Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
The Honor Oak Pumping Station is not easily seen by the public and the photo at the top shows only the side elevation. To get a better idea of the building as a whole, the bottom photo was taken just after completion in 1909. The chimney has long since disappeared.
The Honor Oak Pumping Station is neither as grand or as flamboyant as the Streatham Pumping Station, but it is still an imposing building which, along with the associated Valve House, is Grade II listed. The buildings are located on the East Dulwich/Nunhead/
Honor Oak borders, seemingly bizarrely on a golf course, and not easily accessible by the general public.
The construction of the Honor Oak Reservoir by the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company was authorised by Act of Parliament in 1894 and building commenced in 1898. The water to be stored at the reservoir was intended primarily for South East London but if necessary it would also be possible to transfer the supply to North London. The site is 28.5 acres with the reservoir extending over 14.5 acres and at the time of construction, with a capacity of between 56 and 60 million gallons, was the largest brick lined underground reservoir in the world.
It was discovered that the clay excavated from the site was very suitable for the manufacture of bricks. Plant was installed for producing the bricks used for the reservoir and it’s estimated between 16 and 19 million bricks were made. This recycling saved a lot of money, not only by making the purchasing and transporting of bricks unnecessary but also costs for removing and disposal of surplus material were saved.
The Metropolitan Water Board was set up in 1903 and took over the running of the nine private companies that had previously supplied water to London, including the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company. The construction of the Honor Oak Reservoir was taken over by the Water Board and on completion named the Beachcroft Reservoir after the first Chairman of the Metropolitan Water Board, Sir Melvill Beachcroft.
The reservoir consists of what is essentially a series of tunnels running north to south. Brick piers support a brick roof and there is a 6” layer of concrete laid over the roof. Topsoil was laid over the concrete and the area turfed, and in 1912 the Aquarius Golf Club was founded to create a 9 hole golf course on the roof of the reservoir. Originally only for members of the Metropolitan Water Board but now open to the whole community, the club is still going strong and recently celebrated its centenary. A one day community-run music festival is held there annually in August.
The opening ceremony for the Honor Oak Reservoir was held on 9 May 1909. Nearly 40 years earlier, the Southwark and Vauxhall Water Company had commenced work on building 4 new reservoirs in nearby Nunhead. The Times announced its construction in the edition of 9 March 1972. “The excavations have already proceeded to some depth, about 350 labourers being engaged in the work. When complete, the reservoirs will have a depth of 22 feet of water. The upper reservoirs will contain 6 million gallons of water, and the lower ones 12 million gallons. They will be roofed and covered in, and the surface above turfed, covering an area of about 15 acres. An immense engine-house and pumping engine, together with extensive blocks of cottages and other buildings, will be erected on the premises. The floors and sides of the reservoirs will be lined with brickwork, coated with cement.”
For many years, the covered reservoir was used informally by the general public as a recreation spot but in 2014, Thames Water, the owners of the reservoir, erected a second fence inside the perimeter fence to keep people out. Security concerns were given as the reason. The Friends of Nunhead Reservoir are campaigning to allow free access to the reservoir whilst at the same time addressing Thames Water's concerns. The two parties are in discussion and it is hoped that public access, perhaps of a limited nature, will be allowed once more.