You could be forgiven for thinking the Pumphouse Museum on South Access Road is a junk yard. if you stop and look through the fence as you are passing by, you are greeted by the sight of an old Victoria line train, a rusting train carriage and a mish mash collection of buildings. I’ve seen people walk past and cast a cursory glance in to the yard, perhaps wondering why there is a tube train parked so far from the station. Although the sight of the parked up vehicles attract people’s stares, they often walk on past and never venture in through the gates. The Pump House is just around the corner from us and we’ve been a few times, we visited again during the Open House London weekend and I was reminded how amazing it is that this relic from Walthamstow’s past has survived.
The museum is a former Victorian water pumping station built on the site of the old Low Hall Manor farm. The main building and its surviving Marshall C class steam engines are grade 2 listed, but they would have been lost had it not been for a man called John Bonser. John was the Director of Works at the Low Hall site and in the 70’s he had the idea of preserving it for future generations. His vision for the site was to create a museum that would celebrate the significant contribution the Lea Valley has made to the UK’s industrial and transport heritage. The museum hasn’t had an easy ride, the building faces the threat of demolition in 1994 but thankfully a band of very passionate and dedicated volunteers joined forces and saved it.
In amongst the exhibits on show in the engine house there are tools, oil cans and a workshop, making the Pumphouse still feel like a working pumping station. Sometimes sites like this can be over preserved and sanitized, but it’s not hard to imagine this museum as it was when it was operating. On our visit we had a chat with some of the volunteers that run the Pumphouse and their passion for the place and its history was clear to see. The charity behind the Pumphouse have some amazing plans to transform the museum but need to secure funding to put their plans in action. It may be a little rough around the edges, and until funding is secured it is unlikely to change significantly. But this little corner of Walthamstow protected by a small group of dedicated volunteers is real hidden gem. More information and the building and museum can be found on the Pumphouse website.