Kent and East Sussex Canal Restoration Group

5th - 6th May 2012

Archeology at Whitehouses Pumping Station

Words: Adam 'Digger' Morris

Over the first May bank holiday weekend, KESCRG returned to the Wendover Arm to continue their exploratory work on the Whitehouses Pumping Station in preparation for their summer camp in July. The Village Swan in Ivinghoe Aston provided a warm welcome for all until the switch for the heating was found in the nearby village hall. It was the first time in weeks that the rain had stopped and we were fortunate enough to have a completely dry weekend.

Saturday started with a slash and burn affair clearing an area for the summer camp to use for welfare and storage. Around 50 small trees were felled and incredibly Mick the Mattock Man and Andy spawned a fire from nothing but damp undergrowth with no chemical assistance! Of course there was the usual criticism of this task but the end result was the same, a roaring fire that burnt all of the material that it needed to, surrounded by a group of opinionated volunteers interspersed with the odd person trying to keep warm!

The clearance stopped when we reached the old outdoor toilet that was associated with the pump house. Now either the last person to use it had one tremendous curry the night before, or the bricks and mortar have not withstood the test of time! Unfortunately this means that we will need to have a good old thunderbox on the camp after all.

With the fire well underway and all of the logs neatly stacked for collection, Digger took great delight in demonstrating the reason for his hatred for Tirfors. All of the stumps were taken out, the soil removed, and they were all stacked on the fire in the time it would have taken to unroll the Tirfor cable for the first stump!

A few hardcore keeno’s started further excavation of the settling tank which was the main task for the weekend. There was a lot of digging and barrowing to be done but it wasn’t long before the pumping station presented its first reward of the weekend. In the centre of the wall above the settling tank was a stone with 1865 engraved into the face. This has caused some confusion as it doesn’t really tie in with the known history of the site but it gives us another period in time for us to focus our research on.

Tank before (Jenny Black)

Tank After (Jenny Black)

Date Stone (Jenny Black)

A dirty pint in the Village Swan was well deserved on the way back to the hall to discuss the findings of the day. A very filling meal produced by Eli, followed by a speedy AGM meant that the pub didn’t have to wait long for our return.

On Sunday morning, Mick, Roy, Jo & Jen built some sustainable steps into the batters of the canal to provide better access. They split some of the logs that were created on the Saturday and installed them as risers, the treads were then filled with the delightfully dry stiff material that the Wendover is renowned for.

New Access Steps (Richard Worthington)

RAF Martin and Digger started to excavate the rubble from in front of what was thought to be the 4’ high door into the coal bunker.

Excavating Cellar Door (Richard Worthington)

As the digging progressed Martin announced that the ash door for the boiler was appearing on the opposite wall. There was excitement in the camp as the excavation continued very slowly and gently until a little voice perked up from the back “Martin, why has the ash door got springs like a bed?”. Well, after a little more fettling, it actually turned out to be a bed and the excitement instantly subsided! The excavation continued and before long a bottle appeared, then another and another. In the corner of the basement a large number of bottles had been stacked. There were all sorts of different shapes and sizes, some with corks, some with glass stoppers, some with stripes, some with dots. We decided that the can of Tennents Super that we had found closer to the surface was probably a later edition!

Bottles (Jenny Black)

After we reached the floor we chased it along and then found the brick built steps down to the basement so this is another area that is fully excavated.

Cellar Door (Richard Worthington)

Cellar Steps (Richard Worthington)

Meanwhile Richard, Rowena and Jo were chasing the quarry tiles that had appeared around the fire and were starting to uncover what looked like the kitchen floor.

Tiled Floor (Richard Worthington)

Two small holes in the floor just begged for Richard’s camera to be inserted. The results were surprising; it looks as if the whole building has a cellar. All we can see at the moment is a doorway with more bottles stacked in it, still full, which have been undamaged by the demolition and backfilling of the original structure! This opens up a whole new area for excavation as it was something that we weren’t expecting.

Cellar (Jenny Black)

So, we still need to find the boiler house so that we can determine the layout of the engine but who knows what else we will find in the process? It seems to be the site that just keeps on giving.

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