Pump it!

Pump it!

I went to #Lemmer in the Netherlands for a #culture trip to learn about this masterpiece of #engineering and the #Dutch battle between Holland and #water to regain land. This is the largest steam-pump station ever built and is fascinating.


IR.D.F. Woudagemaal Pumping Station, 

Lemmer, the Netherlands

You probably wouldn’t even notice it if you were driving past. Just off the main street, a few hundreds metres down a small side road, is a brick building with what looks like a small lake in front of it.

If you look closely, you’ll notice that the building is elegantly designed, with a lovely symmetry and large windows between the bricks. From the outside, you would never know what is inside, though. Even if the sign on the building saying ‘Ir.D.F. Woudagemaal’ gave you a clue.

Inside this building are the mechanics of the largest steam-pump station ever built. 

It is a masterpiece of engineering and the most technologically advanced steam pumping station in the world. Most remarkable of all – it is still in use.

It is a masterpiece of engineering and the most technologically advanced steam pumping station in the world
Woudagemaal Pumping Station, Lemmer

The Wouda Pumping Station is on the edge of the Dutch city of Lemmer, a small residential centre in the north of the country. The station was built in 1920 and was just another battle in a long war between Holland and water. 

just another battle in a long war between Holland and water

Much of the Netherlands was once covered in water and was unusable for anything, but the country needed space for agriculture and for residential development.

from  $28

Woudagemaal Pumping Station Tour

Culture
 Lemmer, Netherlands
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A long process of removing the water and making the land habitable began centuries ago and I’ve written about some of the older techniques used at Kinderdijk and the Beemster Polder

They were extremely innovative for their time but seemed old-fashioned (although still quite effective) by the time the Wouda Pumping Station was conceived. Steam power was going to be the new technology that would bring the Dutch husbandry of water into the twentieth century.

Woudagemaal Pumping Station, Lemmer
Woudagemaal Pumping Station, Lemmer
Woudagemaal Pumping Station, Lemmer

The steam pumping station in Lemmer was not the first. The Dutch had started using steam to replace windmills in 1825 (a century earlier) and by the end of the 1800s there were about 700 of those pumps in operation across the country. They were much smaller, though, and hence were easier to design and build. The challenge with this new one was the sheer scale of it.

Woudagemaal Pumping Station, Lemmer

The reason the new pumping station had to be so large and powerful is because it was going to be a key part of preventing flooding in Friesland. It is capable of pumping 6 million m³ of water per day out into the sea. 

It is capable of pumping 6 million m³ of water per day out into the sea

Today, it still has the ability to do this, although it’s generally only used in extreme situations when the other main pumping station in the area has reached capacity.

Woudagemaal Pumping Station, Lemmer

Visiting the IR.D.F. Woudagemaal Pumping Station

So, because the Ir.D.F. Woudagemaal pumping station is technically operational, it is always being maintained so it is ready to go with very little notice. But because, in reality, it is rarely used, the whole compound is normally open for visitors.

Woudagemaal Pumping Station, Lemmer

You can only go inside as part of a guided tour but they leave regularly from the modern visitors centre that has been built next to the original building. The visitors' centre has a museum and a very slick 3D movie which you can watch while you wait for a tour to start.

Woudagemaal Pumping Station, Lemmer

On the afternoon that I turned up, after walking for half an hour from the Lemmer bus station, there was just one last tour left. I was the only person there but that was not a problem and I got a personal look around the inside. The guide has a tablet with audio commentary in different languages for each spot along the tour, so you don’t need to be able to speak Dutch.

... audio commentary in different languages ... you don’t need to be able to speak Dutch
Woudagemaal Pumping Station, Lemmer

My guide, a friendly retired engineer who volunteers as a guide once a fortnight, could speak English perfectly well so we chatted and I asked questions. He showed me the huge boilers that produce the steam, explained how it then made its way to the pumps, and let me look into the apparatus where the water would be pushed through when the system was firing on all cylinders.

The Ir.D.F. Woudagemaal pumping station is fascinating. 

The Ir.D.F. Woudagemaal pumping station is fascinating

I always love seeing the industrial sites that are on the World Heritage List and marvelling at the scale of human invention. But it adds another level when the mechanics are housed in a building that has been designed with aesthetics – and not just function – in mind.

Woudagemaal Pumping Station, Lemmer

This World Heritage Site is a little out of the way and may not be something you would naturally pass by on a trip to the Netherlands but it is easy enough to access by public transport or car and is worth visiting.

This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For more info click here.

You can see all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I’ve visited here.

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