explore 1 to 4
explore 1 to 4
Triple Engine Room
At the centre of this room once stood a huge triple expansion engine. Fed by steam from the Boiler Room, the pressure drove three powerful cylinders to pump water from the Coppermill Stream into the reservoirs, and to the city.
Far from being a grimy industrial space, the Engine Room was always kept spotlessly clean and gleaming by the pumphouse workers. Steam power was eventually replaced by the diesel pumping engine, installed at the Engine House in the 1950s.
Although that engine has also long since disappeared, the pump it drove survived within the building after decommissioning in the 1980s, along with the fuel tanks and air starting cylinder. The pump had been electrified to match the others in the Turbine Room.
The pumphouse equipment that survived here at the Walthamstow Engine House was among the last of its generation in the UK, and is now very rare.
Then and now
For decades a chimney stack was a prominent industrial feature of the Engine House. It was demolished by 1960, after the pumping systems converted from coal to electricity.
The new 24-metre-tall Swift Tower now rises in its place. It includes 54 specially installed swift nest boxes.
The interior also provides a snug roost for bats.
Image from Thames Water Archive / London Museum of Water & Steam.
The Metropolitan Water Board kept meticulous records of its employees, some of which have survived in archives. These offer us a glimpse into past lives and times working at the reservoirs.
Running the site smoothly required a number of staff just as it does today, but some of the jobs were very different. These included filterbed man, stoker, engine driver, boiler maker and boiler cleaner, dynamo attendant, engine cleaner and labourers, among others.
In 1905 engine drivers were the highest paid staff, earning £2.00 per week. The lowest earner was the poor old night-watchman, taking home just £1.45 and 6d for all those sleepless nights.
Image from the Geologists’ Association
The big nests you can see in the treetops on the island here are part of the Wetlands’ famous heronry – one of the UK’s largest colonies.
There has been a heronry at Walthamstow Wetlands since the 1930s and it is one of the reasons we are now designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Breeding herons peaked here in the 1990s with 138 nesting pairs; today there are around 40 active nests.
Herons begin nesting early in the year, before leaves are on the trees, so you may catch a glimpse of the chicks in March and April. Pairs often mate for life and may return to the same nest year after year, usually rearing 3–5 young.