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Lea Bridge Waterworks timeline


The Foreman's House constructed in 1855 acted as a gatehouse to the Number One Essex Beds

Relocation of the East London Company’s water intake, improved storage and filtration and the transformation of the sewerage system resulted in a substantial improvement in the quality of East London’s water supply in second half of the nineteenth century.[1] But the Company’s infrastructure, and the Lea Bridge works at the centre of these combined improvements, were to prove insufficient and inadequate in the face of the public health crisis to come.

The Lea Bridge works in 1852 were still a comparatively modest concern, mostly contained within the site of the current Middlesex filter beds. Water taken into the reservoir near Lea Bridge was distributed by the water wheels and force pumps at the station amounting to 12 per cent of the whole Company’s supply (87 per cent of the water supplied was distributed by the engines at the works at Old Ford with the waterworks stream -Stratford- supplying about 1 per cent). The two Lea Bridge waterwheels with pumps, one of 7’ stroke and one of 3’, together provided 40 horse power supplying over 1,450,00 gallons in each 24 hour period.[2]


Despite moving the intake to Lea Bridge, away from the influence of the tide and the expanding (and polluting) residential and manufacturing districts of the Lower Lea, and despite the provision of more storage and settling reservoirs, complaints about both the inadequacy and impurity of the water supply continued.

A serious outbreak of cholera swept east London in 1852. The area of infection was found to strongly correlate with the area supplied by the East London Company and suspicion fell upon the Company, the River Lea, and both the Old ford and Lea Bridge works. A subsequent cholera epidemic reported by Snow in 1853-4, included the infamous Broad Street Pump cholera outbreak of 1854 in Soho. Snow wrote ‘It is probable also, that the water of the East London Company, obtained above Lea Bridge, had no share in propagating the malady (Cholera)’.[3]The water of the East London Company is also free from the contents of sewers, unless it be those from the neighbourhood of Upper Clapton, where there has been very little cholera.[4]

The Company’s response

The Company’s response, under parliamentary pressure, was to bring forward a succession of increasingly ambitious schemes to move the source further outside the metropolis combined with new facilities for resting and filtering supplies before distribution at Lea Bridge and the interception and segregation of the Lea valley sewer network, particularly at Tottenham and Low Hall, Wathamstow (in association with the Lea Conservancy).

The East London Company’s response was ambitious, expending £250,000 in these efforts by 1856.

Parliament asserted general control over the London water companies from 1852 leading to immediate and significant improvements by the Company.  The 1852 Metropolis Water Act required that only filtered watered to be supplied in London. An Act of 1853[5] extended the area of the East London Company and authorised further reservoirs but proposals to extend the source northwards failed.[6]

Moving the source away from Lea Bridge

The condition of the river Lea Bridge was far from ideal as a source of water to be supplied without filtration.[7] Nevetheless, the source was to remain at Lea Bridge until after 1854.

The East London Water Company acquired powers to take their water immediately above Lea Bridge Mills under an Act of 1850, but nothing further was proposed or designed until an Act of 1852,[8] with plans to take water from the tail of two mills above Lea Bridge: Tottenham Mill tail and the Copper mill, which were to be united by a channel.

‘In the year 1850 a change in the rights grew up, by which the company were enabled to take their water above Lea Bridge Mills, but that privilege was only partially exercised, as new works were designed for taking it at a considerable distance above’.[9]

These rights were only partly taken up, because they were given on the understanding that in the next session of Parliament the Company would introduce a Bill for the purpose of moving the intake even further up the Lea.  

The Company duly produced a new Bill in 1853 for the purpose of taking water from Field's Weir at the junction of the Stort and the Lea, but their proposal encountered strong opposition from the government on account of their manufactories at Waltham Abbey and Enfield. This provision of the Bill was rejected by Parliament and the Company prohibited from taking their supply higher up than the Government works.[10]  The intake, which had remained at Lea Bridge, was removed to the Copper Mills at Walthamstow.  


The Coppermill

A cut was made from Tottenham Lock to bring a supply of relatively unpolluted water to Coppermill and  a new conduit from the tail of the copper mill traveled down to the expanding complex of storage and settling reservoirs and filter beds at Lea Bridge.[11]

An intercepting culvert was also constructed to exclude the sewerage of the parishes of Enfield, Edmonton, Tottenham and Hackney.

Charles Greaves

Charles Greaves succeeded Thomas Wicksteed to the post of Engineer of the East London Waterworks Company in 1851, a comparatively small undertaking. He held the post until 1871.

