History: Visit to Stratford’s Abbey Mills site where hero father lost his life

Les Sherman from Redbridge during a visit to the Abbey Mills sewage works where his father died savi

Les Sherman from Redbridge during a visit to the Abbey Mills sewage works where his father died saving the life of a colleague. Pic - Les's dad Henry. - Credit: Archant

For many, Abbey Mills pumping station in West Ham is one of the wonders of Victorian engineering – the so-called “Cathedral of Sewage”.

Les Sherman from Redbridge during a visit to the Abbey Mills sewage works where his father died savi

Les Sherman from Redbridge during a visit to the Abbey Mills sewage works where his father died saving the life of a colleague. - Credit: Archant

For Les Sherman, it’s the place where his dad was killed saving one of his fellow workers almost 80 years ago.

In the intervening years, Les, who grew up in the Portway, Stratford, has often walked past the iconic building on the Greenway path that runs alongside, but has never been inside.

Last weekend, though, Les and his wife Margaret were given a tour of the complex by Thames Water and taken to the exact spot where, in 1935, sewer flusher Henry Sherman met his tragic end.

“It was very poignant to see the spot where my father died,” said Les, 82.

Abbey Mills Pumping Station, Stratford

Abbey Mills Pumping Station, Stratford - Credit: Archant


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“I was only three when my father died and don’t really have any memories of him. All I have are photos and what my mother and my brothers and sisters have told me, along with the press cuttings of the accident and the inquest.”

Henry, then 47, was a sewer flusher at Abbey Mills at the time of his death. During a routine Sunday evening shift, he heard one of his colleagues in trouble in a washout chamber at the pumping station and went down the shaft to help him out.

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“The man, WJ Reed, a former Mayor of West Ham, had been overcome by fumes,” said Les.

“My dad went down to help him out but didn’t manage it. He was overcome too and it was only when other men went down wearing smoke helmets that they were both brought up by ropes and taken to hospital.

“Mr Reed was apparently released later the same day but my father suffered brain damage and died three days later.”

With eight children and a widow left behind, Henry’s death could have meant destitution for the family but the Metropolitan Water Board paid his wife compensation and she was able to buy her own house in Forest Gate.

She never remarried, bringing up the children by herself.

“It was wonderful to see inside the pumping station at last,” said Les.

“According to my family, dad always said that it was the talk of the town, the biggest in Europe. I’m very grateful for what the people at Thames Water did, including showing me the spot where they think my father tried to rescue his colleague.”

Read more:

Researching Stratford’s First World War German internment camp

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