English Heritage (Designation) Reject at Initial Assessment Report
24 October 2012
Application Name: Lea Bridge Waterworks
Type: New Heritage
Three main sites.
1. The Old Middlesex Filter Beds Nature Reserve (south of Lea Bridge)
2. Thames Water Depot, Lea Bridge Road (Former Number 1 Essex Filter Beds and associated buildings)
3. Waterworks Nature Reserve and Golf Centre (Former Number 2 Essex and Leyton Filter beds)
4. Dock Bridge, River Lea/Hackney Cut towpath (west side) south of the Princess Diana PH Lea Bridge Road.
County: Greater London Authority District: Waltham Forest
District Type: London Borough Parish: Non Civil Parish
CONTEXT: English Heritage has been asked to consider the designation of the remaining features of the former Lea Bridge Road Waterworks. This is a large site straddling the River Lea. The buildings on the site are grouped together in an area south of the Lea Bridge Road owned by Thames Water, originally comprising No. 1 Essex filter beds, and now used as a depot. The other disused filter beds are partly in Thames Water ownership and partly owned by the Lea Valley Regional Park Authority. The applicant is concerned that a possible sale of the depot site will lead to its future development. The site is not in a conservation area but the Engineers House is locally listed. The 1853 cast-iron towpath bridge was suggested for listing in 2007 but rejected.
HISTORY: The history of the site is detailed in the applicant’s very thoroughly researched paper included with the application. In summary, the site at Lea Bridge was first used for the extraction of water from the River Lea to supply Hackney and Clapton in 1707. Throughout the C18 various owners developed the site, both for water supply and as a corn mill until it was acquired in 1829 by the East London Waterworks Company which had been founded in 1807. By the 1850s, due to the deteriorating quality of water in the lower River Lea, the role of the Lea Bridge Works had changed from being a point of extraction to that of storage, treatment and supply of water extracted higher up the river. To this end the site was developed with a number of filter beds. The No. 1 Essex filter beds (on the east bank of the river) and the Middlesex beds (on the west bank) were built under Acts of Parliament of 1852 and 1853 followed by the No. 2 Essex filter beds and Leyton filter beds after an Act of 1867. The filter beds were serviced by a number of pumping stations equipped with steam engines, built over the course of the C19 and eventually totalling 13. Various ancillary buildings including a turbine house, engineer’s and foreman’s houses were also constructed. In 1902, the Metropolitan Water Act amalgamated London’s eight private water companies, with their powers transferred to the Metropolitan Water Board. The waterworks were eventually closed in 1971-2 following infrastructure which allowed the supply of water to north-east London to come mostly from the Thames. No.1 Essex filter beds were infilled as part of the surviving depot on the site while the remaining beds have largely been developed as nature reserves.
The former No.1 Essex filter beds site
This contains the only remaining engine sheds, the engineer’s house and the turbine shed.
Prince and Princess Engine Shed – Originally housing a pair of steam pumping engines, this was probably built in the early 1870s (not shown on the 1870 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map) under the direction of Chief Engineer of the East London Water Co, Charles Greaves. The building consists of a long, single storey range built in stock brick with twin pitched roofs. The western elevation has triple round-arched windows in the twin gables but on the long north and south elevations the fenestration has been much altered including the insertion of cargo doors. On the north side of the building was originally a two-storey tower with a pyramidal roof but this was demolished at some point between 1947 and 1960 leaving only the lower walls, with rusticated quoins, now forming an enclosure on the north side of the building. Presumably at the same time the detached campanile chimney was also demolished.
‘Triples’ Engine Shed – to the south of the Prince and Princess shed this was originally built in 1889-1892 to house three vertical triple expansion engines made by Yates and Thom of Blackburn. It consists of a single storey range, parallel to the earlier engine shed, again of stock brick but slightly more decorative with a dentil course and stone cornice. The fenestration has been much altered and the building has been truncated by the demolition of the eastern end which was rather higher than the surviving western section. The building has been re-roofed with felted transverse pitched roofs.
Turbine Shed – built in 1886. The building is octagonal in plan, of stock brick with stone dressings to the round-arched windows and entrance, which has a dated keystone. The elevations have recessed panels with a dentil course and the slate roof sits atop a corbelled cornice.
Engineer’s House – built 1890-92 in the Domestic Revival manner by the architect G E Holman. The building is of two storeys, in red brick laid in English bond, with a tile-hung upper storey and tile roofs. The multiple gables have timber framing and the north-eastern elevation has three oriel windows on the first-floor. The south-west elevation has an arched entrance with banded stone decoration and a first-floor bay window with a buttressed support. The building retains its original casement windows with segmental rubbed brick lintels. The tall decorative brick chimneys have been truncated in most cases.
