955 and as one of a set of six, eventually led to the demise of two large triple expansion steam engines.
The motor sits at floor level, driving a rotating spindle to the centrifugal pump mounted below, fixed in the basement. These units came in a range of sizes and configurations often driving multi stage pumps located deep down in a well.
The intention would be to mount the pump within the basement, illuminated, allowing it to be viewed through a grille set into the ground floor around the motor. A single Pillar type starter control cabinet (Ex Mogden sewage Works- C'1938) would be mounted alongside, along with a valve control column. It is possible that it could be demonstrated revolving slowly supplied with power from the 'Reader' Engine or an alternative supply. The unit would be repainted back to its original MWB green and black livery.
The final link in the story shows how ten 'New' electric vertical pumps, took over from the Museum's old Electric House equipment in 1986. These were housed in a new building on Thames Waters land adjoining the Museum.
These pumps are due to be retired at the end of February 2012 and on shutdown one will be removed for display, complete with instrumentation and simple control panels. They will be replaced by new additional fully automatic submersible pumps which will be located at the bottom of the existing 'Ring Main Shaft on the site.