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Lea Bridge Station c. 1940 (Vestry House Museum)


Thomas Wicksteed was appointed Chief Engineer of the East London Waterworks Company out of thirty-two candidates. He was the engineer of the reconstruction of the Lea Bridge Mills in order to adapt them for pumping water to the East London Waterworks Company’s district. Mr Wicksteed carried out the work to remove the source of supply from Old Ford, on the tidal part of the River Lea, to Lea Bridge above the influence of the tide.[1]

The source of water for the East London Waterworks was moved further up river to Lea Bridge as a result of pollution caused by population growth to the south and to raise the source higher than the tidal Thames. Even at Lea Bridge the condition of the river was far from ideal as a source of water to be supplied without filtration.[2]

A parallel channel was made by the East London Waterworks Company under an Act of 1829 extending its powers.[3] (from Lea Bridge to Old Ford alongside the Lea trustees' Hackney or New cut by 1834.)

The lease and freehold were bought by the East London Waterworks Company, [4] [5] and also gained a lease on the existing reservoir at Clapton.[6]


The Clapton Stages coming within half a mile (of the Horse and Groom), every hour in the day, from nine in the morning till nine at night, thereby enabling the London angler to enjoy his favourite amusement for a few hours daily, of which he would otherwise be deprived, from the distance of other waters’.[7]

Paradise dock constructed (a.k.a. Lea Bridge Dock/ Ashpitel’s Dock) by W.H. Ashpitel.

Ship Aground Beer House constructed at the site of the current Ship Aground.


Saxon boat find south east of Lea Bridge (Waterworks).[8]

Lea Bridge in 1831


Marsh Lane named as Pond Lane.[9]


John Hammond leases land at Middlesex Wharf from Lord Amherst, probably the site of the Jolly Anglers and part of the land that became Latham’s Timber Yard. He also had a calico-printing on former brickfields immediately south of Lea dock in 1832 and acquired more land in 1838.[10]


By this date, the £150 annuity to the Tyssen family for the rights of Jeremy's Ferry was ended by a payment of a lump sum of £3,700, representing over 24 years.


Horse and Groom is a notable spot for fishing; ‘Next, above is the Horse and Groom water, formerly Sparrey's, now Snowden's, this water, from its being also near London is much frequented, it is a most excellent water, and contains every variety of fresh water fish, many Jack are taken yearly, and also fine Carp from the swim called Clark's ditch, Salmon were formerly taken here, when coming up from the Thames to spawn, but latterly, owing to the numerous obstructions they cannot get up but with great difficulty, however, I understand many have been seen here, as also at the before mentioned water. Is there any Angler who has never heard of Lea bridge? I should think not, in London at all events, for among the subscribers to this water, may be reckoned some of the oldest and best fishers of the day. The subscribers here are numerous besides, day tickets may be obtained to bottom fish only.[11]

Engineer Thomas Telford reported to Parliament regarding the east London Works after carrying out ‘an inspection of the new aqueduct and reservoirs now near completion, for taking water from the river Lea at the tail of the Lea Bridge Mills’. After an inquiry of 1828 and an Act of Parliament of 1829, the Company put in place a scheme to take water from the River Lea at, or near, Lea Bridge Mills, above the influence of the tide, and to convey it to Old Ford by means of a new aqueduct (insulated from all other water). Telford reported that ‘these Works are now on the eve of completion, and will be in action in the month of June of the present year, within the time allowed by the Act of Parliament’.


In 1837, the water supply was increased by reconstruction of the Waterworks at Lea Bridge. Lea Bridge reservoir was built between the river, the cut and the new channel.[12]

In 1837, Walter Hunter (1772-1852), millwright, supplied and installed steam pumping engines, pumping equipment, and water wheels at the Lea Bridge Mill of the East London Waterworks. Hunter was formerly principal foreman to engineer John Rennie (under whom W.H. Ashpitel trained). He was in partnership with William English (1807-1850) and in 1807-8 set up their Bow Works. James Walker, architect and engineer of the 1820 Lea Bridge of iron, commissioned Bow Works to cast an iron swing bridge for commercial dock and later had English act as resident engineer for the Vauxhall Bridge of 1816-16. In 1827/8 they supplied two swing Bridges for London docks.[13]


