The museum is owned and
operated by the Enfield and District Veteran Vehicle Trust, a registered
charity. Everybody involved is an enthusiast and volunteer, so if
you would like to help, give us a call. The building is an 1898
pumping station that was purchased by the Trust in 1986 in a near derelict
state. It originally housed two steam engines and boilers which
pumped water from the well below the building into the New River.
Below you will find a more detailed history of how the Whitewebbs pumping station came into being.
In the Middle Ages the City of London suffered two major disasters, the Black Death or Plague and the Great Fire of London. Neither event would have been quite so devastating had an adequate and accessible supply of water been available.
Around 1600 Edmund Colthurt, a gentleman with some engineering experience, devised a means of bringing fresh water into North London from the Chadwell and Amwell Springs, between Ware and Hertford, by means of a man made channel which followed the 100ft contour into the City.
Although Colthurt obtained letters patent from King James I and actually started work in 1604 he did not obtain adequate financial backing and the scheme faltered.
In 1606 the City of London Corporation obtained the necessary Acts of Parliament "for bringing a fresh stream of running water to the northern part of the City".
It was Hugh Myddelton, MP for Denbigh and a jeweller to the King, who backed the undertaking and work resumed in 1611 to build what became the New River - truly a misnomer as it is now nearly 400 years old and not a river but a manmade canal.
The distance from Chadwell Springs to the New River head in the City is 20 miles but following the 100ft contour the distance was nearer 40 miles with a gentle fill from end to end of only 18ft. This was quite an achievement at a time when engineering skills were fairly primitive.
The Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and 19th centuries saw a rapid growth in the population of London and an ever increasing demand for a fresh potable supply of water.
The River Lea was tapped below Hertford to increase the supply to the New River and in the latter part of the 19th century pumping stations were built to further augment the supply. The New River originally 10ft wide was doubled in width to meet the increasing demand.
Altogether some 16 pumping stations were built during the 19th century by the then New River Water Company and it is thought that Whitewebbs was one of the last.
Today the siting of Whitewebbs Pumping Station seems far removed from the New River, the nearest point being Maidens Bridge, Forty Hill. But it must be remembered that the original river took a considerable detour westwards along the 100ft contour from Turkey Street, through the grounds of Myddelton House, named after Sir Hugh Myddelton, through Whitewebbs Park, around the edge of the golf course, crossing the Cuffley Brook by means of the 1820 cast-iron flash or aqueduct at Flash Lane before rejoining its present course through Enfield.
Many other improvements have since been carried out to the course of the original New River to reduce its length and thereby the cost of its maintenance and upkeep. Much of the River to the south of Enfield in the more densely populated areas of North London is now wholly within underground pipes.
Whitewebbs Pumping Station.
Excavation of the well below the Pump Hall at Whitewebbs began in 1895. The excavated subsoil and chalk being spread along the eastern side of the site to provide a level and even yard behind the station, now used as a car park, and which accounts for the steep bank between the picnic area and the paddock to the east.
The well is 200ft deep and 14ft diameter at the surface reducing to 11ft at the bottom. From there two headings were dug through the chalk each 6ft 6ins high by 4ft 6ins wide. That, in a westerly direction extends some 700ft as far as Theobalds Park Road and contains 9 boreholes of 6 ins diameter extending down through the chalk for a further maximum of 210ft.
The eastern heading leaves the well in a North Easterly direction until under Whitewebbs Road where it turns due East under Cuffley Brook and the recently widened bridge for a total of 550 ft and contains a further 6 boreholes.
Construction of the red brick Victorian style Pump Hall, Boiler House and outbuildings were completed by 1898. When tested, the station produced half a million gallons a day and records show that even in the drought of 1933/34 the yield was 0.37 million gallons a day.
Two cottages were built alongside the station, one for the engine driver and the other for a maintenance engineer. It is believed that the station fell into disuse soon after the end of the Second World War, partly it is understood, owing to a high iron content in the water.
The Pump Hall contained a pair of Barring beam engines with Corlliss valve gear, high and low pressure cylinders and 16ft diameter flywheels. The slots in the concrete bastions in the basement below the Pump Hall floor confirm the positions of the flywheels.
