Original Installation

When built in 1910, the original installation consisted of two large Cornish Boilers. Each weighing 20 tons, 6 feet in diameter and 20 feet long, they were built by Marshalls of Gainsborough. A big advantage was their tolerance of poor quality water which for this station was ideal, as the water was collected either from the roof of the building, taken from the drainage channel or from the River Trent.

Looking impressive, these boilers were very much ‘low tech’, although their thermal efficiency was increased by passing the hot gasses under the bottom and sides of the boiler before being returned to the chimney. In fact this contributed to their eventual demise as the heat involved reacted with the brickwork supports and led to extensive areas of the metal on the underside of the boilers rotting away. Each boiler has a central fire box surrounded by a large water jacket. To provide steam the boiler was filled with water and the fire lit. To ensure the water level was maintained, it was monitored using the gauge located on the front and could be topped up by either the ‘ventura’ system or by use of a small steam powered Banjo type boiler feed pump.

Refurbishing one of the Cornish boilers has been investigated, but is far too expensive.  It is also worth bearing in mind, that to provide steam would require a three and a half tons of coal and a couple of days’ notice!

When first built, the machinery installed in the station comprised two, 'LT' class horizontal, compound, tandem steam engines built by Marshalls & Sons of Gainsborough driving 24 inch Drysdale centrifugal pumps which were made in Glasgow.

Although upsetting to the ‘purists’ it may help to provide a simple analogy to describe the action. Imagine if you will a tandem bicycle. There are two cyclists pedalling with all of the effort concentrated on the back wheel.

Bearing that in mind, this engine comprised two in-line cylinders, (a bit like the two cyclists). Steam would enter the first cylinder under pressure and be allowed to expand by pushing down on the piston (if you like, the pedals). Importantly however, rather than being allowed to exhaust to the atmosphere, the steam was then fed into the second cylinder and allowed to further expand by applying pressure to the second piston. This pressure on the two pistons was transferred by the crankshaft to the flywheel to provide motive power.


The steam engines were directly coupled to two Drysdale centrifugal pumps, each capable of moving 90,000 litres of water per minute or roughly 140 gallons per second. The pumps would have to ‘primed’, i.e. any air removed so the pump was filled with water, before being used.


In 1952, one of the Marshall steam engines was removed and was replaced by the present Ruston & Hornsby, twin cylinder, size 8, ‘HRC’ class diesel engine which could develop 94 BHP at 290 rpm (revolutions per minute). It is thought that the location for the new diesel was determined by the fact that the steam engine it replaced, being physically quite close to the Cornish boiler, had been used much more than the other steam engine and was basically worn out.


With the diesel operating at 290 rpm, and the previous steam engine operating at 140 rpm, specially designed gearing was fitted to ensure that the Drysdale pump operated at its optimum capacity.

By 1963, the boilers having deteriorated beyond economic repair, an annex had been erected to the southern side of the pumping station.

This housed a 3 cylinder vertical Lister Blackstone EV3 oil engine coupled to a Sulzer vertical impeller pump through a David Brown gear box. The Ruston engine remained in service as a secondary pump.  

In July 1981 an external electric pump was installed and the Lister Blackstone remained in service as the secondary pump.  

It was probably the fact that the later machinery was housed in a new building that was instrumental in ensuring that the heritage machinery remained intact.

Current Position

In 2007, OFPEPS was constituted at the request of the then Isle of Axholme Internal Drainage Board and granted a 50 year lease.

The Society has two aims;

  1. preserve and interpret the steam and oil engines housed in the South Street Pumping Station and,
  2. record and interpret the history of the Drainage of the Isle of Axholme.

At the 2013 AGM, a decision was taken to actively embark on a programme to provide steam to power the Marshall engine.

Inquiries were made to obtain quotations for a suitable boiler and the figures received ranged from between £8000.00 and £15000.00.

Given that such sums were completely outside OFPEPS resources, a fellow OFPEPS Trustee with a keen interest in steam engineering and an avid supporter of the Society, gifted an ‘uncertificated’ boiler which he owned to the Society. An ‘uncertificated boiler is one without a current inspection certificate to prove that it is safe to use.

And so began a journey to refurbish and install the boiler together with the necessary pipework. All of the refurbishment and installation work has been carried out by members of OFPEPS. Given our experience when trying to buy a new steam boiler, we feel this to be most important as it ensures that the necessary skills to carry out any future maintenance and repair are fostered in house.

As it had been agreed to do nothing which in any way disturbed the interior of the pumping house building, the refurbished boiler is now housed in an external container with only the new steam main visible inside.

The next few images show the work involved in refurbishing the boiler.

Now viewing work to the boiler before the fire tubes and bottom plate have been removed. Once able to see inside, it was noted that there were areas where the interior of the boiler had corroded. This had the effect of reducing the overall thickness of the skin of the boiler.

Having confirmed that the bottom part of the boiler was extensively rusted, new metal was welded in place to return the boiler shell to its original thickness.

New tubes were fitted when the boiler was re-assembled.

Chisel marks made to the edge of the bottom end plate when the boiler was dismantled demonstrate the care taken to ensure that it went back in exactly the correct position when it was reassembled. 

These two images show the boiler with the bottom plate held in place with bolts fitted to alternate holes. The bottom plate was then riveted into position and the new boiler tubes fitted.

Finally. this shows the boiler now in place with its associated ancillary pipework.

Steam is now available!

Check out the ‘Events’ page to see the ‘Steaming’ days for 2023.

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