If you are new to the area, or you have enjoyed the surroundings of the Norwegian Church and the Finnish Church on Albion Street, then there is a secret hiding round the corner.
A stone’s throw away from Albion Street on a no through road called Renforth Street, in the vicinity of Albion Primary School, Canada Water Station and Canada Estate, is a building of the Victorian age, saved after remaining empty and since 1st June 1982, a Grade II-listed building which consists of luxury apartments, the building, is the pump house.
As the name suggests, the building was a pump house belonging to an organisation called the London Hydraulic and Power Company which was established in 1883 to install a network of hydraulic power that was for London. At its peak, it covered most of London before being rejected for electricity.
The business was set up by an act of Parliament called The London Hydraulic Power Company Act 1884 to install a network of high-pressure cast iron water mains under the streets of London. It started by merging with the already existing Wharves & Warehouses Steam Power & Hydraulic Pressure Company, which was founded in 1871. The name changed in 1882 when the company was purchased by the newly formed General Hydraulic Power Company and the more familiar London Hydraulic and Power Company (LHP) became a subsidiary.
LHP was a public utility, the first pumping station was opened at Falcon Wharf on Bankside in September 1883. The utility company sold water at a guaranteed pressure of 700 psi (about 48 bar) and was used for lifts, cranes, theatre machinery including revolving stages at the London Palladium, London Coliseum and the safety curtains at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. It also served the lifting mechanism for the cinema organ at the Leicester Square theatre and the complete Palm Court orchestra platform, it also served as the backup lifting mechanism of the bascules of Tower Bridge. It also used to supply fire hydrants inside most buildings. The water was sourced from the Thames and heated in winter to prevent it from freezing.
Wapping pumping station was built in 1891 to serve the London Docks and St Katharine’s Docks. In November 1897, the LHP gave Edward Bayzand Ellington (the chief engineer at the time) authorisation to start negotiations to secure a site for another pumping station and, at the same time, winning custom from the Surrey Commercial Dock Company in Rotherhithe one year later, agreements were reached for a site in February 1899 near Albion Dock on Renforth Street.
In 1910, around 30 million gallons of water per year was supplied by the nearby pump house to Surrey Commercial Docks. This represented about a third of the demanding docks.
Towards the end of the 1920s, an agreement was reached with the Port of London Authority (P.L.A.) to supply hydraulic power to all its docks. In November 1927, a Parsons steam turbine was installed and used at the pump house on Renforth Street, Rotherhithe. It was the last of LHP's pumping station to be electrified; the steam engines finally stopped in March 1961. After this it was used mostly as office space for the London Hydraulic and Power Company.
If you are lucky to see or glimpse inside the residential grounds of the pump house near to the path that runs alongside from Canada Water station, you will see a tramway which was built from Albion Dock to bring coal to a coal store situated on site. On 15th June 1901, the tramway was fitted by Dick, Kerr and Company a well-known builders of street tramways. The 3-foot gauge line ran from Albion Dock, through the gate located on the east side of site (you can see this gate on Albatross Way, the path leading from Canada Water Station), and into the coal store. The majority of the life of the tramway consisted of being horse-drawn. In 1927 LHP purchased a Lancing Bagnall Model ‘A’ Tractor and Horse haulage ended.
The London Hydraulic and Power Company finally closed in June 1977. Because it was a UK statutory authority, they had the legal right to dig up the public highways to install and maintain its pipe network, because of this, it made an attractive purchase for Mercury Communications (later One2One) who was a subsidiary of Cable & Wireless to re-purpose the pipes to run its telecommunication cables.
TV and Film
In the time it remained empty, the disused pumphouse featured in TV films and music videos, below are some examples most notably the video for A Groovy Kind Of Love, sung by Phil Collins for the film Buster:
Phil Collins plays the title role of Buster Edwards; this was a hit and reached number 1 in the UK charts in 1988, because the film was set in the 1960’s the soundtrack was put together using songs of that era.
The pump house also featured in ITV’s London’s Burning, which was and still is a community favourite if you grew up in the area through 80s and 90s, so much so when the original Dockhead fire station which was used as Blackwall fire station in the series was demolished and re-built some of the cast returned to officially open the new building.
And lastly, to end I give you Sinitta, her song G.T.O, released in 1987 from the self-titled album ‘Sinitta’. Back in 1987 the author of this piece was a mere 8 years old when filming started, with a crowd outside the pump house gates on Renforth Street. Sinitta made an appearance between takes and selected a few of us youngsters, me included, to a special treat. The selected kids were lead inside the pump house, sitting crossed legged and all well behaved got to see the music video being filmed.