The Crofton Pumping Station near Great Bedwyn houses two historic beam engines, installed to pump water from the springs at Wilton up to the short top pound of the Kennet and Avon Canal.
Soon after the canal was opened to Hungerford in 1799, John Rennie set about solving the problem of pumping the necessary water 40 feet.
He contacted his old colleagues Boulton & Watt. They were building a large beam engine in 1801. It was intended for the West India Dock company, but in 1802 Rennie persuaded them to allow him to buy the engine at cost price less 200 guineas!
It arrived at Crofton in 1807, but there was a long delay whilst the pumping house was completed. Regular pumping began on 5th November 1809.
The engine proved very successful. Rennie immediately (in 1809) ordered a second engine from Boulton & Watt "the present engine having been found to answer in the most satisfactory manner". The second engine was in service in 1812.
In 1836 the springs were dammed to create Wilton Water – a lake covering 8 acres, and providing a more secure reservoir of water for the pumps.
In 1843 various changes were made to the No 1 engine by Harvey & Co (of Hayle in Cornwall). These proved problematical, and eventually that engine was replaced by one of Harvey's own "Sims" engines in 1846.
Whichever of these two magnificent beam engines is in use, they raise 1 ton of water per stroke. They operate at 11 strokes a minute, lifting the water 40 feet and delivering it into the mile long leat that runs to just beyond Crofton top lock.
1 ton of water per stroke represents 270 gallons.
11 strokes a minutes = 2,970 gallons per minute or 178,200 gallons per hour.
With each lock holding on average 60,000 gallons it means there is enough water from Crofton Pumping station to fill 3 locks per hour! With this water being split between east and west routes, this is only 1½ locks an hour in each direction.
Wilton Water from Pumping Station
View from Crofton Pumping station, across the railway and canal to
View across the 1836 dam to Crofton Pumping station, Apr 2010.
Plan showing the height of the canal above sea level - emphasising the short summit pound.
The plaque celebrating the 1812 Boulton & Watt engine - the world's oldest steam engine still able to perform its original function.
The boiler room
The boiler room, Apr 2010
Spectators watching the 1812 Boulton & Watt (No 2) engine, Apr 2010.
The outflow feeding the leat. 1 ton of water (270 gallons) with each stroke, (Apr 2010)
The 1 mile leat supplying 180,000 gallons of water per hour to the summit pound, Apr 2010.
- Kennet & Avon Canal Photo Gallery (for additional archive photographs)
- "The Kennet & Avon Canal", by Kenneth R. Clew, David & Charles 1973.
- "Queen of Waters", by Kirsten Elliott, Akeman Press 2010