On 17th December 1838, Barnabus Kirkbright gave evidence at the Central Criminal Court. Henry Jones, a policeman, was indicted for breaking and entering a building within the curtilage of the dwelling-house of William Hurst Ashpitel, on the 24th November, and stealing therein 1 goose, price 5s., his property. He stated: “I am in the employ of William Hurst Ashpitel, who is master of a brick-field and gravel-pits. There is a dwelling and a counting-house in the field, which I live in. The goose was lost from a shed, a little distance from the house, on the 24th of November. It is an open field—there is no fence. I found it afterwards at the prisoner's premises, No. 26 College-street, still alive—this is it—(looking at it)—I know it by a brown feather in its back—it weighs 13lbs”.


There are at Clapton a neat iron bridge, called Lea Bridge, over the Lea, and a handsome building erected for the London Orphan Asylum.[14]


In 1840, the Northern and Eastern railway line from Stratford to Broxbourne opened with a station at Lea Bridge.[15] An Act of 1839/40 introduced this diversion of the main Northern and Eastern Railway. The viaduct at Lea Bridge of 1843 is attributed to a design by Robert Stephenson (son of George Stephenson) and designer of the Britannia Railway Bridge across the Menai Straits and the High Level Bridge in Newcastle. Stephenson was a commissioner of the short-lived London Metropolitan Commission of Sewers formed by the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers Act of 1848 and which incorporating the Tower Hamlets Commissioners for Sewers. The Commission was a response to outbreak of cholera in London (see later).


This was the heyday of horticulture and market gardening. In 1839, potatoes, turnips, green peas, green clover, and tares were being grown for London consumption and as green manure crops and all the marshland and two-thirds of the upland grass were being mown, sometimes twice, for hay. A watercress grower is mentioned in 1863 and 1882. The Holloway Down nursery was sold to the Victoria Land and Settlement Company. Pamplin’s nursery at Black Marsh Farm, Lea Bridge was given up soon after 1870. Finlay Fraser’s nursery, Lea Bridge Road, and the American nursery of Protheroe and Morris in Leytonstone High Road flourished until the early 1890s.[16]


[1] Institute of Civil Engineers Virtual Library

[2] A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5: Local Administration and Public Services: Utility Services, pp. 37-47, Fn 3. W.R. Powell (Editor). 1995

[3] A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10: Hackney: Communications, pp. 4-10, Fn 66. T.F.T. Baker (Editor). 1995

[4] A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10: Hackney: Public services, pp. 108-115, Fn 82. T.F.T. Baker (Editor). 1995

[5] Ibid. 3, p. 39; Dickinson, Water Supply, 89-90; River Lee Navigation Act, 7 Geo. III, c. 51; Robinson, Hackney, i. 11, 49. In History of the County of Middlesex.

[6]  A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10: Hackney: Public services, pp. 108-115. T.F.T. Baker (Editor). 1995

[7] The Angler's Guide: Being a plain and complete practical treatise of the art, Page 332. Thomas Frederick Salter. 1830

[8] Sites and Monuments Records

[9] A History of the County of Middlesex Volume 10: Hackney: Communications, pp. 4-10, Fn 41.  T.F.T. Baker (Editor). 1995

[10] A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10: Hackney: Economic History, pp. 92-101. 1995

[11] The London Angler's Book, or Waltonian chronicle. 1834

[12] A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10: Hackney: Public services, pp. 108-115, Fn 84. T.F.T.Baker (Editor). 1995

[13] A biographical dictionary of civil engineers in Great Britain and Ireland. A. W. Skempton

[14] Market towns of Middlesex Hackney in 1839. www.oldtowns.co.uk/Middlesex/hackney.htm

[15] A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6: Leyton: Introduction, pp. 174-184. 1973

[16] The Road to Jeremy’s Ferry. Oral history of “Leyton Gateway” Lea Bridge Road. Norma Crooks. 2003

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© leabridge.org.uk December 2012