New Reservoirs, aqueducts & filter beds

The controversy of the source of supply aside, the Acts 1852 and 1853 empowered the Company to construct and filter beds at Lea Bridge (The Number 1 Essex Beds) and the first reservoirs at Walthamstow.[12]

This marked the beginning of a new phase in the development of Lea Bridge Works: No longer the source of supply, but a centre of storage, treatment and distribution and supply incorporating the latest scientific and technological advances in water treatment of the mid nineteenth century. The expanding works were a testament to the increasing scale of the water supply infrastructure needed to meet London’s rapid growth. This period of improvement and expansion is strongly associated with the Company’s Chief Engineer Charles Greaves, although the commencement of this phase of the work overlaps with the final years of Wicksteed’s tenure.[13]

Greaves supervised the construction of the filter beds at Lea Bridge. 12 acres on the east bank of the Lea on the site of the Horse and Groom Public House (Formerly the Chevaliers of Ferry Boat Inn) were acquired. A series of 13 filter beds were constructed; six on the east (No. 1 Essex Filter Beds) on and seven on the west bank of the river (Middlesex Filter Beds replacing Lea bridge reservoir) from which the water flowed through cast iron pipes to the various pumping wells. The old cut from Lea Bridge, the settling tank, and circular pond are entirely abandoned and the supply is rendered direct from the engines thus rendering atmospheric contamination all but impossible. [14] [15] 

The characteristic islands of the old waterworks were remodeled and joined into to the East London Waterworks Company’s land to the south by 1865.[16]

Jon Air, who constructed the 48 inch water main from Lea Bridge to Old Ford in 1854 was contracted to construct new filter beds at Lea Bridge in 1869.


Two more filter beds on the Essex bank, the number 2 Essex and then the Leyton Filter beds were built under an Act of 1867[17] which also gave powers to construct more reservoirs at Walthamstow and to acquire Chingford Mill when its lease expired (which did not happen until 1882) and to make a new intake there for the higher reservoirs. Three hundred acres of reservoirs were create after an Act of 1853 with the small reservoirs north of Coppermill Lane the earliest to open from 1863.[18]

Greaves supervised the construction of the aqueduct from his newly developed Walthamstow reservoirs, across the marshes to Lea Bridge.[19]

The Company had purchased the Old Copper Mill at Coppermill Lane, to the north of Lea Bridge, in 1860. Re-built in 1806 to crush linseed oil, by 1808 it was used for copper rolling. The main building of brick with giant segmental arches on pilasters with stone capitals was supplemented by an Italianate arcaded engine tower in 1864 to a design probably of Greaves (but Pevsner says W.B. Bryan) which points to the character of the ‘Magnificent Italianate engine houses at Lea Bridge’[20] commissioned by Greaves (but Pevsner again believes them to be by W.B. Bryan) in the same period.

At the end of this phase of expansion there would be 25 filter beds Lea Bridge across an area of 24 acres.


Engine power

Up to 1852-4, the works were probably driven entirely by water wheel and water powered force pumps (although there are some conflicting accounts). The East London Company pioneered steam-pumping engines and introduced the highly efficient Cornish engine to waterworks use. Nevertheless, there was no steam power at Lea Bridge until the Act of 1853.[21]  The first Cornish steam engine at Lea Bridge, the Victoria was installed c. 1852, one of the largest in existence. This was possibly conceived by Wicksteed in the final years of his tenure but supervised and constructed by Greaves, his successor.[22]

Greaves supervised the construction of the large  “Victoria,” Cornish engine, a campanile containing a stand- pipe and chimney, and a 42-inch main laid between Lee Bridge filter-beds and the Old Ford works. The development at Lea Bridge permitted the greater extension of steam-power when required.  A paper on the ‘Victoria’ engine by Mr. Greaves was read before the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, for 1862: ‘On the Relations of Power and Effect in Cornish Pumping-Engines over long periods of working’.

Greaves recommended that the ‘Victoria” Cornish engine should be further augmented with additional engine-power, and he subsequently erected the ‘Prince’ and ‘Princess’ engines, together with additional filter-beds and the engine-house, which formed ‘a bold object’ on the side of the Lea Bridge Road.[23]

‘The Victoria’ engine was erected in 1852 and started operation in 1853-4. The new Cornish engine was one of the largest ever constructed for London and at the time of its erection was the largest machine for supplying water to towns ever constructed.  One of the cylinders was 100 inches in diameter and had an eleven foot stroke.[24] ‘‘This engine, when working full power, pumps about 9,060 gallons of water per minute, usually 140 ft. high, which water is conveyed into London by cast-iron pipes 36 in. diameter’.[25]

In 1855-6, Harvey and Co. of Hayle, Cornwall displayed a model and published an engraving of the single-acting condensing pumping engine and of a safety-balance valve, ‘on the Cornish principle’, for East London Waterworks Company, at Lea Bridge.[26] [27].

