Chatham Maritime - Pump House No 5
As you can imagine, it takes a lot to drain four dry docks. Pump House 5 contained the equipment to do the job.
Situated level with the open ends of the docks, between the last dock and the River Medway, the pump house is around 200 feet long and 50 feet wide.
The square part of the building nearest the camera is the base of a huge chimney, which carried away the smoke from the steam engines' boilers, but which has been removed since the building fell into disuse.
To give you an idea of the power of the steam engines that were housed in here, the dry docks were drained during 2009 to allow building work. This was done with a diesel pump, and took three days. The steam powered pumps in the pump house used to be able to drain a dry dock in 45 minutes!
The pillars along the side of the building in the previous photo run along the side of a covered corridor, which shelters several windows and (unfortunately locked!) doors.
. At the south end of the covered corridor, just behind the camera position for the photo above, several dates have been engraved in stones in the brick wall. If you move your mouse over the picture, the carved stones will be highlighted. As you can see, there's also a circle painted on the wall. This might be a surveying mark; there's no sign of any writing to indicate it was a sign. As always, if you know what it was, please e-mail me.
Starting from the bottom, the lowest stone is rectangular and looks like it says "8/4/36".
The next one up is a trapezoid, which is a strange shape for a stone to be laid into a wall made from normal bricks. I couldn't tell whether the bricks around it had been cut to fit to it, or whether what you can see is just some sort of face plate and has a normal shaped back. It looks like it says "7/1/32".
The highest stone is rectangular and looks like it says "14/2/33".
I don't know what these dates mean; if they were there to mark dates when the stones were laid into the brickwork, then the lowest stone would have the earliest date, but it doesn't.
Robert wrote to me and told me these panels are "witnesses" or "tell-tales":
The ‘stone’ blocks let into the wall are actually thin bits of cement laid access cracks and dated, to check if the building walls have moved. You can see cracks in the brickwork on the photographs above and below and I guess someone was checking if that section of wall was still moving or had moved in the past but was now stable. Sometimes they use a rectangle of glass mortared to the wall at each side to do the same job.
At the end of the covered corridor is a bricked up door and a bricked up window on the wall to the left.
The bricked up door would have lead into this office, with what would have been some very nice wooden panelling in it. The main entrance is just behind the panel on the right.
Moving back along the corridor, there are a couple of windows I managed to take photos through, which show a few bits and pieces which have been left in the pumphouse. This photo was taken through the southern windows, and shows a workbench on the left, a large pile of old wood in the middle, and a cabinet on the right which has its own ventilation.
Moving north, towards the bricked up door, and looking through the windows at the other end of the building, there are several pieces of machinery covered with tarpaulins. The floor also has several metal covers on it, presumably to give access to the pumping machinery below.
Viewed from the north, you can see the main entrance. When I first visited I tried to see inside the building, but I couldn't much. There seemed to be a couple of offices, and a few stairs leading upwards, but little else.
Looking a little closer, you can see that there's a barrier in front of the main door, so you can't get too close. The date the building was finished, 1873, is quite plain to see though.
There's also a fenced-off area in front of the pump house, to the right, marked as being a dangerous area.
If it's marked as dangerous, it must be worth a look! A number of planks form a cover over a couple of big holes in the ground. Presumably this was where the outlet from the pumping equipment is, allowing the water to flow through the sea wall into the Medway.
Looking from the east gives a better overall impression of the area.
The pump house was built in 1873; the date is on the white stone above the main entrance. The brickwork gives you an idea of its age - the mixture of red and yellow bricks, along with the decorative way the bricks have been laid, are typical of Victorian industrial buildings.
Continuing north from the pumphouse takes you to St Mary's Island.
For years there didn't seem to be any definite plans for the pumphouse, it was just sitting there in the middle of all the other building work - being listed there are serious restrictions on what could be done with it. Things were obviously going on behind the scenes though, because in 2016 the Pump House became home to the Copper Rivet Distillery, a craft distillery producing gin, vodka and whisky. Like all good distillers they conduct public tours and include tasting!