When we first arrived in Burton-on-Trent we went to visit the Claymills Victorian Pumping Station. At the time I noticed that there was a “Steaming Day” coming up a month or so later, but assumed we would not still be here by then. Today was the day, so we went along to see the steam engines running. We now know that we can moor up quite close. In the morning we set off by boat instead of walking along the towpath like last time.
As we walked under the bridge we could see black smoke coming from the chimney. The smoke soon turned much lighter – we wondered if this meant there was a new pope. There were plenty of visitors on site, but it was never really crowded, and the rooms are large and draughty.
As promised, there were a large number of steam engines in operation. Last time, we’d seen a shed with so many “small” engines in it there was hardly room to walk around. Today, a number of them were lined up outside leaving space inside to see the rest in operation. It was surprisingly tranquil, with an occasional gentle hiss of steam. The power was all coming down the steam pipe, so there were no noisy electric or internal combustion engines.
The same quietness was also a feature of one of the main engine rooms. With the pump running at full speed, there were clicks and hisses, but no need to raise your voice to speak.
I was taken by a mechanical counter that was operated directly by the beam. Each cycle of the beam pumps 180 gallons (800 litres) of sewage. So this pump (one of four) has shifted half a million tons. While we were in the engine room, the second pump was started. A small engine was used to turn the flywheel to the starting position. Clare was given a vital task of opening a valve at the right moment. Three other people were required to operate valves in sequence to get things started. Within a minute the engine was controlling the operation itself.
We also went to the boiler room. Although this sounds like a warm place to be, we’d had it pointed out already that there had to be a strong draught to the fires, so it was surprisingly cool. We were impressed by the effort being put in to shovel the coal in to the hoppers. I asked why the coal wasn’t delivered to a higher location. It turned out the boilers with the automatic hoppers were a retro-fit (replaced without taking the pumps out of service). The stokers were just expected to get on with it.