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Listing review request

Section A – Key dates

Date on the decision letter 24 October 2012

Date of this review request 10 November, 2012


Section C – Details of the building

Building name:Lea Bridge Waterworks

Building address:Lea Bridge Road, London E5

English Heritage reference number 466306


Section D – Brief summary of your grounds for review

There is significant evidence to indicate that a decision has been wrongly made. Considerations were not taken into account that should have been, whilst irrelevant considerations were taken into account. These irregularities may have affected the outcome.

Section E – Full grounds for review

Turbine Shed

The turbine house has been assessed as a building without reference to its function and purposes and without reference to the relationship to the River Lea, the Lea Bridge Weir or the folly-like or Arcadian feature it clearly intentionally represented on the river. These matters, set out in the submitted evidence, do not appear to have been weighed in the assessment.

The turbine house was constructed at the end of Charles Greaves’ tenure as Chief Engineer to the Company. The construction of waterwheel driven pumps to provide a local supply is of technological interest as an important reminder of the very late application of turbine (waterwheel) technology at a point in time when steam-powered pumping technology was predominant. The use of waterpower is also of clear historical interest whenviewed in the context of the changing economy of steam power, with questions over the quality and price of the coal supply.

Noting the point in relation to the engine sheds (below); it is not known what machinery survives, because access is restricted to the public, whilst the assessors have been unable to establish the facts, one way or the other. This may, in itself, justify further assessment.

The use of waterpower, driven by the impounded water body at Lea Bridge weir, is an important remainder of the exceptionally long history of water powered industry and water supply by water wheel at this point on the Lea: London’s ‘second river’ and, therefore, of regional, not just local, importance.

The local water supply to Clapton and Hackney (as the submitted evidence confirms) was a crucial factor in the determination of the source of the mid to late C19 cholera epidemics. Whilst Lea Bridge works fell under suspicion, the low cholera rates in the local area pointed to a source of contamination lower down the Lea, at Old Ford Works. The total, double erasure of the Old Ford Works raises the historical significance of this remaining part of the story of this Victorian metropolitan health crisis.

Contrary to the report’s assertion, the shed is a comparatively well-decorated building in an Italianate style typical of many of the mid to late C.19 buildings which once stood on the site. The shed is both an important reminder and a rare survival of this period at Lea Bridge; when it was the principal complex of the East London Company upon the closure of Old Ford Works.

The assessment report fails to describe or even to refer to the unusual structural form of the building (which seems to consider the building only from the point of view of the No.1 Essex beds side of the river).

The submitted photographs nevertheless provide sufficient detail to highlight the significance of the structural form. The hexagonal building rests upon three piers, forming two channels or sluices beneath the building that channelled water to the (probably ‘overshot’) wheels. The structural load of the hexagon is transferred to the piers below by way of shallow segmental brick arches. This complex structural strategy, when simpler solutions were available, points to a very deliberate intention to create the hexagonal plan in this position. Why would such a complex structural strategy be adopted to support this unusual hexagonal building? The answer appears to be a public display of civic values; not a utilitarian approach. The building sits at a prominent point on the river; at the weir; at the point of bifurcation of the Lea with the Hackney Cut, forming the focal point of a clearly intentional composition in an Arcadian or picturesque landscape style.

The hexagonal plan form, alluding to classical forms such as the ‘Tower of the Winds’ in Athens is a further clue.

Engineers House

The report states that 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’. This represents a category mistake in the assessment.

The building is a commercial building, not a dwelling. The Engineers’ House operated principally as an office, and possibly also a board room of the Company after the closure of the Old Ford works. The three, first floor, oriel windows may indicate a substantial board room overlooking the filter beds and engine sheds.

The Engineers’ House is constructed in the style that developed as a ‘house style’ by the Company (arts and crafts, English baroque or Wren; with in some cases Germanic influences) evidenced by a series of (now listed) buildings by the Company along the Lea Valley and in Essex. The noted architect Davey prefigured this architectural style at Lea Bridge by an earlier foreman’s house and entrance gate in an arts and crafts style. This points to a picturesque or ‘rus in urb’ concept central to the East London Company’s proposition (and propaganda) on the supply and treatment of water beyond the polluted city’s limits. At a period towards the end of the ‘battle of the styles’, this style was used deliberately to convey messages about water infrastructure; not merely as a decorative or residential style, as the assessment seems to suggest. The reassuring residential references should also be viewed in the context of criticism of the water companies and the increasing clamour for a municipalised supply, as the submitted evidence points out.

The issues raised in relation to the Engineer’s House should be carefully weighed in considering whether further assessment is needed; they have not been. There is a clear need for further assessment of the interior, a better understanding of the plan form and the specific functions of the main rooms.

‘Prince and Princess’ and the ‘Triples’ Engine Sheds

The report states that it is assumed that the original machinery has been removed and notes that the loss of the machinery will reduce the eligibility of a structure for listing.

The initial assessment does not establish if any machinery survives. It is not possible for the public to access the buildings, despite continuing efforts on the part of Lea Bridge Conservation Area Advisory Committee and the Hackney Society to do so.

Whilst there is a range of reasons given for rejecting these buildings, there is nevertheless no clear statement on whether the presence of machinery might tip the balance in favour.

It should be noted that other engine sheds have been listed principally on the basis of the machinery in the local area, notwithstanding the architectural merit of the host building (Markhouse, Walthamstow, etc.).

The assessment should have weighed in the balance the probability that machinery survives, because it is a key listing criteria; and this should have been taken into account in considering whether to proceed to an advanced stage of assessment; it did not do so.

This oversight may be remedied by arranging access to the engine sheds (and the turbine shed).

Episodic development

The Lea Bridge works clearly do not bear close comparison with coherent and complete waterworks compositions elsewhere, as the report states, but these are often the result of a single or main building phase.

An assessment of Lea Bridge works should carefully weigh the incompleteness of the surviving composition against the historic value of the evidence of incremental and episodic development (and historic demolitions) on the Lea Bridge site; which is of itself of historic significance. This may have the effect of raising the significance of the remaining buildings and structures. For example, the site was subject to WWII bomb damage and one or more of the campanile chimneys may have been demolished to reduce the prominence of the site in wartime.

Group value

If, after consideration of the points raised above, one or more buildings to falls within the listing criteria, it will be important to assess again whether or not other building on the site may justify listing on the basis of group value.

leabridge.org.uk December 2012
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