A series of engines were subsequently constructed at Lea Bridge. The Victoria Cornish was further augmented by the erection of the ‘Prince’ and ‘Princess’, constructed in 1867, adding 300 additional horse-power.[28]  Authorised by a General Purposes Act ([29]Like the Victoria, the engines were also constructed by Harvey and Co, and may have been duplicates of those erected by Greaves at Hanworth.[30]

A total of thirteen pumping engine stations were eventually built at Lea Bridge from the 1850s housed in ‘The magnificent Italianate engine houses’.[31]

George Devey & the Foreman’s House

In about 1855 the renowned architect George Devey was  commissioned to design a foreman’s house at the entrance to the No. 1 Essex Filter beds, to the east of the current Engineer’s House. The House was multi-functional, acting as an entrance lodge, office and residence. Devey was am important figure in the evolution of Arts and Crafts architecture, who designed several large and attractive houses across the British Isles, including Ascott, Betteshanger, Coombe Warren and St Alban’s Court.. The original drawings are held at the Metropolitan Archives and an original perspective view is held in the James Williams collection held by Sheffield School of Architecture. C A Voysey and R N Shaw, leaders of the arts and crafts movement studied/worked under him. He was in practice from the 1840’s and then partnership with James Williams. A key attribute of Devey’s buildings is that they draw upon modest vernacular architecture as a source, recognising local and regional character. For many observers his smaller buildings, such as lodges, stables and cottages, are his most admirable work, particularly in the way they fit their sites and appear to grow out of the ground, as was the case with the Foreman’s House. The later engineers house is clearly a grander evolution of the arts and crafts style and of this earlier and much more modest, but highly accomplished building.

The development of road & new bridges accesses

Canal and river wharves with secondary access from the Lea Bridge Turnpike and other footpaths largely served the early works.

The mid-nineteenth century waterworks were confined to the area of the current Middlesex Filter beds which were surrounded by water, with access restricted by the River Lea, the Hackney Cut, the Aqueduct to the south west and the mouth of the Lea Bridge Canal Basin. Only one bridge extended across the Hackney Cut from the west, via the bridge over the mouth of the Basin, with access only by foot across the weirs and sluice gates from the east.

Development and expansion in the second half of the nineteenth century required improved access for construction access and the regular supply of substantial amounts of coal to power engines and sand and grit for the filters. Road access from the Lea Bridge Road was therefore developed in addition to supply by canal.

The access from the Turnpike consisted of a series of two bridges. The River Lea trustees provided ways over the Hackney Cut in 1842, south of the main road bridge, for a crossing to the Victoria engine house which became known as Strong’s Bridge (after the adjoining Strong’s Cottage of Farm). The new bridge across the entrance to Lea Bridge Dock replaced a narrower and possibly weaker bridge in 1853. This bridge remains in place and photographs reveal a strong similarity between the design of the lost Strong’s bridge and the remaining Dock Bridge.

The bridge was constructed in 1853 across the mouth of the Lea Bridge Dock giving access to the Middlesex waterworks. It seems likely that the new bridge was provided in order to bear the weight of new machinery delivered to the works. The bridge bears the legend ‘H&M.D.GRISSELL LONDON 1853’.

Henry Grissell (4 July 1817 - 31 January 1883), sometimes known as "Iron Henry", was an English foundry-man who was responsible for the ironwork in a number of prestigious buildings in England, Russia, Austria and Egypt.[32] Grissell started an iron founders and contractors business in 1841 in partnership with his brother, Martin De La Garde Grissell, at the Regent's Canal Ironworks, Eagle Wharf Road, Hoxton. The company made the ironwork for major bridges, including many by Robert Stephenson, Sir William Cubitt, Bidder, Walker & Burges, and also ironwork for Covent Garden Opera House and the Floral Hall, for the some of the Houses of Parliament and the new museum at South Kensington. He also made the gates for Sir William Tite's Royal Exchange, the gates and railings round Buckingham Palace and at the British Museum. [33]

The Grissell family was widely renowned. Thomas Grissell (1801-1874) was article to his uncle Henry Peto in 1815. He executed improvements to the Severn Navigation under Sir William Cubitt, and a greater portion of the Great Western Railway under Mr. Brunel and the Southern Railway under Joseph Cubitt. Thomas Grissell, was a major public works contractor, with cousin Henry Peto. He was the builder of a series of public buildings in London including Hungerford Market, the Nelson Column, and the New Houses of Parliament under Sir Charles Barry [34]

The Company also completed a new bridge to carry the Lea Bridge Road over the new aqueduct, authorized under the Act of 1852-3, although the plates on the current bridge states that it was cast at the Atlas works, and is probably a later bridge.

