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Mepal (Fortrey's Hall) Pumping Station, Engine Bank, Mepal

early draft new page, revision 2 (note, much more to be added)


This pumping station is situated at Engine Bank, Mepal, to the west of the Washes (the opposite side to the village of Mepal) on the west side of the Counter Drain into which it discharges.

It is owned and operated by the Sutton & Mepal Internal Drainage Board (S&M IDB). The drainage district was formed by Act of Parliament in 1749 covering approx 9,000 acres of fen west of the Washes, increased to 10,348 by 18404.. The 2012 IDB plan shows the rateable area is now 4680 hectares, some 11,565 acres, and the Board also has to drain some additional "highland" catchment areas on its north-west and southern borders.

For nearly 100 years it was drained by wind-powered scoopwheels (usually called windmills or wind pumps).
  Below is a general view of the site in 2011 seen from the inlet side.
inlet side taken in 2011 by Eddy Edwards
Photo: EE, May 2011
Above, left to right: the small brick building is the 1990 electric pump control room; three discharge pipes from the submerged electric pumps; weed grab above cart; pipe from IDBs northern drain; pumping station cottage (1970); weedscreen below trailer; the 1927-28 diesel engine house; the 1840 steam engine building; and workshop, previously boiler house?

And this is how it looks from the east side of the Counterdrain
Counterdrain side taken in 2011 by Eddy Edwards
Photo: EE, May 2011

Potted history

period engine: make model, type, fuel rating hp pump tpm m3/s head acres
discharge/remarks/other refs
1749 six wind-mills                
1840-1927 Butterley
steam beam
80hp scoopwheel
32ft2,4 or 34ft3 diam, 4ft wide
      10,348 replaced 6 windpumps 2, 3
1884     36ft diam in use 120         2,4
1927-1939 Vickers-Petters
4-cyl vertical
2-stroke hot-bulb diesel
250 hp No.1: Gwynnes
42" centrifugal
150     engine disintegrated when started in 1939 Replaced with Brush driving the original pump
1927-1947 Vickers-Petters
4-cyl vertical
2-stroke hot-bulb Diesel
250 hp No 2: Gwynnes 42" centrifugal 150     removed 19473replaced by Ruston Hornby
1939 Brush, 4M13
4-cyl horizontal opposed diesel
250 hp
at 250 rpm
No.1: Gwynnes 42" centrifugal 150       engine and pump in situ 2013 but not used for many years due to damaged foundations. It was run for a few minutes in June 19895  
1949-now Ruston & Hornsby
5VEBX (no 282122)
5 cyl vertical
4 stroke diesel
300 bhp
at 500 rpm
No 2: Gwynnes 42" centrifugal
200 2.55?     Stand-by/ supplementary since 1990.
Use Dec 2012-Jan 2013 after v heavy rains

19903-now 3 x Flygt
  11,565 Automatic operation. Small brick control building. New intake. Three new discharge pipes with syphon valves. 1
Bold text indicates equipment still operational.
Early diesel engines were known as "oil"engines.
ref source
1 David Stimson, Sutton & Mepal IDB District Officer
2 David J Sanders: Draining the Fen with particular reference to the parish of Mepal, 1998
3 KSG Hinde: Fenland Pumping Engines
4 Richard L Hills: Machines Mills & Uncountable Costly Necessities, 1967
5 Chris Allen, Stationery Engine Research Group (SERG)
6 Acts of Parliament of 1748-9, 1777 and 1806 (copies in the collection of Eddy Edwards)

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Photo: Eddy Edwards, May 2011

Steam Power

The IDB's records show the steam plant was built in 1840 although many people think it was 1810 because the date on the wall plaque between the two windows of the tall engine house has weathered. Click photo to see the correct year.
An 80hp Butterley steam beam-engine designed by Joseph Glynn was installed driving a scoopwheel 34ft in diameter & 4ft wide, said to discharge 120 tons per minute (tpm). It drained 10,500 acres and replaced six wind pumps.
inlet side taken in 2011 by Eddy Edwards
Photo: Eddy Edwards, Feb 2013

Photo: Eddy Edwards, May 2011
The left-hand photo above shows the tall engine house in 2013, externally much as it was in 1840. The boiler house was on the left of the engine house;  the photo clearly shows that the roof and front wall have been raised, an old doorway bricked up and new metal doors fitted; it is now a workshop. The scoopwheel house was on the other side of the engine house but was demolished c1927 to make room for the diesel engine house. The black area on the right-hand photo marks its position.

