British Engineerium

Of the various Victorian and Edwardian pumping stations that once provided water to Brighton & Hove, the British Engineerium on Nevill Road, Hove, is the only remaining example. Now that the whole country is short of water, it seems a particularly appropriate time to look into its colourful past including its recent dramatic rescue by Stanmer House’s Mike Holland.

In 1862, a 3.5 acre site was purchased under the direction of Thomas Hawksley, who had over 150 waterworks to his name. It opened in 1866 as the Goldstone Pumping Station with a 160ft well as the source. Power came from a 120hp Woolf Compound condensing beam engine known as Number 1 Engine. A second engine, a 250hp jet condensing Woolf Compound, Number 2 Engine, was installed in 1875. Much of the action takes place under the ground though. In 1884, a 1.5 million gallon reservoir was added at a cost of £11,000. Various passages and holes lead to the subterranean boilers and coal stores. The demise of steam power during the 1950s made much of the works obsolete.

Fears of demolition subsided in 1971 when the various elements of the site were Grade II and II* Listed. Jonathan Minns and his team turned the buildings into a museum which opened in 1976 as the Brighton & Hove Engineerium but became the British Engineerium in 1981. Today, it houses 500 pieces and is one of the finest collections of its kind. Its prize exhibit is Stephenson’s model of Locomotive 1 – a replica of Britain’s first train known as the “Iron House”. Number 2 Engine is still operational and the sight of its monstrous gleaming wheel spinning on full-steam in the ‘health and safety’ gone-mad world of today is truly something special.

Although the Engineerium has always had funding problems, its recent closure surprised us all. I wasn’t surprised though when I heard that Mike Holland, whom I admire greatly, stepped in with £3 million of his own cash. He even wants to invest more and plans to introduce a themed restaurant, tearooms in the surrounding gardens and events such as classical concerts and weddings. “I couldn’t bear to see another part of Brighton & Hove’s heritage disappear”, he told me. Quite!

Following the purchase of the Clifton Hill Coach House by Roger Amerena and his Montpelier mates, this is a second smashing victory for local conservationists in as many months.