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East London Waterworks Company

East London Waterworks Company

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Wood cut depicting the various installations of the company in 1886. Lea Bridge Waterworks is depicted middle right with two large chimneys (V&A).Click to enlarge (opens in a new window)

The early nineteenth century saw the foundation of a series waterworks of metropolitan scale and importance and the merger or acquisition of smaller works.

Smaller scale, local waterworks in this period were increasingly considered unsuited to the growing needs of the metropolis. The Kent Waterworks on the River Ravensbourne in Deptford consisted of a water wheel and two engines, not dissimilar to Lea Bridge. Thomas Wicksteed considered that ‘these works are scarcely considered metropolitan’.[28]

The South London waterworks were founded in 1805 into which the Old Borough and London Bridge works were consolidated in 1823. The West Middlesex waterworks were founded in 1806 and the Grand Junction waterworks in 1810. In 1803, the New River Company took over the Hampstead Waterworks supply, then according to Wicksteed, the oldest waterworks in London founded in 1589.[29]

Plan of Old Ford Works c.1828 (Hackney Archives).

The East London Waterworks Company was established under an Act of 1807[31]which defined the area of the capital to be supplied and authorized the Company to take waters from the Lea ‘at or near Old Ford’; but only ‘during such times as the tide water should be flowing up the river, and had flowed to such a height as to stop the working of the mills below on the river’.[32]

The principal supply came from the Lea at Old Ford from which the company supplied untreated river water. For almost a century the Company was the chief supplier of water, not only to London's East End but also to most of those districts over the Essex border, which became suburbanised.[33]

An Act of 1808[34]sanctioned the absorption by the Company of the Shadwell Waterworks (founded in 1660 the purchased first by the Dock Company and in 1808 by the East London Waterworks Company and subsequently closed when Old Ford Works opened) and West Ham waterworks (Founded in 1745 and purchased by East London waterworks at the same time as Shadwell works)[35]and their statutory rights to take the waters of the Lea.[36]

The opening of the East London Company’s works at Old Ford

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Invitation to the opening of the Old Ford Waterworks in 1809 (V&A) CIS:E.4591-1923.

Click to enlarge (opens in a new window)

Relatively little is written about the organisation and motives of the Waterworks Company’s members, but an account of the opening of the East London Company’s ‘stupendous’ works at Old Ford provides an insight into the political and social significance of the event.

On Monday the 23rd of October the East London water works at Old Ford were opened with due solemnity and considerable splendour. The court of directors assembled at the company's house in St Helen's Place Bishopgate Street and proceeded from thence to the parish church of St Mary Stratford Bow the chairman Sir Daniel Williams Knt. and the deputy chairman John Ord Esq at the head of the procession in carriages and one of the directors and Mr TR Pickering the secretary bringing up the rear.[39]

After service the procession commenced to the works at Old Ford where Col. Beaufoy of the 1st Royal Tower Hamlets Militia attended with his regiment. Here a convenient platform with seats and a cover over head was erected for the accommodation of the ladies.

It was soon filled with beauty and fashion. The royal standard waved on the top of a mound, which is prodigious dimensions and may vie with several of the pyramids of Egypt. The military bands of both the Tower Hamlets regiments were stationed in front of the places occupied by the ladies and hither on the sound of a bugle, which gave the signal of his approach, the Lord Mayor was conducted by the chairman deputy chairman and the other directors attended by a military guard of honour.

Here a plan of the stupendous works was presented by the engineer Mr Ralph Walker to whose superior abilities the works will bear lasting testimony That gentleman explained the plan and pointed out the use of the several parts of the design.

The Lord Mayor was then conducted as before a numerous assemblage of gentlemen following to one of the sluices forming a communication between the works and the river Lea. The tide set strongly in from the forming communication between the works and the river Lea. The tide set strongly in from the Thames and the chairman assisted by Lord Mayor turned the crane which opened the sluice and Father Thames poured his treasure of water into an immense reservoir strongly guarded with brick work and of an oval form.

The gentlemen present gave an English huzza thrice three times repealed they then passed on to the second sluice which opens into a similar reservoir the sluice was raised with the same ceremonies as the first and a party of artillery men under the command of Lieut. Wheeler fired a royal salute of twenty one gun the music played God save the King Rule Britannia, Water parted from the Sea with many other popular airs and the whole scene was impressively striking.[40]

The Chairman of the Company at the head of the procession, Sir Daniel Williams, was Colonel of the Tower Hamlets Militia and a Police Magistrate of Lambeth Street. He was knighted in 1802, and died 16thAugust 1831.[41]

Members & officers of the East London Waterworks Company in 1834

The East London Company comprised an ambitious and enterprising group of businessmen. A Directory of 1835 lists the following members of the Company. [10]

Chairman: Robert Vaux esq.

Deputy: John Castle Gant esq.

There were Thirteen Directors: Thomas Day, Edward Meyrick, George Prickett, William Venning, William Bayne, Robt H Marten, Philip Perring, Wm Prater, Wm H Sharp, Geo. T Nicholson. Jas. Young, Jos. Groat, Matt Whiting, esqrs

Engineer: Mr. Thomas Wicksteed,.

Chief Clerk and Secretary: Mr. T.N. Pickering at the Office 16 St Helen’s place.

St Helens place was the administrative headquarters of the Company whilst Old Ford was the operational headquarters (to be superseded by the Lea Bridge works after 1866).


References

[10] The Royal kalendar, and court and city register for England, Scotland Page 311 1834

28]On the Supply of Water to the Metropolis, The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, Volume 3 February 1840 (p. 45) Thomas Wicksteed

[29]On the Supply of Water to the Metropolis,The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, Volume 3 February 1840 (p. 45). Thomas Wicksteed

[30]Historical and Statistical Account of the present System of Supplying the Metropolis with Water,Journal of the Statistical Society of London (p.154) 1838-1886 (Vol. 1-49). Joseph Fletcher

[31](47 Geo.3.cap72).

[32]Reports from commissioners: River Commission: Minutes of Evidence of Mr Charles Graves. December1866

[33]Metrop. Water Bd.Water Supply of London, 11–12.

[34](48 Geo.3.cap 8)

[35]On the Supply of Water to the Metropolis, The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, Vol. 3 1840, p 45. Thomas Wicksteed

[36]Reports from commissioners: River Commission: Minutes of Evidence. Mr Charles Graves. December 1866

[37]On the Supply of Water to the Metropolis, The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, Vol. 3 1840, p. 45. Thomas Wicksteed

[38]The Municipal Parks, Gardens, And Open Spaces Of London. Lieut.-Col. J. J. Sexby, V. Delliot Stock. 1905

[39]The Literary Panorama, Vol. 10,1810. Charles Taylor

[40]The Literary Panorama, Vol. 10,1810. Charles Taylor

[41]The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 101, Part 2 1831

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