Nutbourne Common Pumping Station by Barton Willmore

West Sussex Winner

When a valued building becomes redundant or obsolete, perhaps due to technology or capacity, what do you do with it? What if it has some historical significance? Is is sacriligious to remove all traces of its prior purpose? The pumping station at Nutbourne Common raises these questions and fires up a lot of opinions about ‘restoration’ – also about spin and perception in ‘reality’ television.

Nutbourne Common Pumping Station”  is an early episode (S01E02) of the BBC’s “Restoration Home” which follows “owners of crumbling historic buildings as they save them from ruin by restoring them into 21st-century dream houses”.

BBC Synopsis:

Nutbourne pumping station in West Sussex is a wreck. It closed in the 1970s and is now an industrial-size bunker full of rusting, redundant, heavy duty machinery. But this ruin was at the heart of a revolution that saved our grandparents’ generation and changed society forever.
Its remarkable past doesn’t stop there, it was slap bang in the heyday of architectural design and played a crucial role in the dark, dismal years of the 1930s depression.
For new owners Nick and Brigitte, the rotting bunker offered the ideal space for them and their five-year-old twins. Their plan is ambitious – turn the concrete carcass into a carbon efficient home for life. When the couple first bought the pumping station, they had no sentimental attachment to its former life. But as they learn about its past, their feelings towards the building begin to change.

In reality: an architect spies a redundant industrial property with great potential for residential conversion. Career, design and commerical success demand an all-out renovation, not a period-piece polishing of pumps and pipes. Yet viewers (on Youtube-1 and Youtube-2 , at least) decry the very success of the project because they wanted to see someone invest hundreds of thousands of pounds to convert and live in a ‘family’ home that would be nothing but a faux museum of not-much-interest located off the beaten track.

Did these viewers not get the part about “21st-century dream houses”? Or did they fall victim to the bookish seriousness presented by the show’s scripted delivery of the expert researchers? Perhaps it’s the producer’s misplaced use of the term ‘restoration’ for this episode where, clearly, the owner/designer’s going-in and unwavering plan was to create a modern family home. Perhaps it’s the narrative that tries to twist the owners’ – and the viewers’ – emotions about gutting the structure of 15 tonnes* of rusting, redundant pumping machinery and a massive gantry crane, trimming impossibly placed concrete and code-failing railings, and introducing modern energy technology and design aspects necessary for a modern home. (* also reported as “35 tons” )

If this involved a significant historical legacy, an overwhelming design heritage or even a more accessible, populous location, perhaps there would have been different options. Given the size and population of Britain, few places are truly out of the way – they’re always mere miles from someone or something – but this is no place for a science sideshow. The art-deco-ish exterior flavour is largely intact and a hint of the industrial genes of the building are retained – and no-one else coughed up the cash to make this into anything else.

While not even a listed building, the project did win a Sussex Heritage Trust Award for best residential development, 2011:

“A beautifully restored project – Carbon plus – brimming with the latest technology. Skilful use of space, excellent attention to detail – a very worthy winner, showing how an industrial type building can become a family home”

This is a clear example of “highest and best use” for the property, a strong tenet of real estate planning and valuation. The existing bones of the building – its deep wells, water storage tanks and broad, unobstructed interior spaces – are repurposed to great effect and supplemented with geothermal technology, comfortable living spaces and contemporary style. (The volume does seem to have overwhelmed the budget and/or the designer, needing Ikea to fill the space as best as possible.) Adding solar panels, high tech insulation plus heating and rainwater recovery systems only increases the desirability and practicality of living in a disused pumping station from 1932.

Let’s recap:

  • crumbling historic building
  • saved from ruin
  • 21st-century dream house

So why all the viewer angst about not being a “restoration” and not being a “home”?


Nutbourne Common Pumping Station by Barton Willmore – Mapped by

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Nutbourne Common Pumping Station by Barton Willmore 50.952087, -0.472002 Nutbourne Common Pumping Station by Barton Willmore


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Property Location

Pulborough, West Sussex, England, UK
Pulborough, West Sussex, England, UK


Nutbourne Common Pumping Station by Barton Willmore

From the architect:

In 2010, Design Partner Nick Sweet and his wife Brigitte decided to take on the conversion of a disused water pumping station in Nutbourne, West Sussex turning it into an Eco-house.

The transformation shows what can be created from a redundant, dilapidated industrial building, reusing the existing fabric, whilst a combination of high levels of insulation, geothermal heating (using two existing large boreholes found beneath the building) and a significant solar array combine to deliver renewable energy objectives, producing a modern house whose earnings significantly exceed its costs.

The whole process was filmed by the BBC for their ‘Restoration Home’ series, capturing key moments throughout the project. The scheme has since won the Sussex Heritage Trust Award for best residential development 2011 as well as being commended in the Best Conversion category of the British Homes Awards.


Drawings from Barton Willmore


Screen Captures from BBC Restoration Home

Architects: Barton Willmore, London
Design Partner: Nick Sweet
Main Contractor: H A Marks Ltd
Completion: 2011



Additional Media

Look for BBC’s “Restoration Home” on DVD via Amazon or eBay.

BBC Restoration Home S01E02, First Broadcast 12 Jul 2011
(Not currently available on BBC iPlayer)

BBC iPlayer preview clip (2:11)  (Requires UK presence or proxy)

Barton Willmore clip with drawings (Youtube, 1:27)

BBC Restoration Home S01E02, Nutbourne Pumping Station – link 1 (Youtube, 59:01)

BBC Restoration Home S01E02, Nutbourne Pumping Station – link 2 (Youtube, 59:01)





  1. Finally! Finally someone gets what we were aiming to achieve with the scheme.

    I really would like to commend you for the balance of your report. It has been interesting to see the dialogue on You Tube and other blogs between the Heritage Trolls and those who appreciate the scheme for what it is. We have picked up a number of other awards since the programme came out and we tend to see these as an endorsement of our approach

    For clarity, when we were approached by the BBC to do the Restoration Home programme, we told them that we were actually planning a conversion but I think they were just intrigued by the task w were taking on. We recently finished filming a show for US tv called ‘You live in What?’ which I guess might be more appropriate

    Eiher way, thanks again

    Nick Sweet

  2. Carl W. Goss says:

    Still, the fact remains that the structure is basically an industrial building. Yes, it’s been converted to single family uses and remodeled very nicely. Greened up. Spruced up a little, too.

    But it isn’t really a home; it’s just a stripped down industrial building. You can partition the place into as many bedrooms, and bathrooms as you want. You can add a kitchen and eating area, and a den, but in the end, it’s still a converted industrial building. No warmth. No homeyness if you will.

    It’s an interesting conversion, but it’s just not a place most people would like to live in, I’d say.

    Wood paneling would help. Drapes, tapestries. The place needs more color. What’s with this bleak black and white scheme? Now that I think about it, it reminds me of a US hospital.

    Los Angeles CA

    • Thanks for your comment, Carl.

      I disagree about it remaining an “industrial” building. It would be if they had somehow been convinced or forced to leave miscellaneous pumps and pipes or railings as a part of the design. But remnants of its industrial roots really aren’t apparent. This is just clean, contemporary design.

      The interior photos do show early-days images, cleaned up for the shoot and less “personal”. On a typical day it would probably look much more “homey”, but I think typical tapestries and the like would be out of place with the design concept. I agree that more wood elements might lend a softer look – perhaps a walnut kitchen or engineered-wood floors in place of some of all that tile.

      It’s clear they ended on a tight ‘Ikea budget’, but that’s also how millions of families choose to decorate their homes around the world. The next owners might change it up, use the spaces differently, but the building conversion remains one of my favourites.