Monday 21 December 2009

Carshalton And The Mother of All Drain Pressure Relase Pipes

I was taking a short walk between the two 'villages' of Sutton and Carshalton the other week  (and in the process coming across enough bits and pieces to make a future decent posting) and was just going over the railway bridge on Carshalton Road when I caught sight of a most intriguing Drain Pressure Release Pipe in the far distance.

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These pressure release pipes are often referred to as 'Stink Pipes', which seems quite an inappropriate name for something as elegant.  They serve a couple of purposes - firstly as a way of preventing any build up of pressure in underground sewers in the event of a blockage or any other build up of gas, and secondly to make sure that any corrosive hydrogen sulphide gas was vented off. There's a very interesting article on the subject in the Northern Echo with the following explanation from a sewer engineer
"The gas is mainly hydrogen sulphide and it gives that rotten eggs smell, " said Gary Paley, of Darlington, who has been a sewerage engineer for 18 years in Yorkshire. "It usually occurs when sewage is being pumped long distances. It can become septic as it does not travel from A to B quick enough. It can also occur in flat areas where the speed of flow is slower.
"The gas will eat concrete if not dealt with. I remember that the sewer near the racecourse in Thirsk had been almost totally eaten by the gas and just the reinforcing bars from inside the concrete pipes were left. "
Useful utilitarian things then stink pipes, but not an obvious candidate for decorative trappings. I'd seen the same design when a passenger in a car near the Purley Way in Croydon, but this was the first opportunity I'd had of taking a few pictures and having a closer look and it was well worth the effort - even if it was a bit tricky to capture all the details.

There are a couple of things about this pipe that really stand out. The first is the height . Most of the pipes I've documented before have been considerably shorter but this one rises above the street like a needle, possibly up to twice the height of some others. The second eye-catcher is the extraordinarily ornate top fixture comprising a large arrow, a globe with four 'trumpet' funnels and a spiked spire piercing what looks like a crown.

 Of course having had the opportunity to have a look at this one and marvel at its complexities, I then spotted another one down a side road on the journey back to Sutton! As it was a only a few streets away it's tempting to assume it's part of the same pipe run but as it's on the other side of the railway line that would suggest that either the drain is very deep or it's on a parallel, but separate, spur. The second pipe on Weihurst Gardens is, however, also close to the railway line which might suggest the drain and the railway followed the same course.
Then yesterday I was going through Carshalton - on Park Hill Road this time - and spotted a couple more of these pipes along the roadside, One yet again by a (different) railway line with a second pipe (lacking both spike and crown)  just down Park Hill.

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There is very little distance between all four of them which again suggests they were bought and erected at about the same time on the same main drain (or two). If they are venting off of a main drain it might also be the case that it is fairly deep and potentially 'lively', possibly releasing considerable amounts of rather smelly gas. It might therefore require particularly tall pipes in order to disperse it with minimum inconvenience to the locals. Sound reasoning?

One of the big questions I then had was with regard to the purpose of the arrow. Arrows are usually directional in nature, telling people where to go, but the height of these pipes make them impractical if they were for use by the public and there's certainly no indication as to what they might be pointing to. The only logical possibility I can come up with is that they actually point in the direction of the underground main and indicate the flow. When I've nothing better to do I might go back and plot their positions on a map and show the direction that each arrow points in. If they pretty much line up I'll feel vindicated. If they point all over the place I'll have to come up with a new theory

I can't really come up with much to explain the other features though. I assume the ball with four funnels must act as a baffle in some way, allowing the gas to disperse efficiently. Could having an open pipe cause a problem if the wind was from a certain direction? The significance of the crown and spike eludes me completely though, unless the manufacturers had a royal warrant or something equivalent. It seems quite a lot of ornate ironwork for purely decorative purposes but who knows?

This seems to be an explainable addition though, a sleeve with what look like ceramic insulators for either electrical cables or telephone lines, I'm not sure which. Obviously defunct these days, it looks as though they've been given a coat or two of rust resistant paint as well.

Who made these wonderful pipes is the next question. I didn't see anything on the first drainpipe, but the second one I spotted on the corner of Weihurst Gardens has a makers mark on the pipe

W. Macfarlane & Co. Glasgow
 It doesn't take much searching before you realise that these pipes are the produce of one of the greatest of all Victorian iron works, the Saracen Foundry,  the construction of which create the new Glasgow suburb of Possil Park. 

 Walter Macfarlane

Named by Walter himself after a pub by the businesses' original site (The Saracen's Head this foundry produced huge amounts of decorative and ornate iron work. Their catalogues were mighty, bound tomes and contained thousands of items of all description relating to ironwork and as they employed the most imaginative designers it's no surprise now that the finished ventilation pipe should be so ornate...Macfarlane's didn't do plain! There's a wealth of information on the company on the Scottish Ironworks site, including a gallery of some marvellous examples of surviving works. The foundry was a huge and inviting target for the Luftwaffe in the second world war and at the same time many examples of their work were lost in the drive to melt iron down for the war effort, but they produced so much and spread it so far around the globe that examples like the Carshalton stink-pipes ensure that the company may be gone, but are unlikely to be forgotten.


MichaelH said...