Two 60ft long x 7ft diameter Lancashire Boilers in the Boiler House next door to the Pump Hall provided steam for the engines.
Each engine had a pump rod connected at each end of its beam and these operated down 21ins diameter suction tubes to the bottom of the well. The writer can vaguely recall the thud of these pump rods as a boy when passing the station in pre-war days.
The size of the concrete bases under these engines and the 36ins x 18ins cast iron beams used to support the suction tubes gives some idea of the stresses developed as the clack valves shut lifting a 200ft x 21ins column of water with each rock of the beams.
It is understood that one engine was dismantled immediately on closure and transferred to another station south of the Thames. One of the drawings handed over by Thames Water to the Trust at the time of the purchase, suggests the second engine was dismantled in 1962.
Coal for the Boilers was brought by lorry from the coal yard at the nearby Crews Hill L.N.E.R. railway station and stored in the brick coal bunkers. From there the coal was man-handled by steel wheeled barrows, over the weighbridge under the rear porch and into the Boiler Room. The route for the barrows still being evidenced by the steel plates across the yard.
It was thought the construction of Crews Hill Railway Station coal yard, when the line was extended from Enfield Chase Station to Hertford was encouraged by, the New River Water Company due to the need for coal to fire Whitewebbs. The existence of this facility, subsequently stimulated the growth of horticultural nurseries in the area due to coal-fired heating being used for their glasshouses in those days.
From each engine an 18ins diameter underground steel pipe took the raised water to settling tanks within the Valve House in the rear yard. The red painted handwheels above the wooden floor now installed in the Valve House locate the position of 18ins penstock valves from each engine.
The settling tanks overflowed into a common chamber in the South East corner from whence the combined flow enters a 2ft 6 ins diameter steel outlet below ground which runs through the paddock to the east of the station, then alongside the west bank of the Cuffley Brook towards the cast-iron Flash in Flash Lane. A brick manhole in the paddock is the last evidence of the route of the 2ft 6ins outlet found by the writer. This manhole, incidentally, should not be confused with those of the Cuffley Trunk sewer built in the late thirties which runs along the same side of the Cuffley Brook to the treatment plant at Deephams, Edmonton.
The detour of the New River through Whitewebbs park, following the 100ft contour was abandoned in 1859 following the construction of the Docwra aqueduct (built by Thomas Docwra of Cheshunt) carrying the New River over Maidens Brook. just to the east of Maidens Bridge. This was long before the Whitewebbs Pumping Station was built. How then did the water from the Station get into the New River - now some 1.5 miles away ?
An acknowledged authority, on the New River, Dr. Michael Essese-Lopresti in his booklet "Exploring the New River" states this was achieved by using the abandoned northern arm of the old river course and reversing the flow.
With an average fall along the river of only 5.5ins per mile a head of only some 15ins would have ensured a flow in the opposite direction from Whitewebbs to the Maidens Bridge aqueduct.
As a schoolboy the writer can recall one occasion when permission,, was obtained from the somewhat eccentric owner of "Garnault", Mrs. Walrond, who then lived in the white Suffolk-gault brick house near the corner of Bulls Cross Road and Turkey Street, to fish in the New River which passed close by the northern and eastern side of her house. Unfortunately I do not recall in which direction the water flowed. As this was in the 1930's what flow was apparent could only have been due to water raised at the Whitewebbs Pumping station, as the Whitewebbs Loop had been abandoned some 70 years previously.
But the next question is how did the water from the 2ft 6ins diameter outlet from the Pumping Station on the west side of the Cuffley Brook get to the cast side of the same brook, near Flash Lane in order to discharge into the disused northern arm of the original Whitewebbs loop?.
The invert of the 2ft 6ins diameter outlet in the paddock,, east of the Pumping Station is some 3 - 4 ft below ground. The invert of the old river course at Flash Lane is some 4 ft above the level of the brook at this point.Can anyone throw any light on how the water from Whitewebbs got into the old river course?