Abbey Mills Pumping Station is a wonder of Victorian engineering. It is capable of lifting thousands of gallons of raw sewage every minute for the last section of the journey to Beckon Sewage Treatment works.
The Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) was set up in 1855 after the "Great Stink" of that year when, because of the terrible smell of raw sewage in the Thames, the Government came close to moving Parliament and the Law Courts out of London. The Metropolis Local Management Act of 1855 swept away about 300 bodies of all kinds which had succeeded, between them, in obstructing government. The MBW itself replaced five inefficient Commissions of Sewers. Its first task was to construct a proper sewerage and drainage system. The Northern and Southern Outfall Sewers were built between 1860 and 1865.
The Abbey Mills Pumping station at West Ham was built in 1868 to lift low-level sewage, surface drainage and storm water into the Outfall for the last section of the run to Beckton. It was built by the MBWs chief engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette and E. Cooper. Nicholas Pevsner writes: "...a building in a vaguely Italian Gothic style, but with central lantern that adds a Russian flavour; interior with much florid cast-iron work. The original beam engines have been removed." The building is a fine example of Victorian civic pride, having a vital flamboyant quality to it. Built on the cruciform plan, each arm originally housed two steam-powered, single cylinder beam engines (now two electric pumps). The Pumping station has been called, "A cathedral to sewage."