Site unseen: The Old Pumping Station, Stoke Newington

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The Independent Culture
There aren't many buildings in London which make you rub your eyes and look twice. The old pumping station in Stoke Newington is one of them.

The much-travelled will say to themselves, "hold on, that reminds me of Stirling Castle". The eccentric will mutter, "great, another folly". The rest of us simply murmur "weird".

Everyone is right. The pumping station was built in 1854 by a Mr William Chadwell Mylne who did indeed base his design on Stirling Castle. One story has it that Mylne, on the verge of retirement as surveyor to the water company, allowed his imagination to run wild without fear of the sack. Another legend claims that locals, who didn't want their view spoiled by any "common or garden" pumping station, positively welcomed this Gothic extravaganza.

For most people, however, "The Castle" ranks as one of the capital's weirdest follies. Walk around a corner and it rears up at you. Keep going and it suddenly reappears in a different guise. Every morning I look across at it from my bedroom window and thank God that Mylne knew nothing of concrete.

In fairness, it must also be said that Mylne's pumping station had the severely practical function of helping bring the waters of the New River to Londoners. The main tower contained a chimney whilst the keep housed six steam engines and the buttresses concealed their flywheels.

The New River had been forged in the early 17th century by one of London's unheralded heroes, Sir Hugh Myddelton. But as London's population grew hugely in size, the demand for water likewise expanded. It fell to Mylne to help speed up the flow.

Yet modern technology both reaps and sows. By 1942, the pumping station at Stoke Newington was redundant. London's water could be supplied with ease by venues in Hertfordshire, where the New River had once begun.

Today, no one quite knows what to do with one of London's finest follies. The most imaginative suggestion is to convert it into an indoor climbing centre.

I reckon that both W C Mylne and Alfred Hitchcock would have approved of this idea: a perfect setting for anyone planning a remake of Vertigo.

The former pumping station "The Castle" is at 218 Green Lanes, E4

Andrew John Davies

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