Pumping Station Number 1

Completed in 1882 to dispose of the city’s sewage, the pumping station continued to operate until 1957.

The Pump House, 544 Tuam Street
The Pump House. Photographer (pht): Cafe Cecil, Contributor (ctb): Cafe Cecil. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Following the establishment of Christchurch, the developing city initially had no effective way of disposing of sewage and household waste in a sanitary manner. Rivers, such as the Avon, soon became polluted and deaths from diphtheria and typhoid were common. Drainage was originally the responsibility of the Canterbury Provincial Government (formed in 1853), however, the absence of an efficient system to dispose of waste eventually led to the formation of the Christchurch City Council in 1862.

Although various attempts were made to create a drainage system, the disagreements between the Christchurch City Council and the independent road boards (Avon, Spreydon, Heathcote, and Riccarton), meant that a separate body was required to implement a common drainage system. Following the typhoid epidemic of 1875, the Christchurch Drainage Bill was passed in October 1875.  The Christchurch Drainage Board, formed with members from the Christchurch City Council and a member from each of the Road Boards, met for the first time on 4 January 1876. The Board’s jurisdiction was termed the “Sewage Area” while those regions outside of it which were covered by the road boards were termed rural areas.

The Board initially appointed John Curruthers, the Engineer in Chief of the Public Works Department, to produce a scheme for a sewage system. Although his scheme was presented in 1877, the Board was unable to proceed with it due to ratepayer opposition. On the advice of a ratepayer deputation, William Clark, a drainage engineer, was hired. Clark refined the scheme that Curruthers had proposed and presented it to the Board on 2 April 1878.

Clark’s plan allowed for rain water to be carried by surface channels and brick and pipe drains to be discharged into rivers. Sewage was to be carried from properties via a covered pipe drain and into sewage pipes. The pipes were to meet at the junction of East Belt (Fitzgerald Avenue) and Tuam Street. From there the sewage would flow to a pumping station built on Drainage Board land at the corner of Tuam Street and Mathesons Road.

At the pumping station, the sewage would be discharged into a tank under the station that measured thirty feet in diameter and was twenty one feet deep. The station plan allowed for the accommodation of four pumps powered by two 48 horsepower steam engines. The pumps would transfer the sewage from the tank into an iron main that ran from the station for 2.8 kilometres. From there it was discharged into an open course that flowed to the sewage farm in the sand dunes at Bromley.

After approving Clark’s scheme in May, the Board appointed its engineer, Napier Bell, to oversee the construction of the pumping station. Clark went to London where he negotiated the tenders for the construction of boilers, machinery, and the iron main. From there he sent plans for the station and the tank to Bell in April 1879. The tender of T. H. Parsons to construct the sewers and pumping station was accepted by the Drainage Board in March 1880.

The construction of the tank was made difficult due to the condition of the ground, which consisted of quicksand and spring water. To remedy this, Parsons constructed a wooden cylinder twenty feet deep and thirty six feet in diameter. The cylinder was weighted and allowed to sink into the quicksand to a depth of twenty feet. This was completed by 31 May 1880. Water and sand were then pumped out of the cylinder using a chain pump driven by a portable engine.

The floor and walls of the cylinder were then laid with cement and bricks. Near the top of the tank was the main sewer opening. Further within the sewer was a square chamber with screens that filtered solid debris from being deposited into the tank.

To erect the building and to support the weight of the machinery, a layer of shingle was embedded in the ground upon which a concrete base five feet deep was laid.

While construction of the pumping station building took place, the sewers were laid throughout the city. During this time the sand dunes at Bromley were levelled and the irrigation channels that dispersed the sewage over the dunes were constructed.

The pumping station officially opened on 14 September 1882 with an attendance by members of the Drainage Board and their visitors. The pump was turned on at 11:50am, after which the attendees journeyed to the sand dunes at Bromley to see the end result.  After commencing operation, it took four and a half hours of pumping to clear a day’s worth of accumulated sewage from the tank. The original engine and pumps remained in operation until 1936 when three Blackstone pumps, which could process 13,000,000 gallons of sewage per day, were installed.

The pumping station continued to operate until 1957 when a new pumping station on Pages Road was established by the Drainage Board. After ceasing to operate, the former pumping station building was then used as a maintenance depot. After a new maintenance depot was constructed in Bromley in 1988, the Tuam Street site was made redundant.

The building was purchased by Paddy and Jackie Snowdon in 1989 for use as a show room for their salvage yard business.

The 2011 earthquakes caused significant damage to the building. After a structural assessment, it was found to be under the minimum standard. The Snowdons wished to preserve the building and so remedial work was undertaken in 2017 by CGW Consulting Engineers and Higgs Construction. The restoration and re-strengthening of the building was signed off in June 2019.

The former pumping station building continues to operate as a show room for the salvage business, The Pumphouse Demolition Yard.

Map, Waterworks Pumping Station No. 1

Map showing the location of the Waterworks Pumping Station No. 1 Pumphouse. Visible are Tuam Street, Mathesons Road, England Street, and Olliviers Road. Bottom right corner displays signature of...