The Lea Bridge Turnpike commissioners were reluctant to allow side roads and entrances from the turnpike. However, in 1855, the commissioners allowed the Waterworks Company to fill in the ditch between the road and their works and sold to them the tollhouse garden, beside the bridge, for the entrance to the works.

A description of the waterworks in 1866

Description of East London Waterworks at Lea Bridge:

‘In 1866 there was an estimated intake of 19 million gallons per day supplying between 471,109 and 700,000 homes (the engineers of the company gave the higher estimate). 13 filter beds at lea bridge covering an area of 12 acres. The beds were on either side of the lea connected by pipes beneath the river bed. The larger and newer engine at Lea Bridge has a 100in. cylinder and 11ft. stroke. With 250 horse power the engine alone cost 14,000l with the total cost of the engine house and chimneys etc. coming to 23-24,000l.[35]

Water was taken from the Lea short distance above Tottenham Mills and conveyed in a canal to large settling reservoirs at Walthamstow constructed since 1864 and capable of adding at the rate of three million gallons daily to its summer average from the Lea. From there, a canal supplied water to The Lea Bridge Filter beds and, after undergoing filtration was conveyed by a 48 inch pipe main to the pumping engines at Old Ford. The average delivery from these works was stated to be about 130 millions weekly to 89,000 tenements or about 20 million gallons daily.[36] [37]

Before the settling reservoirs were constructed the feeder canal itself, some six miles in length, afforded the only opportunity between the river and the filter beds for the deposition of that excess of sediment which occurs in times of flood the water must have reached the filter beds then at times in a very turbid state causing the interruptions to be proportionally frequent for cleansing them and largely increasing the cost of that process.

The canal terminated at the Lea Bridge Works where there were two sets of filter beds one on the left bank of the river Lea and one on the right bank.  On the right bank there are seven filter beds grouped round a central well into which the filtered water is delivered. On the left bank of the Lea there are six filter beds grouped also round a central well.

The filters extended to 12 acres and bounded by steep slope walls paved with brick. The bottom is of the beds were of concrete upon which are laid the drains and earthenware pipes which collect the filtered water and carry it to the central well.

The filters comprised sand and gravel four foot deep, screened and arranged with the largest size at the bottom.

The water supplied averages 20 millions per day, although most, 15 millions gallons, passed through during the 12 hours of day because the Old Ford storage capacity was not large enough to equalize the rate of filtration through the 24 hours.

Mr Maine, one of the Company's Managers, stated that during the month of July of every year slimy matter very rapidly deposits on the sand interrupting the filtration.

There was one Cornish beam engine at this station. Steam cylinder 100 inches diameter stroke 11 feet Plunger 50 11. The engine was at work making 7 to 8 strokes per minute and delivering 150 cubic feet per stroke. It worked through a single legged stand pipe directly into the city main. There is also an air chamber on the main. It had a battery of eight boilers six at work two at rest Diameter of boiler 5 feet 9 inches each by 30 feet in length The flue 3 feet 6 inches diameter Chimney 148 feet high.

The engine had been working since 1854 day and night. During this period it has had no repairs other than such light work as could be done at the smithy on the premises. The 100 inch engine seemed to be on the whole the most satisfactory specimen of the Cornish pumping engine to be seen in London. The night service of the district was performed by this engine alone with the engines at Old Ford being then at rest.

Subsequent to this description of 1866, the author reported that two new engines had been erected there each with a steam cylinder of 84 inches. The cost of such an engine was stated to probably be about £15,000 complete in all respects.

There were two small water wheels at this place whose pumps work into the local service pipes.[38] 

1866, Water quality testing focuses the cholera problem on Old Ford

The 1852 Metropolis Water Act required all water supplied in London to be filtered, overseen by the Board of Trade.[39]

Early systematic sampling and testing began to be undertaken. Dr H Letheby, the Medical Officer of Health, undertook analyses of water samples from Lea Bridge and from the London Hospital on behalf of the East London Water Company in 1856 (Dr Dundas Thompson, for many years The Government Chemist, also undertook analyses followed by the work of Dr. Hofman then later Professor Frankland in 1867).

The connection between cholera and water supply was dramatically confirmed during the London epidemic of 1863.

