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King George V Pumping Station
Swan and Pike Road, Enfield, London, UK
associated engineer
William Booth Bryan
date  1908 - 1913, opened 15th March 1913
UK era  Modern  |  category  Water Supply/Pipes  |  reference  TQ371979
ICE reference number  HEW 2222
The Grade II listed King George V Pumping Station is internationally important as the site of the prototype installation of the Humphrey pump — three of the original five pumps installed survive. The only other Humphrey pump is in Australia. The pumping station remains operational.
The pumping station was built by the Metropolitan Water Board, to the design of its Chief Engineer William Booth Bryan (1848-1914). In November 1909 he attended a presentation by Herbert Alfred Humphrey (1868-1951) at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, about the pump that he had patented in 1906. It seemed ideal for lifting water from the River Lea (or Lee) into the adjacent large reservoir then under construction, and Bryan ordered five pumps.
The unique Humphrey device has no piston, connecting rod, crank, flywheel nor gearing, and is one of the most thermally efficient prime movers yet invented. Basically, the pump is a large water-filled U-tube with a combustion chamber at the closed end and an open cistern at the other, with an offtake (delivery) pipe below the top water surface.
Fuel is ignited in the combustion chamber. The expanding gases push on the water surface and cause the column of water in the pipe to act as a piston. Water oscillates in the tube operating a four-stroke cycle — induction, compression, expansion and exhaust — where each stroke is of a different length. The periodicity of the pump depends on the diameter and length of the pipe.
Four of the five pumps could lift 182 million litres of water per day each and had a cylinder bore of 2.1m. The fifth pump was smaller and had half that capacity. The fuel to operate the pumps was gas supplied from a Dowson producer gas plant with a small gasholder. The gas was made from anthracite and had to be passed through a scrubber before use.
The pumping station works on an intermittent basis and operates when there is a large quantity of water flowing down the river that, if not stored in the reservoir, would cause flooding lower down the valley. The raw water then flows down the open River Lea diversion for subsequent treatment, which now takes place at Coppermill Water Treatment Works (TQ354882).
The pumping station was opened by King George V on 15th March 1913 and received worldwide press coverage. The king was accompanied at the inauguration ceremony by Queen Mary, Bryan, Humphrey himself and A.B. Pilling (chairman of the Metropolitan Water Board).
Though interest in the Humphrey pump’s principle was international its arrival was ill timed. After World War I (1914-18) reliable electricity generation and distribution increased and the innovative device fell out of favour. Gradually, need for the station declined and the boilers for the producer gas plant became uninsurable. The pumps were decommissioned in 1968.
Around this time, a gas main was being laid passing close to the pumping station. In 1969, the Metropolitan Water Board approached the Eastern Gas Board about running the pumps on natural gas rather than producer gas.
Metropolitan Water Board data showed the cylinder firing pressures for the pump engines would be similar for both gases. A test was planned in which the smallest Humphrey pump would be started running, initially on producer gas but progressively feeding in natural gas. The exhaust gas would be analysed as the test progressed to adjust the gas/air ratio.
The water board hired a small portable boiler to operate the producer gas plant and the gas board provided a lorry loaded with cylinders of natural gas. The pump ran on producer gas for a while but the test was never completed owing to difficulties with insurance.
Of the five original pumps only three survive in situ — one was reused at Coppermill (TQ351882). The two devices that were removed were replaced by vertical spindle electric pumps in 1970, connected to the original pipework.
The pump house (nine bays long and three bays wide) is constructed in an Edwardian Baroque style, built mainly from red brick with white limestone ashlar dressings and set on a blue brick plinth. It has a Welsh slate hipped roof with four glazed clerestory lights, and square turrets at each corner. The tall windows and doors are arched and set between rusticated brick pilasters.
Cast iron roof trusses support the roof, with a cast iron gantry running along the cornices. The interior walls are glazed white brick with green brick dados and cornices. Each of the Humphrey pumps is housed in a deep brick-lined pit with four water admission valves arranged in a ring casing around the base of the combustion chambers, and supplied with gas from bags inside pairs of cylindrical circular cast iron cases.
The cast iron sluice gates and intake from the River Lea are adjacent to the north east corner of the pump house. Water flows through the sluices into a concrete channel that discharges into five pumping chambers next to the north wall of the pump house, which supply the individual pumps.
To the north west of the sluices is the retort house (two bays wide and four bays long), of similar construction but with a corrugated asbestos gable-ended roof. This was used to store the producer gas.
South of the pump house, between it and the reservoir, stands the ornate water tower house. This is also red brick with limestone dressing but has canted ends framed with Tuscan-style limestone columns and entablature, with plain ashlar parapets around the top of the walls.
The building has open arches instead of windows and houses four cast iron water towers — the splayed ends of the pump pipework. There is no roof as the pipes are open at the top in case of water surges. The play pipes from the pumps to the water towers run underground, as do the delivery pipes to the reservoir inlet from the water towers.
King George V Pumping Station is open to the public for guided tours on some Saturdays (2012). It has been a Grade II listed building since September 1989.
The only other surviving Humphrey Pump installation in the world is in the Cobdogla Irrigation Museum, South Australia. "Big Thumper" is in working order and pumps four times per year.
Gas producer plant: Dowson
Humphrey pumps: Siemens Brothers, Stafford
Research: ECPK
"The Humphrey Pump and its Inventor" by Denis Smith, Transactions of the Newcomen Society, read at the Science Museum, London, 10th February 1971
"Obituary: William Booth Bryan, 1848-1914", in ICE Proceedings, Vol.199, pp.447-449, London, 1915
Grateful thanks to Brian Bourn, Fellow of the Institution of Gas Engineers & Managers, for additional information on the pumps
reference sources   CEH Lond

King George V Pumping Station