You are here:

After 80 years serving Cambridge, sewage works engine heads to new home

Thursday, December 3, 2015

One of the longest serving pieces of engineering in Cambridge is set to find a new home and a new lease of life in a museum. 

The electric winch engine was installed at Cambridge Water Recycling Centre near Milton in 1935 and operated continuously until this year when it was finally taken out of service. The engine moved a gantry which spread sewage over a treatment bed. It was part of the works which were constructed to replace the original sewage farm on the site when it was no longer able to cope with the growing city’s needs.

The sewage was pumped to the works from a pumping station by the river in Cambridge – this pumping station is now the Cambridge Museum of Technology and this is where the engine is to be housed.

Volunteers from the museum have taken the engine apart and are now in the process of carefully moving it to its new home where it will be restored and returned to operation next year.

Ceri Williams, manager of Cambridge Water Recycling Centre, said: “We have recently invested £21million in new processes and equipment at our treatment works here and these beds are no longer needed.

“But they are an important part of the story of Cambridge and we didn’t want them to disappear completely – so it’s fantastic news that this engine will now be housed in the Museum of Technology for everyone to see. We’ve looked after it carefully over the years and it has served the city very well.

“Ensuring there was capacity to treat the sewage of a growing population was one of the biggest challenges the city faced in the early 20th Century – and that challenge continues today.”

Alan Denney, from the Museum of Technology, said: “It is amazing to think that this engine has been helping treat Cambridge’s sewage for 80 years.

“We are very grateful to Anglian Water for giving the Museum the opportunity to preserve this historic piece of equipment.”

During the 19th Century sewage from Cambridge was poured directly into the River Cam, however the resulting smell and hygiene issues meant action had to be taken.

The steam powered pumping station on Riverside, which is now the museum, was unveiled in 1895, the same year as a sewage farm was opened near Milton. Sewage, pumped from the city, was spread over the ground where it broke down naturally.

However by the 1930s this method was no longer able to cope with the city’s waste and a solution had to be found. Modern treatment beds were constructed, and the sewage was spread over a medium of porous rocks where bacteria were able to thrive and break down the waste quickly and safely. The clean, treated water was returned back to the river.

In 1968 the steam pumping station was decommissioned and an electric pump was installed. This was later taken out of service as the Riverside Tunnel was created to take sewage from the city out to the works.

In 1990 the water industry in the UK was privatised and Anglian Water Services Ltd was created. Anglian Water has continued to invest in Cambridge’s sewage network. The latest investment of £21m for new settlement tanks and treatment lanes at the Water Recycling Centre and £8m on infrastructure in the city will futureproof the network for years to come.


Copyright © 2018 Anglian Water Services Ltd All rights reserved

Registered in England No. 2366656. Registered Office: Lancaster House, Lancaster Way, Ermine Business Park, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. PE29 6XU