Testing the waters: Teddington People reviews the London Museum of Water & Steam

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By Teddington People | Saturday, April 26, 2014, 11:10

Following its £2.3 million re-development, the London Museum of Water & Steam reopened last month boasting its new name and a range of indoor and outdoor activities promising to keep families entertained. Teddington People took three 9 year-olds boys along to the museum to test the waters.

The Kew Bridge Pumping Station was originally opened in 1838, supplying London with a constant supply of clean water that was pumped directly into people’s homes using steam engines for the first time. It was this single technical innovation which made the expansion of London into a world city possible.

More recently the site of the world’s oldest surviving waterworks has operated as the Kew Bridge Steam Museum in its unassuming building less than a 30 minute drive away from Teddington, just off the A315.

However, fresh from winning Heritage Lottery funding it has now rebranded itself and shifted emphasis. Oliver Pearcey, Chairman of the Trustees explained: “The London Museum of Water & Steam is now internationally recognised as a site of major historic significance. As a result of our renovation we’ve had the opportunity to provide new and enhanced displays, more family orientated attractions and greatly enhanced visitor facilities, as well as a complete reinterpretation of the site, buildings and exhibits.”

So did our three 9-year-old "volunteers" agree? Would the new-look museum float their boat? Teddington People visited during the Easter holidays to find out.

When we arrived, we spent a large chunk of our time in the Waterworks Gallery where we embarked on an engaging, interactive journey through the ages. Taking us deep down below London past a timeline of pipes we could see the work needed to keep a modern city going. There were examples of how water was used from the 17th Century to the present day, and the kids could crawl-through tunnels and walk-through sewers which our 9-year-old "guinea pigs" certainly did.

Once we dragged the boys away from the sewers, we explored the centrifugal pumps which are used for water supplies today. They spent a good ten minutes elatedly spinning levers to see how they worked and discovering that it gets harder to pump the water the higher it goes.

After that, we moved on to two laboratory areas where we examined clean and dirty water and checked out how much water we now use in the UK compared to other places around the world.

Outside, and this was a particular highlight among the three children we took, we explored the new Splashzone. Our intrepid young explorers enjoyed over half an hour of making water travel to heights of up to 5 metres using pulleys, levers, sluices and pumps.

As well as the more interactive attractions, the museum houses five original and four other large pumping engines. One of these - the 90 inch Cornish Engine - is the largest working example in the world. Most of these engines are in steam every weekend and on bank holidays, along with the museum’s diesel pumps, narrow gauge railway and steam fire engine. On weekdays a number of engines are operated electrically including the Hindley Waterwheel and the James Kay double beam rotative engine.

Another welcome addition was the new café serving delicious teas and coffees (out of china cups) and healthy snacks and meals. It can be enjoyed by visitors and non-visitors alike.

And no write-up would be complete without mentioning the lovely urban garden which local volunteer Margaret took us around. With lovely touches - flowers growing out of a little wooden steam engine, a scarecrow made by Margaret herself, a small pond with tadpoles and little watering pots that kids can use to water plants - there was plenty to keep adults and children entertained.

After a good 4 hours at the museum I felt like we could return and still get a lot out of it. Because we were there on a weekday we didn't see the engines out in steam and we might also have explored the Maudsley and the Boulton & Watt engines in a little more detail. Although these could perhaps be more suited to older children and to adults.

But overall, it was a day well spent and our young "reviewers" agreed judging by the number of times they asked if they could stay for "just 5 more minutes, please!"

Entry into the museum is £11.50 for adults and £5 for children.

Contact details for the museum are here.



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