In 1961 the LCC began discussions with the Ministry of Defence concerning the acquisition of most of the Royal Arsenal land for housing. This land extended up to the boundary of what had become the Crossness Sewage Treatment Works (CNSTW) under the control of the LCC's Public Health Engineer (PHE). By 1965 when the GLC was formed, a team of architects, planners and landscape architects had been assembled to develop the old Arsenal land as a mini New Town (later christened "Thamesmead") and the PHE's control of Crossness had passed into the hands of the newly-formed Thames Water Authority (TWA).
In December 1980, the buildings and engines were awarded Grade 1 listed status, and John Yates, a steam engine expert and enthusiast, employed in the Historic Buildings Division of the GLC, wrote a paper on the Crossness complex and in this he said, amongst other things "The engines as they now stand reflect the best practices of mechanical engineering in two periods: first, the middle period of steam engineering, largely reliant upon cast iron, and the late period with steel a dominant material. They are certainly the largest surviving rotative beam engines in this country, and are probably the largest in the world. There is no other comparable group of engines in one house. George Watkins, the leading authority on stationary steam plant (has) stated that no similar plant exists in the world, and they fully justify restoration".
Some of the officers in the Thamesmead group, with friends in the former PHE Department, were aware of the-existence of the old Crossness complex, and were allowed on rare and brief visits, to look at the engine house and its contents. Pleas were made from time to time, that some sort of rescue operation ought to be launched. At the same time, unknown to them, the Bexley Civic Society had also been endeavouring to persuade the TWA to, if not restore the complex, at least to preserve it. Neither groups' efforts at that time met with any success.
However in 1985, following steady lobbying, a meeting took place at the offices of the CNSTW, which included representatives of English Heritage; the Greater London Industrial Archaelogy Society, Bexley Civic Society, the Thamesmead Division of the GLC, Bexley London Borough Council, the Association for Industrial Archaeology and the Thames Water Authority. At the end of this meeting, a Steering Committee was formed to look into the possibility of the restoration of some or all of the complex and they ultimately reported that the long term restoration of the buildings and engines was a practical possibility, whereupon the Bexley Civic Society called a Public Meeting in 1985 to discuss the matter. Considerable interest was expressed by the audience, and with their agreement, the Crossness Beam Engines Preservation Group was formed, It was acknowledged that the task of restoring the buildings and the engines would be a major one, but that with the technical knowledge available to the Preservation Group and with the support of those bodies represented at the earlier meeting ar Crossness, the Committee stated that restoration work should proceed with all urgency.
It was recognized that it was essential to put the enterprise on a sound business footing, and so in 1988 the Crossness Engines Trust was created in order to ensure legal standing for the Group’s activities, as public and private money would be involved. All the members and officers of the Group were transferred en bloc to the new Trust, and work continued under the strengthened organization.Unfortunately, soon after the Trust was established, Thames Water decided that the work of the Trust had to be more strictly organized, and the complex was closed for over two years pending further discussions. Following an intense campaign in the media, and with the support of Bexley Borough and local MPs amongst others, an agreement was reached with the new management of Thames Water that on condition that the Trust carried out certain important work, together with the satisfactory completion of a new road for the public across Thamesmead’s land to the west, a 60-year lease (later extended to 125 years) would be granted to the Trust by the end of 1993. At that stage, it would enter upon the site as a bona-fide leaseholder.
Those initial difficulties have been overcome and since the mid 1990s the Trust has flourished. Both the London Borough of Bexley and Thames Water remain staunch and active supporters of the work of the Trust.
Aims of the Trust
The aims of the Trust are to restore the buildings and engines to their 1899 condition (the year in which the engines were compounded) and to create an exhibition covering developments in water engineering and public health.
The Trust recognised that, to achieve these aims, significant funding would have to be secured and worked for some time developing a project to attract such funding. In 2008 a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, together with grants from English Heritage and the Homes and Communities Agency allowed the Trust to proceed with a project costing £2.7 million. During the last few years we have experienced some delays but there is now a very strong possibility that the scheduled work, which includes the long awaited independent access to the site, will be completed in 2013
The funding received from the major grant giving bodies has been critical to the Trust in the last few years but, looking to the future, the Trust has to be a going concern. In that context the financial support from members, from visitors on Open Days and through the provision of services such as filming facilities remains essential.
Governance of the Trust is determined by a Memorandum and Articles of Association, submitted to and approved by the Charity Commission.
The work of the Trust is managed by a board comprising six executive directors and up to six non-executive directors, all of whom are unpaid. Two executive directors stand for election/re-election every year. The current Chairman is John Austin. Peter Bazalgette, the great-great-grandson of the builder of Sir Joseph, is President of the Trust.
An Executive Committee, consisting of the executive directors, together with other co-opted members meets at approximately monthly intervals, to deal with the routine running of the Trust.
The Trust currently has some 500 paid-up Members.