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Monday, 29 February 2016

February's Hipster Museum: The Steam Museum

Earlier this month we featured Kew Bridge's Steam Museum as one of our top heritage wedding venues. We have a little suspicion that a few of you may have thought - wait what? Where is that? An industrial museum in London? Is Kew Bridge in London? These are exactly the sort of questions we hope to answer in our #hipstermuseum series, so with that in mind, we made the trek to become one with the power of steam.

If you want to get to the Steam Museum, then you'll need to board a train at Waterloo at take it all the way (shock horror) to Zone 3. Yes thats right, further out than your zone 1-2 travel card- but hey, if you want to see three story tall steam engines in situ, then you need to travel a bit. (Yes we know you can see a steam engine at the Science Museum, but its not sitting in its original, purpose built building IS IT?!) Once you get off the train you shouldn't have too much difficulty locating the museum as its enormous 200 foot high Italianate standpipe tower literally towers over the local area. While it might look like it, this isn't actually a chimney, but a clever series of inter-connected pipes which helped maintain the pressure between the water mains and the fu**king enormous steam engines inside the waterworks.

The Kew Bridge Pumping Station (aka the buildings and machinery which now comprise the museum) was founded in 1838 to help improve the drinking water for early nineteenth century London. As you probably know from your medical history, the first half of the 1800s was not a super great time to be alive in the city- what with all the cholera and that. It was discovered however that the water to the West of the city was less polluted, and therefore the station was constructed by the Grand Junction Waterworks Company. The buildings were made around the enormous steam engines needed to pump water to residents, and many of them are still in place today, now supplemented by further acquisitions to the historic collections. 

Despite expanding and making an enormous amount of money, it turns out private companies like the Grand Junction Waterworks weren't necessarily providing London with the clean water it needed. The government stepped in and created the Metropolitan Water Board in 1904. Not overly impressed with the Victorian facilities at Kew, the MWB chose not to modernise, leaving the steam engines running until the 1940s. After its closure in the mid-twentieth century, Kew Bridge pumping station was immediately designated as a museum - although one that wasn't really open to the public or advertised. You simply had to be in the know to get in. #1950shipsters 

Since its 2014 refurbishment, the newly rebranded Steam Museum is trying to make its name as a cool, interactive place to learn about the history of sanitation and water engineering in London. But its also a totally awesome and aesthetic venue perfect for events, filming, and badass industrial selfies, as well as a popular place for school tours and, as ever, engineering geekery. 

It might be a bit of a trek, but the Steam Museum is such an amazing atmospheric site its already been in some of your favourite TV shows including Dr Who and East Enders. With a swish new cafe, brand new interpretation, and an ever increasing events programme, it's definitely worth the trip west! 

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