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1829-1852

Lea Bridge Waterworks timeline

1829-1852

The East London Waterworks Company took immediate steps to improve the quantity and quality of the water supply following the Commissioners of Inquiry report of 1828.

The East London Company’s Old Ford works took water directly from the tidal Lower Lea, an increasingly unsuitable water source in the 1820s with growing deterioration in the quality of their supply.[1] The tidal reach of the Thames, traveling up the Lea tributary, carried with it the increasing pollution and effluent of London’s nineteenth century growth. The position of the Lea Bridge works at the tidal head of the Thames and beyond the effluent of East London’s burgeoning districts, offered a potentially cleaner source of supply.[2]

An Act of Parliament of 1829 extended the Company powers: ‘to take water from the river Lea at or near Lea Bridge Mills, above the influence of the tide, and to convey it from thence to the Works at Old Ford, by means of a new aqueduct (insulated from all other water)’.[3] The Company was authorized to raise a total of £120,000 for these purposes.

Plan showing the proposed aqueduct from Lea Bridge to Old Ford Works and an alternative scheme to take water from a point further to the south. Click to enlarge the image. (Hackney Archives)

Whilst the Act prevented the Company from taking water higher than Lea Bridge, in order to protect the position of mills to the north, the Company was still entitled to take the tidal water.[4] A compensation reservoir was to be created at Hackney, possibly on the site of the Middlesex filter beds, to protect the supply to mills on the Lower Lea.[5] These arrangements were later to be the focus of investigations into a series of cholera epidemics.

Under the Act, the East London Company purchased the lease and later the freehold of the Lea Bridge Waterworks and Mill from John Tyssen, along with the lease on the existing reservoir at Clapton in 1829, bringing the Old Ford and Lea Bridge works under a single control, some twenty-two years after the East London Company’s foundation. [6] [7] [8]

The flour and water mills remained in place at this time, set upon an island between an arm of the river and the north end of the Hackney Cut.[9]

Members and officers of the East London Waterworks Company in 1834

The East London Company of this time 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).

Thomas Wicksteed

Ralph Walker’s retirement and the appointment of Thomas Wicksteed’s (1806-1871) as Resident Engineer to the East London Water Company in 1829 (to 1851) marked the start of a period of rapid development and expansion at Lea Bridge.[11]

Wicksteed was engineer to the London Dock until 1829 and was a former assistant to Henry R. Palmer. He was appointed out of thirty-two candidates.[12]

Great Works

Wicksteeds’ successor as Chief Engineer, Charles Greaves, appeared before a Parliamentary committee in 1867, when he set out the history of the changes to the source of supply undertaken by Wicksteed. He confirmed that in 1829 the Company was authorised to take the water above the tidal influence of the Thames above Lea Bridge, ‘it having become objectionable to continue deriving the supply from the river during its tidal flow, a movement was made to take the water from the river above the tidal flow, and Lea Bridge was the part chosen, and power was acquired to take the water from there’. Compensation reservoirs were made for the benefit of the millers and mill interests below Lea Bridge. An open aqueduct was made from the river, near Lea Bridge, to the reservoirs at Old Ford under the Act of 1829, in the neighbourhood of Lea Bridge Mills. From 1829 until 1852, water was taken, from the ‘Lea Bridge Mill-tail’.

The works were authorized under the Act of 1828 and cost £120,000 [13]

Efforts to increase the water supply continued through the 1830’s with a reservoir was built between the river, the cut and the new channel (the Middlesex filter beds) from 1837.[14]

The reservoir at Clapton was filled in and in 1838 the site was sold. A new reservoir was constructed at Stamford Hill and this remained in use until the plant at Lea Bridge was remodeled in c.1850.[15]

Wicksteed supervised the reconstruction of the Lea Bridge Mills with machinery for raising water in order to adapt them for pumping water to the East London Waterworks Company’s district. [16] He carried out the work to remove the source of supply from Old Ford, on the tidal part of the River Lea, to Lea Bridge, above the influence of the tide. He constructed the two mile canal permitted by the 1829 Act as well a cast iron main laid under the bed of the river, and a reservoir, all to take water from the sources at Lea Bridge to the main works at Old Ford.[17]

Wicksteed installed a new undershot waterwheel at Lea Bridge 18ft. diameter by 14.5 ft. wide; a crank at the end of the shaft actuated a beam to the other end of which was connected the pump rod guided by a parallel motion. The piston was 21 in. diameter by 6ft. stoke, forcing to a head of 100ft. at five and a half strokes a minute, equal to about 30 water hp. At the same time he installed another wheel of the same diameter, but 7.5 ft. wide; this drove through multiplying gearing, ratio 1.5:1, a three-throw crankshaft connected to the pump pistons, which were guided by a three-bar parallel motion. The pistons were 10in diameter by 3 ft. stroke, forcing to a head of 130 ft. and at seven and a half strokes per minute; this was equal to about 9 water hp. The contractors were Hunter and English Of Bow. With this plant the supply was increased to about 1 million gallons per day.[18]

Contracts and contractors

These works commenced apace, driven forward by some of the most accomplished contractors of the day. 

