Possibly Cambridge Museum of Technology is an example of Big Society in action. It’s also the perfect place to spend a few hours on a wet bank holiday afternoon, soaking in the smell of hot metal and grease.
The museum is housed in a Victorian pumping station, staffed by volunteers, and stuffed with beautifully maintained Victorian technology of the giant cast iron variety. The stars of the show are the working steam engines – generally fired up on Bank Holidays and other special occasions so do check in advance if you’re planning to visit.
All brasswork is kept polished, paintwork bright and there seem to be plenty of young persons being instructed in the art of correctly wielding giant spanners and flicking oily rags around. They were using number 4 boiler today, and piping steam around the whole site into various warm cosy temples to industry. As well as the original pumping engines that pumpes sewage out of central Cambridge for decades, various other machines have ended up there as heavy industry moved out of the city.
This chap’s entire job seemed to be to protect the sightline to these gauges for the person who was operating the main steam engines and also add tone with his tremendous whiskers.
This chap on the left was the one leaping around instructing the troops and getting up steam pressure, by sheer force of will alone it seemed. There was much pushing in of rods, sending engineering students to fetch things and easing wheels round a quarter turn until suddenly – success – and the giant flywheel started to move, the rods to go in and out and the engine was working. It was a lovely thing to see.
It’s not just steam engines though. Lots of other beautiful, obsolete things in there, including the above – I couldn’t actually tell you what it did but it’s very beautiful. Plus examples of domestic switches from the early days of electricity to the present day. And lots of different examples of early light bulbs.
There’s also a printshop, stuffed with enough presses and letterpress equipment to make Justin of the Typoretum’s fingers tingle, although sadly not all of it in working order. They also had an early monotype machine and various souvenirs of pre-digital printing days.
The next steam days are 30th August and then 30th and 31st October. Non steam days the museum is open, including lots of early computing machines we didn’t get to see. Check opening times here.
It’s also full of beautiful industrial still lifes which I found difficult to resist, so forgive the self indulgence.
Cambridge Museum of Technology
The Old Pumping Station
Tags: cambridge · cambridgeshire · east anglia · east of england · museums · printmaking · Technology · victorian