Deep in the heart of Wiltshire is a historic site with a big claim to fame.
Crofton Pumping Station is home to an 1812 Boulton and Watt steam engine – said to be the oldest working steam engine in the world that’s “still capable of doing its original job”.
Catherine Hutchings, a project assistant with the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, which operates the site, says: “The station is a piece of living history – and is regarded as one of the best-surviving sites from the Industrial Revolution.
“For seven weekends each year, the site is fired up and supplies the neighbouring canal as it would have done all those years ago.
“The sights, smells and sounds of when steam was king can be remembered all over again!”
Crofton – just a short drive from the town of Marlborough – was built over 200 years ago from 1807-1809.
It was designed to supply water to the highest point of The Kennet and Avon Canal, a man-made waterway spanning 87miles. The canal connects The River Kennet in Newbury to the River Avon in Bath.
Said Catherine: “The engine house of the station holds two stationary steam engines, both of which are powered by a Lancashire boiler and are still operational to this day.
“The first, and older of the two, the 1812 Boulton and Watt engine is the oldest working steam engine in the world, still capable of doing its original job, sitting beside it the other, a Harvey & Co of Hayle engine installed in 1846. Both engines operate beams of 26ft and are capable of lifting an average of 10 tonnes of water per minute!”
CROFTON PUMPING STATION’S HISTORY
From 1812 onwards the station was up and running. However, in 1841 the Great Western Railway Line between London & Bristol was built providing competition for the canal.
In 1852, after slowly being pushed aside by the railway, the Canal – along with the pumping station – was brought by the Great Western Railway (GWR). The station didn’t shut down, instead becoming a site to refill water into steam engines.
In 1959 disaster struck when the 25-metre chimney that towers above the site began to lean due to wind weathering from the west. For safety reasons, the top 11 metres were removed.
Said Catherine: “This proved problematic to the boilers. Due to the lack of draught, it was hard to sufficiency power the engines. So the station was closed, and an electric pump was installed to take over supplying the summit.
“Nowadays, the canal and Crofton Pumping Station is owned by The Kennet and Avon Canal Trust who brought the site in 1968 for £75. After restoration through the late 60s and early 70s the station was back up and running and has been ever since.”
Crofton Pumping Station is six miles (10Km) from Marlborough and three miles from the village of Great Bedwyn in Wiltshire, England. Travel by foot, bicycle or car – there is a large car park – and just follow the brown “Beam Engines” tourist signs. The site is run by a team of dedicated volunteers.
Top image: the Cylinder Head Room at Crofton. All images on this page courtesy of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust