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Cambridge Museum of Technology relights the fire



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The fire has been lit for the first time in eight years in a historic refurbished boiler at the Cambridge Museum of Technology.

Engineer Jinx St Leger lights the first fire for four years in the refurbished bolier at the Museum of Techonogy. Picture: Keith Heppell
Engineer Jinx St Leger lights the first fire for four years in the refurbished bolier at the Museum of Techonogy. Picture: Keith Heppell

The restoration process at the museum – located in a Victorian sewage pumping station – began in 2018, with more than £100,000 committed by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic England. A further £5,812 was raised in a fundraising campaign in 2018. Work was finally completed, and certified by an inspector, on Monday (March 7).

Jinx St Léger, the chief engineer at the museum, who project-managed the whole restoration process, said: “This is the first firing since it broke. It stopped working mid-steaming in 2014. Contractors were on site for nearly two years, on and off, because we had to have different sets. The boiler had been rebuilt at the end of 2019 and then we had to do adjustments ourselves. Then the pandemic occurred.”

The Babcock and Wilcox boiler is one of three remaining at the site, where originally there were four. “None of this could have been done without the volunteers,” said Jinx. “I was employed by the museum for two years to manage the project. I’m a volunteer now and we’ve had volunteers who were involved 30-odd years ago coming back to help – it’s just been an amazing community feeling.

“I’ve been very privileged to work with some very, very experienced and talented engineering people.” Jinx added: “It’s been the experience of a lifetime doing it. I don’t think in my engineering career I will ever do something like this again – and I think that goes for most of us.”

Engineer Jinx St Leger lights the first fire for four years in the refurbished bolier at the Museum of Techonogy. Picture: Keith Heppell
Engineer Jinx St Leger lights the first fire for four years in the refurbished bolier at the Museum of Techonogy. Picture: Keith Heppell

Cambridge’s sewage was dumped in the River Cam during the Victorian age, causing cholera epidemics and other public health problems. The 1894 pumping station was built to improve sanitation by pumping it out.

Household rubbish was originally collected by horse and cart and burnt at the station to heat the boilers, which provided steam to the engines to pump the waste to a sewage farm in Milton, where it was used as a fertiliser.

As rubbish collections decreased in the 1920s, the Babcock and Wilcox number four boiler was installed as a back-up because it burned coke – a form of coal. It became the main boiler during the Second World War as rubbish collections declined.

Engineer Jinx St Leger lights the first fire for four years in the refurbished bolier at the Museum of Techonogy. Picture: Keith Heppell
Engineer Jinx St Leger lights the first fire for four years in the refurbished bolier at the Museum of Techonogy. Picture: Keith Heppell

Since the pumping station opened as a museum, the boiler was used to fuel the internationally-important Hathorn Davey steam engines. Restoration keeps the historic technology alive.

For more information on the museum, visit museumoftechnology.com.

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