In 1833, Pritchard and Hoof were contracted to construct the reservoirs and open channel or aqueduct from Lea Bridge to Old Ford, alongside the Lea trustees' Hackney or New Cut, and possibly tunnels under the Lea. The parallel channel was completed by 1834.[19] 

A Contract was let to John Penn to construct new works at Lea Bridge from 1832-4. A tender was issued for taking down the Lea Bridge Mill in 1832-5. 

Ovid Topham was given the tender for new sluice gates near Lea Bridge Mill. Jon Air was later awarded a contract for the construction of the 48” main to Old Ford, replacing the open aqeduct, in 1856.

Walter Hunter (1772-1852)

 ‘in him disappears almost the last of the race of clever English millwrights’.[20]

The role of Engineer needed to be matched by expertise in the construction and operation of engines and machinery. This role was undertaken by the millwright. Walter Hunter was a renowned millwright responsible for the execution very many machine innovations in the early to mid-nineteenth century and who worked on Lea Bridge Works.[21]

Hunter was engaged at the famous Soho Works of Boulton & Watt before traveling to London to act as Foreman to John Rennie.[22] From about 1807-8, with his partner William English, in the firm of Hunter and English of Bow (sometimes referred to as ‘Rennie Hunter & English’[23]). He was extensively employed in the numerous mills around London, in the construction of sluices, valves for water supply, iron bridges, and dock-gates[24] before the partnership of Hunter & English was dissolved 1850.[25]

In 1833, Hunter fabricated and erected balancing gates at the East London Waterworks Company Old Ford Works, supervised by Wicksteed. The gates formed a part of the alterations associated bringing water from Lea Bridge Mills to the works at Old Ford and were designed to impound tidal water in reservoirs, which could be released to compensate for water abstracted at Lea Bridge.[26] These two and the gates were to be implicated in later cholera outbreaks, but it was seepage into the reservoirs (later combined), which was found to be the culprit.

In 1837, waterwheels were installed at the Lea bridge mill of the East London Waterworks Company to the design of English & Hunter who also supplied and installed pumping engines and pumping equipment.[27] (These are referred to as steam engines, but later statements by Greaves confirm that steam power was to come later; although this may be a finer engineering distinction between ‘atmospheric’ engines and steam pumping engines).

Pritchard and Hoof, civil engineering contractors

Daniel Pritchard (c.1777-1843) and William Hoof (c.1788-1855) were civil engineering contractors for the construction of the reservoirs at Lea Bridge and the aqueduct (and possibly tunnels) from Lea Bridge to Old Ford works from 1829-34. Pritchard was arguably the first specialist civil engineering contractor with a high reputation in the 1820’s for his tunneling work.[28] By the 1820s they were renowned as specialist tunneling contractor having constructed the Maida Hill and Islington tunnels on the Regents Canal and the Thames and Medway Strood Tunnel near Rochester which Thomas Telford described as ‘A Tunnel more perfect than any other that was hitherto constructed’.

The partnership broke apart during the 1830s so that the Lea Bridge works may possibly have been completed by Hoof in association with his sons, as Hoof and Sons, or possibly under the later association of Hoof and Hill.[29]

Ovid Topham, millwright (1780-1848)

Ovid Topham was an engineer and millwright of Whitecross Street near Old Street. He was granted a patent in 1837 for certain improvements in the construction of sluice cocks for water works and which improved construction cocks is also applicable to steam gas and other purposes. He was buried at in St John Upper Holloway. He later practiced with his sons in the firm of Ovid Topham and Sons wound up shortly after Ovid’s death in 1851.

