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Lea Bridge Waterworks timeline

1760-1794 'The Adventurers'

Francis John Tyssen leased parcels of land on each bank of the Lea below Lea Bridge to related groups of businessmen who, by 1766/7, had set up the Hackney Waterworks Company.

Tyssen issued a 61 year lease for land on the west bank in June 1760 to John Barrow, Thomas Holloway and Henry Holloway with rights to erect: ‘any buildings engines or works for the purpose of supplying the town of hackney and the parts adjacent with water’. Then, in September 1762, he leased land on the east bank, including the ‘Chevaliers Ferry House’ (later known as the ‘Horse and Groom’), to William Miller, John Bourke, Abraham Ogier, William Gilbee, along with the lessees of the west bank; John Barrow and Henry Holloway (but not Thomas Holloway). These men were ‘adventurers and undertakers’, ‘several gentlemen… willing to undertaking the furnishing of a sufficient quantity of water, as a reasonable expense’. [1]

Some curious new construction will shortly be erected near the River Lea, for the better supplying with water the Parish of Hackney, the hamlets of Clapton, Hammerton and parts adjacent’ (REF). [2]

The works included a new cut alongside the navigable channel over which were erected mills designed to raise water and grind corn, a water tower to drive water through underground wooden pipes to the reservoir at Clapton from whence it was distributed to customers. A weir or lock was constructed in 1766 to supply the mill with water from a branch or cut of the River and to increase the waterwheel's power, leading to further enhancements.

Wooden water pipe(s) of unknown date were found in 1909 in the vicinity of Rushmore Road/ Mayola Road, Clapton.[3] 

Abraham Ogier

The Ogier family were silk merchants and Huguenot refugee émigrés from Chassis l’Église in Bas Poitou, France. The extended Ogier family was closely associated with both Clapton and with Spitalfields.

Abraham Ogier was a third generation descendant of Peter Ogier of Sigourney en Bas Pitou (who died in 1697).[4] Abraham’s father, Pierre (Peter) Abraham Ogier, was associated with the renowned and successful firm of Ogier Vansomer & Triquet of Spital Square and, in 1719, he built a house at 19 Princelet Street, Spitalfields.

The second generation of Huguenot master weavers, including the Ogier family members, moved out to the country, generally to the east, including Clapton, but sometimes retaining property in town.

Abraham Ogier Esq. of Clapton appeared as a juror in the trial of Lord Byron for murder in April 1765.[5] He is buried in the St Augustine’s section of St John of Hackney Churchyard:

‘Beneath this stone lie the interred remains of Mr Abraham Ogier late of Pope’s Head Alley, Cornhill, Notary Public, also many years a respectable inhabitant of this Parish; he departed life on 27th December 1784, in the 68 year of his age.’[6]

Ogier was a resident of Clapton and most probably a beneficiary of the water to be supplied, but his interest may also relate to the silk industry. The Lea Bridge mills had a triple function: a corn mill, a pin and needle manufactory, and water supply.

Up until the beginning of the nineteenth century, silk working was closely associated with water mills. The majority of manufactured goods were produced by the domestic or putting-out system, with artisans often paid by a merchant capitalist, such as the Ogiers.[7] Fine, supple needles and pins, often from the wood of the holly tree, were needed to pierce the silk without marking the fabric. The pins were kept smooth through constant polishing with fine grinding powders, often using waterpower. [8]

Silk mills grew up along the Lea in Hackney at this time and thereafter prospered.  In c.1787, Leny Smith acquired a former snuff mill factory near Silk Row, Hackney Wick. By the nineteenth century, this was described as a large mill ‘conducted on a larger scale than any in this country’ employing between six and seven hundred persons, mainly women. Steam engines drove the spindles.[9]

William Gilbee

This may possibly be the William Gilbee who purchased the Wick estate in 1796 from the widow of Edward Woodcock (d. 1792), vicar of Watford (Herts.). Gilbee possibly later purchased the manor called Wick House, a small mill and a twelve acre pleasure ground called the Islands. After William’s death, Hannah Gilbee held the estate until, in 1809, the house and c. 32 acres of land were leased to the astronomer and physicist Mark Beaufoy, who made a balloon ascent from Hackney Wick and moved away in 1815.[10] [11]

