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Ryhope Pumping Station
Waterworks Road, Ryhope, Sunderland, UK
associated engineer
Thomas Hawksley
date  1865 - 1869
era  Victorian  |  category  Building  |  reference  NZ402524
ICE reference number  HEW 180
Ryhope Pumping Station is the only one of Thomas Hawksley's many such stations to survive with its pair of beam engines in situ and in working order. It's a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade II* listed building in the Gothic style, now the Ryhope Engines Museum and run by volunteers.
Hawksley was the first to design a water distribution system (Nottingham 1830s) that successfully had the pipes fully charged under pressure, allowing water to be drawn at any time — before that water ran in the pipes intermittently because fittings leaked. He claimed to have been the engineer for 120 water schemes.
Outbreaks of cholera were common until the up to the mid 19th century, until people realised the disease was spread by contaminated water and concerns over adequate supplies of clean water grew. Many local water companies were formed, including the Sunderland & South Shields Water Company (1852), who commissioned Ryhope Pumping Station.
In 1864, the company acquired 1.6 hectares of land to the west of Ryhope and in May 1865 their engineer (Hawksley) began designing the station. Like similar stations at Cleadon (1863) and Dalton (1877) it abstracted groundwater. The total cost of the station was £58,416, including £9,000 for the engines.
One of the pumping engines was used to dewater the main well as it was being sunk. As the engines and their house form an integrated structure, this was a difficult undertaking, resulting in complicated temporary supports for the engine being in place while the building and well heads were being constructed around it — not something that would meet modern Health & Safety regulations!
There are two well shafts — the main one and a 'staple well'. The main shaft is 4.6m in diameter and some 78m deep. The staple shaft is elliptical — 4.3m by 3m maximum — and some 43m deep.
The three storey engine house has pointed gables and a central roof spire 45.7m above the ground. It is built in red bond brick with ashlar dressings, stone gable copings and a Welsh slate roof with shingle ventilators. The engines take up the full height of the building, with part floors for access. There is a connecting door to the boiler house, which was fed with coal from an adjoining store. There are also two cooling ponds and a 50.3m high chimney stack.
The brick boiler house has four gabled roofs and originally contained six Cornish boilers, which were replaced by three Lancashire boilers in 1908. Each boiler can use 63.5kg of coal per hour when steaming.
The engines were commissioned in 1869. One is a mirror image of the other, and both are double-acting compound beam engines with two cylinders. Each high pressure cylinder is 700mm in diameter with a stroke of 1.625m, operating at a steam pressure of 207kN per square metre. The low pressure cylinders are 1.14m in diameter with a 2.44m stroke.
The engine beams each weigh 22.4 tonnes and have pump rods at 10.1m centres (the distance between the well shafts). The 7.3m diameter flywheel weighs 18.3 tonnes. The pump stroke is 3.25m and the engines are designed to work at a speed of 10 strokes per minute. The pair can pump 50.5 litres of water per second against a 74m head.
With each stroke of the pump rods an iron barrel was lowered to the water table (76m below ground) where it filled and was then raised to half height, where a tunnel connects it to the staple shaft. The water flowed into the staple shaft and was raised to the surface in another iron barrel where it emptied into a reservoir outside the main station building. This method ensured that each end of the engine’s beam lifted an equal quantity of water, giving smooth operation.
The water pumped at Ryhope was untreated, and the water company stressed that "It is the matter of greatest importance that all employees, and especially those who work in or about the wells, engine houses and reservoirs should not only exercise the utmost care and restraint in the matter of expectorating and in their personal habits, but also use every endeavour to see that the wells, well tops, platforms and grounds are kept as sweet and clean as possible".
As abstraction here and in other local pumping stations continued, the water table dropped below sea level (the North Sea is nearby) threatening salt water ingress. The water was also ‘hard’ from being filtered through the magnesian limestone aquifer. Softer water was becoming available more cheaply from the reservoirs at Derwent and Kielder. These factors contributed to the station’s closure in 1967.
It was taken over by the Ryhope Engines Trust and opened as a museum in 1971. The engines are operated in steam on several occasions annually for the benefit of visitors. The site and the buildings are owned by Northumbrian Water.
Two of the Lancashire boilers are in regular use today, though they now use wood as well as coal, and the coal store has been converted into a smithy and forge. The boiler house roofs were replaced in 2007 — a project that included removing asbestos and hand-making 80,000 lead nails to anchor the new tiles. The well was re-opened in 2009. The Superintendent’s House has been restored and houses the tea rooms and a replica of Thomas Hawksley's study. The workers’ cottages are rented out.
Main contractor: William Jackson, Newcastle
Beam engines: R & W Hawthorn
Research: ECPK
“Ryhope Springs Eternal” by Cathy Hayward, 1st July 2010
available at http://www.fm-world.co.uk
reference sources   CEH NorthBDCE2

Ryhope Pumping Station