John Penn I engineer & millwright (1770-1843) and John Penn II engineer (1805-1878)

John Penn established an agricultural engineering business near Deptford in 1799 specialising in mills for corn and flour. The firm of John Penn and Sons of Greenwich from c.1830 was to develop into a famous marine engineering firm. Over the next twenty years they grew to be one of the major engineering works in London. John Penn II was apprenticed to the firm, becoming a partner in the early 1830s. The firm went on to become a major engine supplier to the Royal Navy in the transition from sail to steam.  John Penn II married Ellen English in 1847, the daughter of William English, of Hunter and English millwrights, who installed the waterwheel at Lea Bridge in 1837.[30]

Completion of the works

Wicksteed’s additions at Old Ford and Lea Bridge were costly. Nevertheless, the Company was increasingly prosperous, brought about by the large saving he affected in the consumption of fuel, his attention to detail, and through the introduction of the more efficient Cornish engine, in place of the less economical pumping-engines previously in use.[31]

The works established Lea Bridge as the main water source for the Old Ford Works, but also continued to provide a direct supply to Clapton, Hackney and Stamford Hill. This dual function was later to prove essential in determining the source of a series of cholera epidemics. Despite various schemes to extend the source further out of London and higher up the Lea, the ‘Lea Bridge Mill-tail’ remained the Company’s source until 1852, a period of great significance in the history of London’s water supply with a series of cholera outbreaks and an emerging metropolitan health crisis.[32]

Thomas Telford

The frenetic period of construction from 1829 was reaching practical completion in 1834 when the Engineer Thomas Telford, after carrying out ‘an inspection of the new aqueduct and reservoirs now near completion, for taking water from the river Lea at the tail of the Lea Bridge Mills’, reported to Parliament on progress. He reported that ‘these Works are now on the eve of completion, and will be in action in the month of June of the present year, within the time allowed by the Act of Parliament’.

‘Having assured myself, by a personal survey of the Waterworks at Old Ford, and by an inspection of the new aqueduct and reservoirs now near completion, for taking water from the river Lea at the tail of the Lea Bridge Mills, that the above statements are correct; in which survey and inspection every facility was afforded by the Directors of the Company, in furnishing information, and in the production of all documents deemed by me necessary for the investigation of the subject, I have no hesitation in stating, that, as far as the East London Waterworks are concerned, the improvements necessary for ensuring a better supply of pure water to their district have been anticipated by that Company.

After the Commissioners of Inquiry into the quantity and quality of water supplied to the Metropolis had made their Report in 1828 the East London Waterworks Company took immediate steps to improve their water both in quantity and quality by obtaining powers under an Act of Parliament in the year 1829 (10 Geo 4 cap Local and Personal) to take water from the river Lea at or near Lea Bridge Mills above the influence of the tide and to convey it from thence to the Works at Old Ford by means of a new aqueduct (insulated from all other water) into settling reservoirs upwards of eighteen acres in extent from which it passes into reservoirs out of which the pumps are supplied as before stated.

These Works are now on the eve of completion and will be in action in the month of June of the present year within the time allowed by the Act of Parliament.

In the prosecution of these improvements the East London Waterworks Company have expended upwards of 50,000 without having the power of imposing additional rates or charges on their customers the maximum charges of housekeepers or private consumers being fixed by the Act’.

Co-operation with the New River Company

The original intention was that the water companies, such as New River and East London should compete with one another for customers. However, in 1845 the limits of supply to the East London Waterworks Company were defined as ‘all those portions of the Metropolis, and its suburbs, which lie to the east of the city, Shoreditch, the Kingsland Road, and Dalston; extending their mains even across the river Lea into Essex, as far as West Ham.’[33]

The Great Stink & the first Cholera epidemic

What was probably at first a steady decline in the quality of London’s rivers in the first part of the nineteenth century became a sharp deterioration by the middle of the century. The Times of 3rd July 1858 reported that: ‘the Thames stank so badly that Members of Parliament had to take measures to escape from the "pestilentialodour". This was referred to as "The Great Stink".

A series of unexplained cholera outbreaks first reported by John Snow in1848-9 led to fundamental questions about the nature, cause and means of prevention of the disease. This was to have a profound effect upon the activities of the East London Water Company when suspicion arose in relation to the role of both the Lea Bridge and Old Ford works, which was eventually identified as the probable source of the outbreaks.

Increasing regulation, reform & consolidation, and emerging metropolitan organisation & public control

Following a series of mergers and acquisition and the foundation of new enterprises there were eight principal waterworks companies in London by 1840:[34] The East London Waterworks; New River Works; Lambeth waterworks; West Middlesex Works; Chelsea Waterworks; South London Waterworks; Southwark Waterworks; and the Grand Junction Waterworks.

