Abbey Mills, Newham
A mixed-use locality situated among channels of the River Lea, south-east of Stratford High Street, dominated by old and new sewage pumping stations
Abbey Mills takes its name from watermills belonging to Stratford Langthorne Abbey, a Cistercian monastery founded in 1134 by William de Montfichet. The abbey stood in the marshes beside the present-day Channelsea River and was endowed with estates in West Ham. The first record of a mill here was in the early 14th century. The abbey remained a wealthy and influential landowner until the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s.
Abbey Mills pumping station is a much-admired masterpiece of Victorian public works engineering, built in 1865–8 and nicknamed ‘the cathedral of sewage’. Designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, the station’s pumps drew waste water from the drains of north London and sent it down to the filter-beds at Beckton. Landscaping work has recently enhanced the view from the nearby Greenway footpath, as shown in the photograph above.*
Group tours of Bazalgette’s now-disused pumping station may be booked in advance with Thames Water, as may individual visits on Open House weekend. Thames Water receives more requests to see inside Abbey Mills than any other property in its portfolio.
Sewage is nowadays pumped at a new building, a zinc-coated temple located south of the cathedral on what was formerly a marshy exclave of the Lee Valley Park. Its workload will increase significantly in 2021 when it begins to transfer flows from the newly built Thames Tideway Tunnel. (Click here for a Bing bird’s eye view of the extended pumping station site.)
In the past couple of decades most regeneration projects in the vicinity of Abbey Mills have consisted of little more than erecting shed-type warehouses in place of disused factories. However, given the buoyant state of the London property market, future schemes may be much more ambitious. Development opportunities could include the former site of a chemical works beside the Channelsea River’s Abbey Creek, which was acquired in 1996 by an Islamic trust. A series of objections has stymied planning proposals for the construction here of a so-called mega-mosque, and some or all of the site may ultimately be used for another purpose.
The locality is served by Abbey Road station, which opened in 2011 on the Stratford International extension of the DLR. The station might have been better named ‘Abbey Mills’, if only to prevent Beatles fans coming here by mistake.
The Gothic interior of the original Abbey Mills pumping station has appeared in several TV shows and movies, including doubling as the Arkham asylum laboratory in the 2005 film Batman Begins.