Middlesex, No. 2 Essex and Leyton Filter Beds
The Middlesex and No. 2 Essex Filter beds consist of a circular brick wellhead, with concrete capping (a later addition probably dating from the 1930s) and chambered interior, surrounded by six wedge shaped filter beds. The Middlesex and No. 2 Essex beds appear to be largely intact although the Middlesex ones are mainly heavily overgrown. The Leyton beds consisted of seven parallel rectangular filter beds without the central wellheads. Only the south-western three appear to remain unfilled, again heavily overgrown. Various boundary wall and piers, aqueducts, standpipes, sluice gates and rail tracks for supplying the engine houses survive across the three sites. All the associated buildings, notably the engine houses, have been demolished.
Cast-iron towpath bridge
Located on the south side of the River Lea Navigation Channel, this single span cast-iron canal towpath bridge was built in 1853 to take the towpath over the entrance to Lea Bridge Dock which was infilled in the 1950s. The bridge replaced an earlier one dating from the 1820s or 1830s. Unlike the rest of the area under consideration, the bridge is within the Lea Bridge Conservation Area.
The Principles of Selection for Listing Buildings (March 2010) sets out the broad criteria used when buildings are considered for designation. Before 1700, all buildings that contain a significant proportion of their original fabric are listed; from 1700 to 1840, most buildings are listed; after 1840, because of the greatly increased numbers of buildings erected and the much larger numbers that have survived, progressively greater selection is necessary. The English Heritage Listing Selection Guide for Utilities and Communications Structures (April 2011) expands on these broad criteria. It states that waterworks and pumping stations built after 1860 must be selectively listed based on the survival of plant, and on architectural interest tempered by the degree of alteration. It notes the significance of the survival of the original engines housed by pump and engine houses. It also notes that waterworks often occupied large areas and were often carefully landscaped. The most important examples, especially when associated with complete sets of buildings, may be eligible for inclusion on the Register of Parks and Gardens. Filter beds are noted to be increasingly rare. Also of relevance is the Selection Guide for Industrial Structures (April 2011) which notes that where an industrial process (in this case water treatment) involved numerous components on a site, the issue of completeness may become overriding. On an integrated site single surviving buildings are only likely to justify listing if they are of architectural quality or are innovatory structures. It also notes the importance of the machinery and that, generally speaking, the loss of the machinery will reduce the eligibility of a structure for listing. It also notes the importance of technical innovation, the degree of alteration and historic interest.
The English Heritage Scheduling Selection Guide for Utilities (May 2012) states that ‘very few post-medieval utilities sites have been scheduled in the past and our approach is not to recommend further sites for such protection unless they take the form of nationally important earthwork or buried remains. Listing is generally the more appropriate designation for the protection of the utilities-related assets...’. The site was not one of those recommended for possible designation in the English Heritage Monument Protection Programme (MPP) Water Industry Step Report in 2004.
The former Lea Bridge Road Waterworks does not meet the criteria for designation for the following principal reasons:
* Historic Interest: while of some historic interest as one of London’s earliest sites for the provision of clean drinking water, no above-ground remains survive from the pioneering C18 and early-C19 periods and any archaeological remains are likely to have been compromised by the later development of the site. No archaeological evidence was provided which would warrant scheduling. The current surviving structures date from the mid-to-late C19 development of the site and are, therefore, not of a particularly early date in the development of the water industry. The survival of the buildings, with the loss of the majority of the pumping engine houses and significant alteration of the surviving ones, is fragmentary
* Architectural Interest: the two sets of engine sheds are not of particularly early date, have been heavily altered and do not possess the striking architectural quality seen in the best examples of Victorian pump houses. It is assumed that the original machinery has been removed. The octagonal turbine shed has some degree of architectural embellishment but is too late in date and modest architecturally to warrant listing in its own right. The Engineer's House is an attractive building in the Domestic Revival manner, but it is typical of very many late-C19 houses designed in this idiom and has undergone alteration; it therefore falls below the standard for listing. Boundary walls and piers and cast-iron railings are either too incomplete, late in date or not in their original locations to be eligible for listing. The canal towpath bridge was assessed in 2007 but was not recommended for listing as it is a relatively late example of a cast-iron canal bridge and is of a plain and utilitarian design. This conclusion remains valid;
* Technological Innovation: the filter beds have some interest as examples of this once common but now increasingly threatened element of water treatment. However, they do not represent particularly early use of the technology; the first slow sand filters were built at Chelsea waterworks in 1829. Once again, they are not complete, with the earliest examples on the site, No. 1 Essex beds, having been infilled. The pump houses to all the other beds have been lost seriously effecting their context. The surviving pump houses do not represent early examples of steam-powered pumping technology; * Degree of survival: the buildings do not represent a complete, or nearly complete, survival of the waterworks in its late-Victorian heyday; * Landscape: there is no evidence that the site was ever landscaped to a high quality and therefore is not eligible for inclusion on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.
CONCLUSION: The varying surviving elements of the Lea Bridge Waterworks are of clear local interest as the successors to one of London’s earliest waterworks but are not recommended for designation as they are of mid-late C19 date and not innovatory technologically, do not represent a complete ensemble, and are either heavily altered or do not possess sufficient architectural quality to be of special interest.
Significant archaeological remains of the earliest structures on the site appear unlikely to survive and the site is not eligible for inclusion on the Register of Parks and Gardens.