Builders move in on Waldersea

PUBLISHED: 13:10 01 November 2007 | UPDATED: 20:12 01 June 2010

Herbert Wheatley, who was born at Waldersea pumping station and took over the running of it from his father in the 1950s.
Picture: MATTHEW USHER

Herbert Wheatley, who was born at Waldersea pumping station and took over the running of it from his father in the 1950s. Picture: MATTHEW USHER

Story by CHRIS BISHOP FOR nearly 200 years it kept the low lying sea of peat that stretches south of the River Nene dry. Now the great pumps of Waldersea are silent and builders are moving in to convert the towering engine houses into homes. An era ended

The development's website...

Story by CHRIS BISHOP

FOR nearly 200 years it kept the low lying sea of peat that stretches south of the River Nene dry.

Now the great pumps of Waldersea are silent and builders are moving in to convert the towering engine houses into homes.

An era ended when the diesel pumps were decommissioned and the network of dykes which collected water to be pumped into the Nene were re-routed to a new automatic electric pumping station.

As well as making Waldersea redundant, it meant people were no longer required to be on site 24 hours a day, keeping a constant eye on water levels, fuel supplies and oil pressures.

For four generations, the pumps across the Fens were tended by the Wheatley family, who led an existence straight from the pages of Waterland.

Herbert Wheatley, now 80, was born at the pumping station in 1927 and lived in the cottage behind it until 2001 when it was bought by Cambridgeshire Historic Buildings Trust. Before Waldersea, his father, Herbert senior, ran a pumping station on the Forty Foot Drain.

"I started here when I was 17-years-old or so, after school. I just drifted into it I suppose," he said. "I can remember when father had three brothers at pumping stations, so it was in the family really.

"He was born at Floods Ferry, near Benwick, and there have been at least four generations work the pumping stations. That sort of thing went on in those days."

Mr Wheatley said life was hard for the pump minders and their families but the low-lying landscape, much of it below sea level, would soon flood without them.

"It was steam when I started," he said. "I was a fireman on the boilers. It was hard work but you didn't really think about it.

"If you had a heavy rainfall then there would be a lot of work. In 1947 everywhere was flooded, we were continuously working for weeks and we had to call in for help. It was bad in the 1953 floods too.

"When father retired in 1965 the steam pump had been scrapped and we had the diesels. The diesels made it easier because you had to fire up the boilers on the steam engines."

Mr Wheatley, now living in Walpole St Andrew, said he had accepted the property, once remote but now close to the A47, on the southern outskirts of Wisbech, was being converted into properties.

Property developer David Housden and his daughter Anna Rogers are restoring the old steam pumping station, built in 1827 and the newer diesel pump house, built in 1953.

The scheme includes a roof-top garden, veranda alongside the drain and possibly a swimming pool.

Mr Housden, who comes from March, admits he is so taken with the property he would love to live in it himself.

"I can't get permission; the wife won't let me," he said. "I've been working on her for the last three years."

He expects the scheme will take at least a year to complete. One of the first jobs is to remove the massive pumps and all the equipment that goes with them.

Everything from the pair of Ruston diesel engines to the slodging rakes with 12ft handles the pump keepers used to clear weed and debris are up for sale.

<>

<>XXX XXXX: Herbert Wheatley, who was born at Waldersea pumping station and took over the running of it from his father in the 1950s.

Picture: MATTHEW USHER

<> Herbert Wheatley takes a last look at the pumping station's engines.

Picture: MATTHEW USHER

<>XXX XXXX: David Housden and daughter Anna Rogers who are restoring the pumping station.

Picture: IAN BURT

<>XXXX XXXXX: The view from the rear of the station.

Picture: IAN BURT

<>XXX XXXXX: Anna Rogers surveys the inside of the massive pumping station.

Picture: IAN BURT

The development's website...

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