Monday, 31 August 2015

The Delta Works of the 19th century

After fifteen years I re-visited a pumping station near some of the deepest regions (located several meters below mean sea level) of the Netherlands, which houses one of the world’s oldest museums dedicated to hydraulic engineering: the Cruquius. The pumping station contributed to draining the former Haarlemmermeer (‘meer’ meaning ‘lake’) between 1849 and 1852. After serving as a backup station it was formally taken out of service in 1932 and turned into a museum two years later. It now displays several hydraulic pumps used in other projects, but most attention goes to the eight enormous lift pumps and the central cylinder engine, which can still move - on electricity, and no longer pump water.

The museum, which is housed in the pumping station’s workshops, sends out message rests on emphasizing a continuous battle between the Dutch and their ‘water wolf’. For example, it depicts a heroic Dutch lion in the shape of the landscape of west Holland after the reclaiming the lake. The names of the three pumping stations are after three hydraulic engineers who brought forward plans for reclaiming the Haarlemmermeer: Jan Adriaanszoon Leeghwater (plans dating back to the mid-17th century), Nicolaas Kruik (Latinised name Cruquius, early 18th century), Frans van Lynden van Hemmen (early 19th century) which also indicates a form of ‘heroism’.

Before the pumping stations were constructed, water management in polders and reclamation of small wetlands was mostly done by using wind mills, (Archimedes’) screw pumps and water wheels, but in the late 18th century, steam driven engines step by step became employed in hydraulic engineering works. The construction of three large pumping stations to drain the Haarlemmermeer represented a solid establishment of using steam power for land reclamation.

The Haarlemmermeer measured around 17,000 hectares, which more than out-doubled the largest drainage project done so far by means of wind mills (Beemster polder of around 7,000 hectares). Over the centuries the lake had expanded gradually (eroding its shores, breaking connections to nearby other lakes, as well as deepening up to 4 meters due to underwater peat extraction). Although plans for draining the lake existed earlier, it necessitated socio-political reasons, as well as the advent of hard wind and steam power engines, to materialize. According to the museum, William the First (the first king of the Netherlands) needed to improve his public image after Belgium declared its independence from Holland in 1830. Also major storms in the 1830s, extending the lake further, threatening the urbanizing cities along its edges. Reclaiming the Haarlemmermeer could from this perspective be seen as a nation (re-)building effort, attempted with steam engines in pumping stations displaying grandeur and technological achievement.

Because besides its hydraulic background, a striking feature of the pumping station is its architecture. When looking at the station’s pictures, but even more when visiting its interior, it is hard not to associate the structure to designs of churches or castles. Its buttresses, lancet-shaped windows, battlements and keep support an authoritative affirmation by the church and state power with the practice of ‘pumping out water’. Therefore, well worth to pay it a visit and to learn more about this feature of water management in the Dutch delta.

Get Adobe Flash player
Photo Gallery by

No comments:

Post a Comment