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Lea Bridge Waterworks timeline

1707-1760 Tyssen’s Mills

At the start of the eighteenth century, water was a commodity that usually had to be worked for and always had to be conserved. Waterworks at Lea Bridge mills were one of the earliest sites in London for mechanically raising, storing and supplying water directly to households by pipe.

The Tyssen family held land and mills at Lea Bridge from the late seventeenth century. Francis Tyssen Esq. purchased the Manor at Hackney in 1697, which descended to Francis John Tyssen (one or the original shareholders of the Hampstead Aqueduct Company, floated in 1692). Francis Tyssen II died in 1710 with his son and heir, Francis John Tyssen (then as yet unborn). [1],[2] The Lea Bridge or Hackney Waterworks were founded at the time of this interregnum in 1707 on the site of what later became the East London Waterworks Company’s Middlesex Filter Beds.[3]

The Waterworks were operated from 1707-1723 by the Tyssens. There are references to a new weir at Hackney from about 1700, that was probably rebuilt in 1707 to accommodate the newly erected Waterworks. [4] The Works comprised a weir below the Lock Bridge; a water-wheel driving force pumps; a pipe or conduit to take the water up to a reservoir at Clapton Pond; and wooden or lead pipes to distribute water to properties in Clapton and Hackney, including Clapton Square, and other parts.[5] , [6], [7],[8]

The Mills were also developed for grinding corn and for the manufacture of pins and needles. The mills were probably also used to drive the machinery to bore the wooden pipes used to carry drinking water.

Randolph Johnson was the engineer at the Waterworks in 1715 and in 1720.

John Strype described the Works in his Survey of London.

For the greater convenience of this Parish, pipes have been lately laid from the River up to Clopton and so to other parts and places of the said Town at the Charge of Mr Tyssen late Lord of the Manor.[9]

The new weir and the Works led to complaints by bargemen about the effects upon navigability of the waterway.[10]

Properties and areas supplied included: Homerton, College Street, John Street, Hockley Street, London Lane, The Grove, Almhouses Grove, Silvester Row, Jerusalem Square, Clapton Square, Clapton Alley, Laura Place, Dalston Lane, beyond the Coach and Horses Dalston, from end of Hackney plug to the Nags Head: Orphan AsyIum, Clapton Turnpike.[11] Ordinary villagers continued to rely on ponds, artesian wells, the collection of rainwater in butts, and water carried from local rivers, streams, and springs by wooden conduits, by carts, or by bucket and hand.

The works subsequently fell into disrepair and, in 1724, the works were reported to have become dilapidated or derelict, possibly because the infant heir Francis John Tyssen’s guardians had neglected the property.[12]

John Ward (Francis John Tyssen’s representative), along with George Osmond (a plumber) undertook to repair and extend the works after 1724 with a new engine house, a cast iron engine and new supply pipes or conduits, and grinding mills on each bank, but these works never came to fruition. From 1708, Ward and Osmond were associated with waterworks at Hertford.[13]

George Osmond (a plumber), along with a Mr. Hudson, built waterworks at the Paper Mill at Great Hartham Common, Hertfordshire and a Cistern at Old Cross in 1708. John Ward of Hackney was the proprietor of the Hertford Waterworks in 1739 (which may be Osmond and Hudson’s waterworks), when the works were repossessed after Ward fell into financial difficulties.[14]

George Osmond may also be the plumber and plasterer who worked upon many of the great ‘Queen Anne’ churches of London from 1716, including St. Alphege Greenwich; Christ Church, Spitalfields; St. John’s, Smith Square; and St. Paul’s, Deptford.[15]

By 1753, Hackney and Homerton were said to be losing summer visitors because of the lack of 'soft' water.[16] Plans to take a supply from the New River Company fell through in 1757 and the area remained dependent upon water by carts, pumps and rainwater in 1762.[17]


[1] The Environs of London, Volume 1, Issue 2. Daniel Lysons

[2] Hackney Waterworks, East London Record, Vol. 8, Issue 1985, pp. 7-21. Dr. Keith Fairclough

[3] A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10: Hackney: Public services, pp. 108-115, Fn. 80. T.F.T.Baker (Editor). 1995

[4] The River Between Ware And Hackney ERO, D/DU 63/5. Dr. Keith Faiclough

[5] Navigation Devices along the River Lea, 1600-1767. Dr. Keith Fairclough

[6] 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

[7] Water and the search for public health in London, Med. Hist. Anne Hardy. 1984

[8] Hackney Waterworks, East London Record, Vol. 8, Issue 1985 pp. 7-21. Dr. Keith Fairclough

[9] A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, Borough of Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, Vol.2 M,DCC,XXXV, Robert Seymour Esquire, 1735

[10] The Environs of London: Volume 1, Issue 2, Daniel Lysons

[11] Fairclough reference No 57. East London Waterworks. xviii fo .94-101.

[12] Hackney Waterworks, East London Record Vol. 8 Issue 1985, pp 7-21. Dr. Keith Fairclough

[13] Hackney Waterworks, East London Record Vol. 8 Issue 1985, pp 7-21. Dr. Keith Fairclough

[14] Hertfordshire Records (National Archives) HB/6/1(40/55)

[15] Copies of warrants issued to the Treasurer of the Commission 1716-1798, Lambeth Palace (National Archives MS2706)

[16] Hackney: Public Services, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10: Hackney (1995), pp. 108-115

[17] Hackney Waterworks, East London Record Vol. 8 Issue 1985 pp 7-21. Dr. Keith Fairclough

leabridge.org.uk December 2012