• It is the only engine house in the world where you can see four working examples of the Woolf compound rotative beam engine in one building
  • Called ‘City Farms’ when first built to disguise its real use as the sewage farms for Leicester
  • The Public Health act of 1884 forced local authorities to take responsibility for the City’s waste and provide proper facilities for managing sewage

Museum of science and technology

This impressive Victorian building is a fitting tribute to the importance of the hygienic disposal of sewage. Abbey Pumping Station was designed by local architect Stockdale Harrison. The still working, highly decorative beam engines in the pump house were built by Gimson and Company, a Leicester engineering firm. 

Public health

When the Public Health Act of 1848 came into force, Leicester Town Council was compelled to take responsibility for sewerage.  Plans were made for the cleansing of the town and for the refuse to be disposed of and used for agricultural purpose. Sewage works were built on the banks of the River Soar and the number of main sewers was extended. The mode of treatment of the sewage presented many problems and by 1884 the level of pollution in the River Soar below Leicester was a cause of grave concern. In 1885 the Borough bought land in Beaumont Leys which was farmed directly by the Corporation through a farm manager. Its essential purpose as a sewage farm, which turned sewage into fertiliser, was disguised by naming it ‘City Farms’.

A hand-retouched photo of the boiler house at Abbey Pumping Station, circa 1890s. You can still see one of the boilers in situ in the main gallery space at the museum. Leicestershire Record Office

Steam Special

Construction of the Abbey Pumping Station on Corporation Road began in 1885 and it was finally opened in 1891 to pump the sewage, by means of four huge beam engines, to the ‘City Farms’. Abbey Pumping Station is now Leicester's museum of science and technology and has exhibitions on light and optics, historic transport and public health.

The museum has a gallery dedicated to items ‘Made in Leicester’ including the magnificent beam engines. These rare examples of Woolf compound rotative beam engines have been restored to working condition by a dedicated team of volunteers. It is the only engine house in the world where you can see four working examples of the same beam engine in one building

See the beam engines and many other interesting pieces of technology in action on one of the regular event days at Abbey Pumping Station.

The museum is also open daily from February to October find out how to visit.

Gallery

Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Medieval Leicester

(500 – 1500) The early years of this period was one of unrest with Saxon, Danes and Norman invaders having their influences over the town. Later, of course, came Richard III and the final battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought on Leicester’s doorstep.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Early 20th Century Leicester

(1910 – 1973) The diverse industrial base meant Leicester was able to cope with the economic challenges of the 1920s and 1930s. New light engineering businesses, such as typewriter and scientific instrument making, complemented the more traditional industries of hosiery and footwear manufacturing.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

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