ORNC Pumps

On reflection, perhaps not the wisest of titles for a post – it reads suspiciously like something I might find peddled in the contents of my spam folder, alongside tempting offers to make ‘your member so much greater than civil,’ to gain the ‘university degre you deserve’ or ‘bulk-buy meds’, presumably for my greater-than-civil member…

I’m sure that spam mongers would find these pumps more prosaic than Prosac but at least they wouldn’t make anyone’s eyes water.

It was Stephen from Ladywell (sorry Stephen – mistook you for another Greenwich Photographer there…) who reminded me about them. Quietly dotted around courtyard corners in the Old Royal Naval college, I have no idea if these old water pumps would actually still come up with anything other than dead spiders, but Stephen tells me that this one’s arm still moves. Here it is in context, in the courtyard of King Charles Block:

He says that he must have passed it a million times and never noticed it – which I guess is what we all do to some extent with street furniture – it’s so familiar it’s invisible. Exactly the same thing moment of surprise happened to me when I noticed this elegant stone pump in the courtyard of the Queen Anne building:

They look so tucked-away that it’s hard to bear in mind that they would have formed the main focal point of the courtyard – this is where the pensioners would have had to collect ice-cold water for washing, cleaning and, if they were brave, drinking (though from what I’ve been reading about the ale, which people traditionally drank in preference to water as it was less likely to be contaminated, in the single case of Greenwich Hospital, the old boys would have been better off with the water, however green…)

And of course, these pumps would have been the business-end of all those underground pipes, tunnels and wells snaking their way down Hyde Vale, Crooms Hill, Greenwich Park and from the Stockwell – the place where it all finally surfaced. So in a way this should perhaps be part of my Underground Greenwich series…

Perhaps in 200 years, people will start looking at modern push-fit water pipes and nasty brown plastic outdoor plumbing as quaint and rather lovely. “Ooh look at the stink-pipe on that.” Actually, scratch that. I already know someone who says things like that. But however superseded and outmoded these particular water works are, at least we’re not going to lose them. A sign (which looks almost as old as the pumps themselves) clearly tells us they’re:


Comments are closed.