Until the arrival of the Southend Waterworks Company (SWC) in the early 1920s, Langford (population at that time 182) was a small, sleepy Essex village: main industry, agriculture.
The new waterworks complex was completed in 1927 but not officially opened until September 1929. At that time a reporter for the Essex Chronicle wrote that the arrival of the works had ‘transformed an obscure Essex village into a place of considerable importance.’
The Langford pumping station, which is now home to the Museum of Power, was originally designed to provide a daily supply of seven million gallons of drinking water and this, together with the existing wells, were expected to meet anticipated demand for many years ahead.
The pumping station boasted a 150-feet tall hexagonal chimney that was a landmark for nearly forty years before it was demolished in 1966. The station originally contained two steam-driven vertical triple-expansion rotative engines manufactured by the Lilleshall Company Ltd., each with a pumping capacity of between 4m and 4.4 million gallons per day. The engine house was built large enough to house a third engine that was installed in 1931. This latter engine named “Marshall” is the sole survivor of the three and takes pride of place as the central feature of the Museum.
Complete coal-handling gear was provided for feeding fuel to the chain grate stokers of the boilers, the arrangement being designed to provide ‘maximum convenience with a minimum of labour effort’. The SWC was also keen to point out that the works were ‘electronically lighted’, power being provided for both the pumping station and the treatment plant by three 80kw steam-driven direct-coupled generators.
The total cost of the works was £1,108,719.
In 1960, in order to maintain an efficient water supply, the Company decided to go ahead and replace the steam plant at Langford with three semi-automatic electrically operated pump sets. On 31st October 1963 the steam pumping engines were shut down for the last time. With a push of a button, the Chairman of the Essex County Council, Sir George Chaplin, C.B.E. J.P. set in motion the new pumping station which had cost £260,000 to build and which could handle a maximum daily capacity in excess of eight million gallons of treated water.
In the late 1960s, the company decided that it was time to abandon the original works and construct a brand new complex on a site adjacent to the storage reservoirs. The new works were completed in 1970 at a cost of £1.5m and officially opened on 30th June that year. The new Langford plant had a maximum capacity of twelve million gallons per day.
During the same year the Essex Water Orders Act came into effect and on 1st April 1970 the Southend Waterworks Company amalgamated with the South Essex Waterworks Company to form the Essex Water Company.
In subsequent years further expansion of plant has been undertaken and, at one time, it seemed as though the original pumping station would simply fall into decay. (The treatment plant at the other end of the village had long since been demolished.)
But then, in 1996 the local press announced a ‘Museum plan for pumping station’, revealing plans for the former pumping station to become the home of ‘a unique power museum.’ Negotiations between officers of the fledgling museum, Maldon District Council and Essex & Suffolk Water took place and in December 1996 museum organizers were given the go-ahead.
A more appropriate home for a Museum of Power is hard to imagine.
Since the late 1990s the Museum has gone from strength to strength and although there are already many existing displays and attractions to inform and entertain both adults and children, it is very much a ‘work in progress’ with many short and long-term projects being both implemented and planned by the Trustees and an enthusiastic group of staff and volunteers.
Dr. Patrick Chaplin and Mrs. Irene Allen
Images courtesy of the Allen, Chaplin Collection