Pipe Dreams

Rebecca asks

Can you shed any additional light on the very tall ornate blue post adjacent to the rail-track at the top of Straightsmouth? Passed here tonight and was very intrigued.

The Phantom replies:

I am assuming you mean this rather stately chap:

Sadly I can’t get a better picture as he is behind all manner of railings/fencing/greenery but you can get quite a good view from the Bridge of Tiles linking Straightsmouth with the main road. It’s from the days when People Did Things Properly.

In the trade it’s known as a stink pipe (the more genteel might refer to it more euphemistically as a ‘stench pipe’ but it amounts to the same thing) and it’s effectively a conduit that allows methane and other gases/odours/general unpleasantness to vent into the air, way above the nose of even the tallest Victorian gentleman. We still have them – there’s one down my parents’ road – but it’s a plain steel job, without any trace of the kind of exuberance folk used to put into even the most workaday objects in The Olden Days:

Looks as though there’s a pipe running alongside the railway, almost certainly part of Sir Joseph Bazelgette’s network of sewers created to save Londoners from the Great Stink. If you’re fascinated by this, Rebecca, wait until you see the gothic glories of Crossness out Thamesmead way. It’s one of the wonders of South East London. Try to go on a steaming day – find all about them here (the website has a lot of white space in it which makes it look like it isn’t working, but if you scroll down you can find what you need.) I highly recommend a visit.

BTW the other thing methane used to be used for was street lighting. There’s just one working sewer lamp left in London, just down the little lane next to the Savoy. Go about halfway down Carting (or ‘Farting’ Lane, as it’s known by some wags) towards the river. The slightly sickly-green glowing lamp that never gets turned off is your man…


the attachments to this post:

gas pipe low
gas pipe low

stink pipe top
stink pipe top


3 Comments to “Pipe Dreams”

  1. H.G. says:

    Talking of pumping stations, if I remember rightly I was fascinated by the rear view of the water works building opposite the “Golden Chippy” as seen from the DLR. No idea how old that is, is it still in use?

  2. Stephen says:

    There is one of these a few yards from my place and another one much further down the road, nowhere near as ornate as this one though.

  3. Ebspig says:

    For H.G. Do you mean the Deptford Pumping Station (always known as Deptford though on the Greenwich side of the Creek)? Designed by Bazalgette for sewage pumping, opened 1865, extended 1905, listed Grade II, and I’m afraid I don’t know when the engines went – perhaps to make Spitfires.