The Companies remained private enterprises but were subject to increasing regulation. The Waterworks Clauses Act of 1847 provided that the companies should supply constant piped water to all dwellings in London.[35] The 1850 River Lee Improvement Act [36]regulated the amount of water to be taken and fee to be paid to Lee Trustees. The river was to be gauged and mill interests protected.[37] In 1847: the East London Company obtained powers to make reservoirs and filter beds at Lea Bridge and a cut stretching to Tottenham.[38]

By the middle of the nineteenth century there were growing calls for a London-wide response to the cholera crisis. In 1850, the Hackney Vestry unanimously resolved to seek the establishment of a public body to improve the metropolitan water supply.[39]

Proprietorial approach

The development of the waterworks constrained the traditional leisure activities such as bathing in the Lea and marked a proprietorial approach by the Company to the River. In 1847 an article by William Howitt published in the People’s Journal complained about increasing obstructions to bathing in the Hackney Cut and misuse of the police. East London Water Company and also the landlord of the Lea Bridge Inn (probably the Horse and Groom) placed notices that no person shall bathe in their water even below the Waterworks under penalty of prosecution.[40]

There appeared to be some sense that the habits and hygiene of the populace was a threat to the waterworks and the fishery.


 References

[1] Water Supply of Greater London

[2] A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5: Local Administration and Public Services: Utility Services, pp. 37-47, Fn 3. W.R. Powell (Editor). 1995

[3] (L10 Geo. 4. cap.117)

[4] (10 Geo.4.cap.117)

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

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

[7] Ibid. 3, p. 39; Dickinson, Water Supply, 89-90; River Lee Navigation Act, 7 Geo. III, c. 51; Robinson, Hackney, i. 11, 49. In History of the County of Middlesex.

[8] 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

[9] British History On Line Middlesex Economic History

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

[11] On the Supply of Water to the Metropolis (Thomas Wicksteed) The Civil engineer and architect's journal, Volume 3 February 1840 (page 45)

[12] OBITUARY. THOMAS WICKSTEED, 1806-1871. Minutes of the Proceedings, PART 1 Volume 33, Issue 1872, January 1872, pages 241 - 246

[13] 10 Geo. IV, c117

[14] A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10: Hackney: Public services, pp. 108-115, Fn 84. T.F.T.Baker (Editor). 1995

[15] Water Supply of Greater London

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

[17] Institute of Civil Engineers Virtual Library

[18] Water Supply of Greater London

[19] A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10: Hackney: Communications, pp. 4-10, Fn 66. T.F.T. Baker (Editor). 1995

[20] Minutes of proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Volume 12

[21] A Biographical Dictionary Of Civil Engineers, Walter Hunter 1772 1852

[22] Minutes of proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Volume 12

[23] The Mechanics Magazine, Vol. 92, March 11, 1870

[24] OBITUARY. WALTER HUNTER, 1772-1852. Minutes of the Proceedings, SESSION 1852-1853 Volume 12, Issue 1853, January 1853, pages 161 - 163

[25] The Economist, 1850, Vol. 8, Part 1

[26] The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, Vol. 3. William Laxton, February 1840

[27] The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, Vol. 3. William Laxton, February 1840

[28] A Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland. A. W. Skempton (Editor)

[29] A Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland. A. W. Skempton (Editor)

[30] Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society August 2008 Book Review of ‘John Penn and Sons of Greenwich’, by Richard Hartree

[31] OBITUARY. THOMAS WICKSTEED, 1806-1871. Minutes of the Proceedings, PART 1 Volume 33, Issue 1872, January 1872, pages 241 - 246

[32] House of Commons. East London Water Bills, &C.;Session 5 February - 21 August 1867- Reports From Committees: 1867 

[33] Historical and Statistical Account of the present System of Supplying the Metropolis with Water, Journal of the Statistical Society of London, Vol. 8, No. 2. Joseph Fletcher.  June 1845. Wikipedia

[34] On the Supply of Water to the Metropolis (Thomas Wicksteed) The Civil engineer and architect's journal, Vol. 3 February 1840 (p. 45)

[35] Waterworks Clauses Act1847(10& 1IVict.c.17),sec.35. Arthur Shadwell, The London water supply, London, Longman, 1899.

[36] (13&14 Vict.chap 109)

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

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

[39] A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10: Hackney: Public services, pp. 108-115, Fn 86. T.F.T.Baker (Editor) 1995

[40] The People's Journal, Volume 2. Edited by John Saunder. 1847

© leabridge.org.uk December 2012
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