Westcombe Park’s Crap…

…has to go somewhere. To be honest, it’s not really something I’d paid much thought to until I paid a visit to Crossness Pumping Station, but after that trip it played on my mind rather more than is healthy. You haven’t been there yet? Shame on you. The place is a veritable Palace of Poo, a cathedral to sewage. It is also extraordinarily beautiful.

But back to Westcombe Park. Whilst in the little museum part of the pumping station, I saw a map of Joseph Bazelgette’s sewer mains, criss-crossing through South East London, gradually making their way downhill, gravity drawing their contents towards the euphemistically romantic Southern Outfall at Thamesmead which was, at the time, way beyond the end of Civilisation (no cheap gags, now…)

I spent a long time looking at that map, with particular interest in the parts that flow underneath Greenwich’s streets (I just can’t get away from underground tunnels, can I…) and one bit in particular started to bother me. It continued to bother me as I came home.

A sewer ran along from South Greenwich, along to Westcombe Park and then came down towards the Woolwich Road end of things. That seemed perfectly reasonable. Using London’s natural topography was one of Bazalgette’s triumphs. But the bit that bothered me was what happens to it when it crosses the railway line?

That line is cut so deep into the hill that it would be pointless to run a sewer underground at that point – all kinds of nasty backups could ensue. So it must go over it. But where?

I am going to say something really sad now. This kept me awake nights. There was nothing for it. I had to go and find Bazalgette’s sewer. I knew more or less where it was as it was marked on the map in the museum; I just had to find it. I donned my phantasmagorcial anorak, grabbed my spectral Thermos and set off.

In the event, sturdy walking boots, a change of socks and tins of pemmican weren’t strictly necessary. Take a look at this picture, folks. A close look. Click on it to get a bigger image.

If my calculations are correct, it’s been under the noses (well, above them, if you want to get technical) of the people who use Westcombe Park Station all the time. Walking over the punishingly steep bridge between Halstow and Humber Roads, and looking down over the station-side, coming straight out from under the alleyway to Jools Holland’s studio, I saw an enormous, rusting Victorian pipe. It has to be several feet in diameter and I cannot think what it can be if it isn’t part of the original sewer network, carrying all Westcombe Park’s ordure down to East Greenwich (so now I know why house prices are cheaper the ‘wrong’ side of the tracks…)
I popped onto the station platform to get a closer look – and there it was – a little piece of London’s most unsung but perhaps most vital heritage. I am sure I’ll be smacked down if I’m wrong – but if that pipe isn’t carrying tons of effluent downhill, I want to know what it is doing.

I’m guessing you’re not as excited as me over this discovery – I mean – it’s hardly on the same scale as the giant conduit carrying the charming river Westbourne over the heads of It-Girls at posh Sloane Square tube. I guess it’s a personal thing – a little mystery solved – it troubled me; I dealt with it. If only I could do that about the stuff that actually matters…

Oh well, at least now, every time you use Westcombe Park station and you look at that sewage pipe, you’ll think of me. Ahhh.

I know. I should get out more. Trouble is, it’s precisely that sort of thing that got me into this in the first place…


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