Thank you for this fascinating article. These pipes are quite extraordinary. I think the design must have appealed to the old Carshalton Urban District Council as they all seem to be within their area. I don't recall having seen any in Sutton, for instance, although I could be wrong. I think the ornate tops just reflect the fact that things were more ornamental in those days. Perhaps the pointed tip also suggests they might be expected to double as lightning conductors! Perhaps the one in Park Hill which is missing its spike and crown took a direct hit! As for the arrows, my guess is that they might simply be weather-vanes? They might not function as such any more as they are probably all seized up and pointing in random directions. By the way,I'm not volunteering to shin up there with a can of oil!

I notice that further along Carshalton Road at the junction with Cambridge Road, there seems to be what looks like a modern-day equivalent - just a boring stubby green vertical pipe (unless that's something to do with the adjacent petrol station). There is, however, another one of the ornate designs in nearby Westmead Road, at the junction with Meadow Road, and there are probably loads more. Incidentally, not far from the pipe in Westmead Road there is (at the junction with Ringstead Road) one of the old pre-1960s road signs showing directions. These must be pretty rare by now, I should think.

Anonymous said...

There was one in Hillcroome Road, to the east of Sutton, just to the south of the railway. I haven't been there for a couple of years so I can't confirm it's still there, but let's hope so. They are truly remarkable structures, and one hopes that they will not be replaced by modern drably functional ones.

Dr Paul

Kourtney@London drainage said...

Pressure release pipe always doing an important job for releasing the blockage water. It can create pressure in underground sewers for releasing any kind of blockage and hydrogen sulphide gas which is vented in underground.

Colin West said...

I'm not quite sure but l have a vague recollection(I was from Carshalton 50s-60s)' that the arrows pointed to the nearest Air raid shelter during theWar.

schmindie said...

ahh this is a great article! I tried to map some of the sewer vents in Google Maps about six or seven years ago (but not the position of the arrows) - here's the link

Might be some help if you're still logging them anyway!

Steve Moore said...

There are a number of very similar pipes in Herne Bay - they are listed structures. I can't swear that they have the crown, or the arrow, but

I have actually only seen one of them - and because this was pre-internet, I had to 'invent' unsatisfactory theories for what it was!

Next time I have a chance, I'll take a list of their locations, and do a plot of them on a map.

I'm actually involved in a building project in Carshalton, so have had to look into drains, quite recently. Have you been in touch with Thames Water for a map of the sewers?

Unknown said...

Thanks for this article. Tere is another one by the railway line at the end of Palmerston Road (cul-de-sac) which is not on the map. I think the commenter is right they all appear to be within CUDC area.

Filmplop said...

Interesting article. I was sent here following a post made in a Sutton Facebook group about these. I'd always thought they were air raid sirens rather than sewer pipes!

Unknown said...

Love this thread.
I plotted the Carshalton sewer vents on a map about 20 years ago having lived around the corner from the Laburnam Av one. I used to push my baby's pram around the area until I found another one. Having started to plot them, I then predicted where I thought the next one would be, presuming they were roughly following a straight (ish) route. Lo and behold, the rest of them were found. My family have laughed at me for this over the years so I am soooo pleased to find like minded people. There are also 3 of the same type in Bideford. I now live within 100 yards of the Westcroft one and still enjoy picking them out as I drive past. Great to see them all now on a Google map but I was surprised to see one 'over the border' in Wallington. Went to check straight away and I have to say that the Ross Road one is not of the same type ( different top). Many thanks - I have had great fun reading these today

Anonymous said...

this is very interesting ,I found one of theses in Chichester didn't no what they were so put two photos on flashback Chichester and the fed back was amazing ,I now feel like an expert on these very ornate sewer pipes ,every day is a school day.

Robert Walker said...

It's an air raid siren, with the arrow pointing out nearest shelter!

Steve Moore said...

It really isn't.

Anonymous said...

This is really interesting. I searched for “wind vane, Meadow Road” as the structure is a “gym” in a game called Pokemon Go. I love this game as it gets me out and about in different areas and can lead me to research some fascinating pieces of history that are referenced in the game. Who knew that a simple mobile phone game could lead to such interesting knowledge of the world around us!

Howesthis said...

Pokamon go is how i found this item in Hernebay. Its labled as an airaid siron but can't be due to it having no power and no drum would fit in the bell at the top. The stink pipe sounds correct. The arrow would possibly be a wind vain giving the direction of air flow and stench direction. The bell and side vents are similar to a chimney cowl. Stopping water going in side. But alowing the wind to creat a vacume suckng the gas up the pipe. With regards to them pointing to an air rid shelter. Maybe the MOD did fix the arows to asist people.

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Unknown said...

What a fantastic article. I came across the self same pole in Cape Town on Monday night. My friends and I had some ideas for its use but none were near the Stink Pipe. So thank you all for your insight.

Kevin Roger said...

Thanks. It would be great if you could post a pic or two of the one in S Africa, that would be extraordinary

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Anonymous said...

What a coincidence! I was marvelling at one in Herne Bay (Mickleborough Hill) yesterday and wondering what it was. My Google search brought me here. Fascinating. What a shame we don't bother making things ornate and attractive anymore.

Jane said...

This is so interesting as until today I also thought these were air raid warning poles with the arrow pointing to the shelter. I walk past a lovely example of these stench pipes by the railway bridge near Butter Hill in Carshalton and I'm pretty sure there is one near Carshalton girls school...I'll check next time. I think I'll try walking past them all!