Boughton Pumping Station must have aroused the excited curiosity of generations of children in Newark, Nottinghamshire. Fenced off and mysterious, it looks like a huge fire station from one side, and Wonka's Chocolate Factory from another, with a chimney tall enough to be a local landmark.
Pumping water from deep underground was a year-round task. Built in 1909, the two huge steam engines ran continuously for 60 years, pausing not even for maintenance, so engineers had to be swift and agile. The mighty day-and-night rumbling was no doubt a source of many grumbling giant stories.
Now the public can venture inside the splendid listed Edwardian building to admire the glazed bricks and ornate stonework, the rows of half-moon windows, the enormous scale of the thing, while finding out, first-hand, what happened when the giant grumbled.
The station has been restored to the magnificence of its glory years, when it pumped enough water to supply every house in Nottingham. Pumping is now controlled electronically.
Inside the main building is a heritage centre with story boards, a working model of a steam pumping engine and audio-taped reminiscences from retired workers. The huge central space where the engines once throbbed is disappointing - plenty of plants and fresh paint but no interesting bits of restored machinery, no visual indication of the engines' dimensions and no attempt to recreate their thunderous roar.
In the basement is Energetica, an exhibition showing the future of power, with working models to demonstrate windpower, solar power and the like, but lacking information.
Clean power is an abiding theme, a new system for fuelling the pumps will make Boughton the first commercial building in the United Kingdom to have zero CO2 emissions.
Visitors can look down the surprisingly small original well hole. The main indoor feature is a wall of water tumbling from the roof. A chute diverts some of it on to a water wheel, which spins with impressive speed.
School parties are accom-panied by Derek Lowe, a cheerful man who has worked at Boughton long enough to remember when it supported a self-contained community.
Cleanliness was, according to Mr Lowe, definitely cheek-by-jowl with godliness. It inspired confidence in water quality and prevented costly engine damage. So floormats were installed everywhere and metal surfaces were constantly oiled to keep rust at bay - even steps and handrails.
The local sandy soil proved a problem - sharp grains of sand could damage finely-tuned engines. So Boughton was landscaped with shrubs and trees to make a barrier between the pumps and the outside world.
Just over the fence is Davey House, a red-bricked palace housing working engines, unfortunately closed to the public.
Boughton Pumping Station opened to the public in March. A preliminary teacher's visit is essential. The station offers excellent potential for the study of water supplies, alternative power and period architecture. Education is one item on the station's list - not quite an afterthought, and a little time and effort is needed to make a visit worthwhile.
Boughton Pumping Station, Brake Lane, Boughton, Newark, Notts NG22 9HQ. Tel: 01623 862366. Open every day except Christmas, April to October 10am-5pm, November to March 10am-4pm. Free planning visits for teachers. Group rates: pound;2 per child, one adult free with minimum of eight paying children, extra adults pound;3 each