The pound lock controversy, Ogier’s weir and the building of the Hackney Cut

The new works co-existed with other river and riverside activities and functions. The River Lea at Lea Bridge was: 

  • a navigable river; 
  • a source of drinking water; 
  • a source of power for milling; 

and it:

  • contained a series of fisheries; 
  • functioned as a sewer, 
  • a drainage and flood relief channel; 
  • offered river crossings; and
  • it was lined by plots of land with ancient grazing rights (Lammas lands).

Plans to improve the Lea Bridge mills came into conflict with the operation and enhancement of the navigable river. 

In 1761-2, a tidal pound lock, the Lea’s third pound lock, was constructed at Lea Bridge, across the eastern half of the river with a single pair of gates across the western half.[12] [13] (a pound lock has two sets of gates and is the common form of canal lock seen today.) The lock soon attracted criticism from bargemen who thought it harmed the navigation.[14]

Disputes ensued. The Lee Trustees threatened to pull the lock down whilst the owners of the Waterworks, including Tyssen and Ogier, sought parliamentary sanction. In 1762, an amicable settlement was reached. The Trustees leased the lock and appointed their own lock-keeper to supervise its use.[15] The Trustees agreed to appoint a proper person to open and shut the Lock or Cistern and floodgate standing on the River near Hackney’.[16]

An Act of 1763, (7 Geo.3.cap.51) authorized improvements to the navigation by new cuts and established the River Lee Trustees (replacing the Corporation and a former board of Trustees) with powers to levy tolls.[17]

From c.1766, Ogier carried out improvements including a new weir or lock. This, combined with the controversial pound lock, coincided with the construction of Smeaton’s Hackney Cut in 1766; the start of the canal age, and the emergence of further potential threats to Osier’s and the Adventurers’ investment.

‘And whereas Francis John Tyssen Esquire is entitled to an ancient Water Corn Mill near Lee Bridge which with other works are now employed in raising Water for the supply of the inhabitants of the parish of Hackney, and other places adjacent, with a good and wholesome order; which said Mill and Water works are situate upon a branch or cut from the said River Lee, and supplied with water there – from by means of a weir or lock lately erected by Abraham Ogier and others, Letters under the said Francis John Tyssen at a very considerable expense; which lock or weir hath been found by experience to be of very great service and advantage to the navigation of the said River Lee; at it is necessary that the same should be kept up and continued for the benefit of the New Cut or Canal intended to be made between Lee Bridge and the mouth of the stream supplying the said Mill and Waterworks: Be it therefore enacted, That the intended navigation shall be carried through the said Mill Stream, and the said New Cut of Canal shall being on the west side of the said Mill, but not nearer than ten yards from the buildings belonging thereto; nor shall any lock or device be placed so as to obstruct or divert the stream belonging to the said Mill.’ [18] [19] [20]

Smeaton sought the removal of the pound lock which he thought was only ‘occasionally used’; `I also entirely reject the new cistern lock at Hackney as part of my scheme, as neither its floor nor the river below is deep enough for navigation, without flashes there, as at present'. The tide could still come as far up river as Hackney at this date.14

The pound lock was little used because bargemen preferred to travel with the tide up and down the lower Lea whilst the pound was lock was only useful at low tide. At high tide, the single gates could be opened without the need for the double gate system of the pound lock.

Despite Smeaton’s criticism, the Act of 1767 noted that the lock 'hath been found by experience to be of very great Service and Advantage to the Navigation' and authorised a new cut from just below the waterworks to Old Ford. When the Hackney Cut was opened in August 1769, the Waterworks lock was replaced by a pound lock, which stood at the head of the cut. This lock was a pound lock across the eastern half of the river and a single pair of gates across the western half.

The Act of 1767 also included measures to safeguard water levels serving the mill and the provision of a new bridge to access the works, provided by the canal trustees, ‘for the passage of horses, wagons, carts and carriages’.

