Set in the Somerset Levels, Westonzoyland Pumping Station is a vivid reminder of the area's industrial heritage. © Westonzoyland Engine Trust.
Somerset's earliest steam-powered pumping station may have to close to the public if it doesn’t raise £5,000 by early next year.
The Grade 11* listed Westonzoyland Pumping Station near Bridgwater was built in 1830 and has been home to a collection of rare steam-powered pumps and engines for 25 years.
Through machines such as the 1861 Easton and Amos land drainage engine, the museum explores the power of steam and Somerset’s land drainage tradition, bringing to life an important, though often unrecognised, aspect of the county's history.
But, with its current boiler set to be decommissioned and a replacement in need of a £5,000 restoration programme, the museum faces a future without live steam.
Such a future, Westonzoyland Engine Trust committee member Christine Derrick told the 24 Hour Museum, would most likely mean the end of the museum.
The Easton and Amos land drainage engine was built in 1861 and is the earliest machine of its type still working in the area. © Westonzoyland Engine Trust.
"There’s no doubt at all that we get our biggest visitor numbers when we have live steam," said Christine.
Despite being a registered museum, Westonzoyland doesn’t get any financial support from local councils or museum bodies, but relies solely on visitor income, membership and donations.
Set in an isolated part of the Somerset Levels and only open on Sundays, Christine said that it was hard to attract a vast number of visitors. There’s very little budget for advertising and past experience shows that live steam events are what brings the most people in.
If the museum can’t run these events, the vital income generated through visitor numbers will drop and Christine is certain that closing down will become the only real option.
"The knock on effect will be that our income would drop" she said. This would mean the trust couldn't afford such things as property and public liability insurance. "Expenditure," said Christine, "would exceed income and of course the alternative means closure."
The pumping station itself is a protected and treasure building. © Westonzoyland Engine Trust.
"There’s no grey area," she added. "If the steam goes, we may just as well shut up shop."
With repairs to its current steam-producing boiler uneconomical, forcing it to be decommissioned at the end of this month, a 77-tube Marshall boiler is the museum’s last chance.
However, it needs to be fully restored both to get back in working order and to meet safety requirements. Work is currently underway, but the trust needs a total of around £5,000 by early next year to complete it and avoid having to go a full season without steam.
For such a tiny organisation, with just 60 members and only about 15 regularly active volunteers, raising enough money is a massive task.
An appeal has been launched and, as Christine explained, all donations (including expertise or a bit of free time) are welcome: "Anyone, anywhere," she said, "even if it’s only a quid."
The Marshall Boiler has 77 tubes, many of which need to be replaced. © Westonzoyland Engine Trust.
The appeal has so far reached the £3,000 mark, but much of it has come from the trust’s own funds, which are desperately needed for the general maintenance of the museum.
According to Christine, Westonzoyland occupies a unique place in the history of Somerset and without it part of the county’s story will remain untold.
She described it as part of Somerset’s "industrial archaeology," where people can come and see the earliest steam pumping engine on the Levels.
It is, she said, "an important part of Somerset heritage," and keeping the museum going she added, "will help keep that heritage alive."
To find out more about the appeal, visit the Westonzoyland Engine Trust website.