Beam Engines

Two of the four massive Gimson beam engines at Abbey Pumping Station in Leicester. Originally built in 1891 for the purpose of pumping sewage, the engines were used until 1964 when electric pumps started to take over their duties and it finally closed soon after as a pumping station. As with another recent industrial heritage project on gas works, I was drawn by the interplay of light, in this case both natural and artificial, with the metalwork and grease of the four Woolf compound beam engines. The magnificence of these engines and the beauty of their design and detail are a remarkable record of the importance given to the role of technology in improving lives in Victorian times – there is nothing mundane or utilitarian about them.Two of the four massive Gimson beam engines at Abbey Pumping Station in Leicester. Originally built in 1891 for the purpose of pumping sewage, the engines were used until 1964 when electric pumps started to take over their duties and it finally closed soon after as a pumping station.

The collection of four working beam engines ‘in-situ’ make this a rather unique museum. All too often items of industrial heritage are removed from their original settings to be put on display in museums, or worse become part of an ‘experience’ centre. Walking around the engine room at Abbey Pumping Station gives a real sense of both the scale of the engines and the generations of workers who looked after them, to say nothing of the volunteers who have brought them back to life.

A lot of my photography of late has involved low light level, in part because I’ve been photographing the interiors of Victoria industrial buildings. Yet, all the images I’ve made have been hand-held, a testament to the low-light, high-ISO capabilities of modern digital cameras.