British Engineerium Works

A huge crane is all that gives away to passers-by the ambition of the ongoing works to the British Engineerium. But an open day will soon give the public the chance to see what has been going on since Hove’s great engineering museum closed six years ago.

The Engineerium opened as the Goldstone Pumping Station in 1866 and was operated by the Brighton, Hove and Preston Constant Service Water Supply Company. It was soon under pressure to supply more water so a second engine, twice as powerful as the first, was added in 1876. The two steam engines lasted well but, by the 1950s, this method of power generation was outdated. By the 1970s, the ornate buildings were under threat from the wrecking ball.

A successful campaign by Jonathan Minns and a dedicated team of engineering enthusiasts saw the buildings, and much of their contents, saved and put on show to the public. They opened as a museum in 1976 and became the British Engineerium in 1981. I recently met Bob Keenan and Hannah Staff for a tour of what is currently a hectic building site to see what Mike Holland and his team have been up to since he purchased the site six years ago.

I had forgotten just how large the plot is. At 3.5 acres, there are lots of nooks and crannies to explore. Most people know the very Victorian pump houses and famous chimney, but how many are aware of the grotto, 7ft deep cooling pond and buried reservoir? Several new buildings have been added, including the underground ‘ride’, which is to take visitors on some sort of interactive journey through our country’s engineering heritage. On the subject of the subterranean, I have long wanted to see inside the brick-vaulted reservoir. Bob wants to put a Hawker Harrier on top of it.

Another idea is to build Charles Babbage’s unrealised Victorian dream – the steam-powered computer. Embarking upon this mammoth task, and others, won’t be possible without a large team of volunteers, which is what Bob is searching for now. I recently wrote that Amberley Museum has over 400 volunteers. The Engineerium will need to capture the imagination of Brighton & Hove’s engineering fraternity – young and old – if a similarly strong team is to be built.

To that end, an open day is being held on Sunday 28th October from 11am to 4pm. See www.britishengineerium.org for details.