The discharge point can still be seen, albeit bricked up, below the level portion of wooden fencing. ing.
inlet side taken in 2011 by Eddy Edwards
Photo: Eddy Edwards, Feb 2013

Photo: Eddy Edwards, May 2011

Date of construction above window

Photo: Eddy Edwards, May 2011


In 1925 the District Commissioners decided to replace the steam station with a diesel-fuel driven one. In August that year they considered ten tenders, choosing the two lowest, from Vickers-Petters (V-P) for a 2-stroke engine, and from Blackstone for a 4-stroke, to be put to the Unemployment Grants Committee who would subsidise the cost. There was much discussion about the relative merits of 2-stroke and 4-stroke engines, with the V-P eventually winning by 12 votes to 8. (I am indebted to David J Sanders for much of this information2.)

A new brick building to house the new plant was erected, joined to the steam-engine house after the scoop wheel house was demolished. Other equipment included two vertical sluice valves to control discharge and  pump primers.

The Commissioner's borrowing power was increased to £15,000 under The Sutton and Mepal Drainage Order 1926, presumably to help pay for the works, and further increased to a total of £21,000 by an order of 1929.   by Eddy Edwards Photo: Eddy Edwards, May 2011


Vickers-Petters engines

Two 4-cyl vertical 2-stroke diesel engines rated at 250hp were installed in 1927, each driving a 42inch Gwynnes centrifugal pump discharging 150 tpm3. These engines used the "hot-bulb" method of ignition, which involved starting with compressed-air driven paraffin blow lamps fitted at the top of each cylinder. Hinde says they were unreliable. One apparently one blew up in 1939 and this time just two tenders were received, from Brush (for a secondhand machine), and from Allen & Sons; the Brush was slightly cheaper and was accepted.   The other Vickers-Petters remained until 1949 when it was replaced with a Ruston & Hornsby .

Brush engine

This was a 4-cyl horizontally opposed 4-stroke diesel, model 4M13, originally rated at 380bhp at 333rpm, but reduced to 250bhp at 250rpm to be compatible to the existing 1927 Gynnes pump which it drove3. It was built in 1935 and first installed in a mill before being moved here in 19391. This engine, like the majority of large diesels of the period, was started using compressed air at 300 pounds per sq.inch (psi) to turn the engine over, and an air-compressor and air receiver were needed.

Photo: Eddy Edwards, Feb 2013
"front" view of the Brush

Photo: Eddy Edwards, Jan 2013
rear of Brush, drive belts under wire guard, and the pump

Ruston and Hornsby engine

In 1949 a 5cyl vertical diesel type 5VEB, rated at 300 bhp at 500rpm, was installed in the old steam house and connected to the other 1927 Gwynnes 42-inch centrifugal pump by 20 V belts.

Wall plaque on electric pump-house
Photo: Eddy Edwards, May 2011


The station was converted to electric power in 1990 with new inlet and outlet points and three new auto-controlled submersible pumps with a total capacity of 3.00 m3/sec, and an automatic weed grab.
 by Eddy Edwards Photo: Eddy Edwards, May 2012

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Irrigation Slacker

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Sutton & Mepal IDB - Board Members

Name From in To Position representing
Allan, A   2011      
Allpress, P   2011      
Angood, RJ   2011      
Deamer, J   2011      
Heading HJ   2011      
Lack IR   2011     Huntingdon DC
Latta, M   2011      
Lee, C   2011      
Lee, RJ   2011      
Pearson, RC   2011      
Robinson, PB   2011      
Scott, T   2011      
Smith, RH   2011      
Sole, JO   2011      
Sole, P   2011      
Veal, EF   2011      
Wilkinson, AS   2011   Chairman 2011  

District Officer

Name From in To Phone mobile
Stimson, David   2011   01353 778230 07747 803758

Contact Details

e:mail: admin@middlelevel.gov.uk, phone: 01354 653232


Text and photos except where noted © Eddy Edwards, 2010-12

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Index and links

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