XLII  And to the extent that both the said Mill and Waterworks and also the said intended Cut or Canal, may be constantly supplied with a sufficient quality of water, be it further enacted, that the said last mentioned Lock shall not at any time be drawn or opened for the purpose of the said Navigation, nor the proprietors of the said Mill and Waterworks, or their assigns, servants or agnets, for as to reduce the head of water belonging to the said Mill and Waterworks more than six inches below the usual Gauge Mark, of height of a full head; the same to be ascertained by a stone or post to be set up by the said Trustees for that purpose; and that the said Trustees shall cause a bridge to be erected and maintained for the said mill stream, at or near the place where the present bridge now stands, sufficient for the passage of horses, waggons, carts and carriages, from the Turnpike Road over the Lee bridge to the said Mill and waterworks.

A further Act of 1779 (19 Geo.3 cap. 58) increased navigation tolls and set down arrangements between the Trustees and mill owners.[21]

A second canal is proposed

Smeaton’s Hackney Cut was not the only potential threat. A second canal was proposed in 1774, linking Moorfields with the Waltham Abbey Canal, fed by a branch from the River Lea at Lea Bridge.

‘The branch of the canal of 3 furlongs in length was to connect with the Lea at Lea Bridge requiring 4 acres of land to be purchased at £50 per acre. This link would supply water to the canal. A new Lea bridge would be required 27 feet span and 12 wide. Leave was given to bring the bill.’ [22]

Various petitions were presented to the House of Commons on 14 April 1774. Petitioners in support included owners, freeholders and occupiers, and gentlemen of land in Hackney, Walthamstow and Low Leyton Parishes.[23] Alderman Oliver presented a report in the name of a committee of the Mayor, Alderman and Commons of the City of London.

The canal was never built and the Lea Bridge was later reconstructed to James Walker’s design in 1819/20.


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

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

[3] GLSMR entry (MLO327)

[4] The Herald and genealogist, Volume 1. John Gough Nichols (Editor)

[5] A complete collection of state trials and proceedings for high ..., Volume 19

[6] The Herald and genealogist, Volume 1. John Gough Nichols (Editor)

[7] The rise of the factory system in Britain - Efficiency of exploitation? R H Jones in Authority and Control in Modern Industry Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives, Paul L. Robertson (Editor)

[8] A Brief History of Sewing Threads. Alex Askaroff

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

[10]  (fn. 13). (fn. 10) (fn. 96) (fn. 97). (fn. 98)

[11] 97 Gent. Mag. lxvi (2), 611; Robinson, Hackney, i. 321; G.L.R.O., M79/KH/6, pp. 313, 333

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

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

[14] Minute Books of both the River Lee Trust (1739 - 1868) and the Lee Conservancy Board (1868-1948), held at the National Archives at Kew. Taken from Lee and Stort web site (www.leeandstort.co.uk/index.htm). (NA Rail 845/2)

[15] Hackney Waterworks, East London Record, Vol. 7, 1985. Dr. Keith Fairclough

[16] Minute Books of both the River Lee Trust (1739 - 1868) and the Lee Conservancy Board (1868-1948), held at the National Archives at Kew. Taken from Lee and Stort web site (www.leeandstort.co.uk/index.htm). (NA Rail 845/2)

[17] Reports from Commissioners: River Commission: Minutes of Evidence of Mr Charles Graves, December 1866

[18] XLI The Statutes at Large From the Fifth Year of the Reign of King George III.  A Table of the Titles and All Public and Private Statutes Volume 101767 in the reign of George III.

[19] The Act of 1766 for Improving the Navigation of the River Lee from Hertford to the Thames from between Lee Bridge and Hackney Waterworks, through Hackney Marsh to the channel between Pudding Mill Stream and Hackney Brook

[20] George III.c51 to 11.11.1766

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

[22] Journals of the House of Commons, Volume 34 1804 (from 26th November 1772- 15th September 1774)

[23] Journals of the House of Commons, Volume 34 1804 (from 26th November 1772- 15th September 1774)

© leabridge.org.uk December 2012