‘Thus when, during the last English cholera epidemic in 1863 London cholera showed a marked preference for the East End of the city, the implications were quickly clear to contemporaries. Within three days of the concentration of the outbreak becoming clear, John Simon (then Medical Officer to the Privy Council) had issued a warning to the East London Water Company that the water supply of these districts was suspected to be at fault.’[40]

The entire supply infrastructure of the East London Company fell under suspicion, including the Lea Bridge Works.

The old compensating reservoir at Lea Bridge, created for the mill interests below, was directly connected by an iron pipe to a reservoir at Old Ford, formed from two older distribution reservoirs that had been joined together into one. This system of reservoirs and pipes fell under suspicion, including those at Lea Bridge.

There were three lines of investigation: That the construction and sealing of the Old Ford reservoir had failed; that direct supply of unfiltered water from the lower Lea continued (as was the case before 1829); or that the supply of unfiltered water from Lea Bridge was itself contaminated. It was subsequently shown that the East London Company had illegally distributed water from the uncovered reservoir at Old Ford, which was vulnerable to contamination by infected soakage from the River Lea, in breach of the 1851 and 1852 Metropolis Water Acts.[41]

‘The East London water so far as is shown by chemical tests conducted by chemists who report to the Registrar General and who are of course independent of the water companies is if anything slightly softer and contains less organic impurity than the average of the waters supplied to the metropolis. We are referring here to the filtered water but unfiltered water can also be sent from Lea bridge direct to the engine reservoirs at Old Ford.  These covered reservoirs are near the tidal mouth of the Lea and at about the level of high water and it has been questioned whether there is not some infiltration from the river the contents of which are here of the foulest description. There are two large open reservoirs at Old Ford and these are known to have filled by soakage from the river after they had once been emptied.  The contents of these reservoirs can also in cases of emergency be placed in direct communicating with the engine wells. The chief question, and it is one which nothing but strict official inquiry could solve, is whether the company has at any time during this summer 1866 pumped foul instead of filtered water through its mains into London. It has the means of pumping in a supply, which would be poisonous almost beyond dispute. The Registrar General's reports have hinted that at least on one occasion this was done and so far the East London Company have not publicly noticed this suggestion nor have they offered any explanation of their precautions if any for ensuring a supply of filtered water under all circumstances’[42]

William Farr published figures for cholera deaths for the last week in July 1866 and made public his concerns about East London Company’s Water.[43]

‘The East London Waterworks canal draws its supply from the river at Lea Bridge where there is a reservoir, and the canal runs for a couple of miles by the side of the Hackney cut down to its reservoirs north of Bow and near the Lea (Old Ford). It is right to add that the water has hitherto borne a comparison with other London waters in Professor Frankland’s analyses. Today the water looks clear and no complaints are made of its quality. The company will no doubt take exemplary pains to filter its waters, but it is not easy to guarantee the purity of water drawn from such a river as the Lea’.

On 2nd August 1866, Charles Greaves, engineer to the East London Company, wrote to The Times to refute the suggestion that contaminated water had been allowed to enter the drinking water supply: ‘not a drop of unfiltered water has for several years past been supplied by the company for any purpose.

Following complaints and protests, a Captain Tyler was appointed by the Board of Trade to seek out the source of the contamination. Tyler questioned the East London Company's employees and discovered that on three occasions in March, June and July 1866, a 24-year-old carpenter had admitted water to the Company's closed reservoir (from which drinking water was drawn) from the old reservoir.

Tyler ordered the emptying of the covered reservoirs at Old Ford on 24th February 1866 where he found water spurting from the sides and slopes. After analysis, Dr Letheby found the water to be much less pure than the filtered water he tested at Lea Bridge.

The Lea Bridge Works were exonerated only after Old Ford Works had been confirmed as the source of the contamination. Nevertheless, the obsolete infrastructure at the heart of the contamination was inextricably linked with the earlier development of Lea Bridge as the Company’s source after 1829. The continuation of a separate direct supply from Lea Bridge to Hackney, Clapton and Stamford Hill provided a crucial clue in deducing the source of contamination. Letheby’s systematic water testing, introduced by the Company at Lea Bridge from 1856 also played a crucial part.

Tyler wrote; ‘a case of grave suspicion exists against the water supplied by the East London Company from Old Ford’. He estimated that 4,363 deaths had occurred between 1 July and 1 September, of which 3,797 had occurred in areas supplied only by the East London Company, and a further 264 in an area it shared with the New River Company. Thus, 93% of deaths occurred in areas supplied wholly or in part by the East London Company.[44]

The emerging evidence of the failure of the East London water company to protect its water supply, combined with the fact that the directors attempted to conceal their failure, was enough to finally convince the campaigner Farr of the critical role of polluted water in the propagation of cholera.[45]

Charges that a severe outbreak of cholera in East London in 1866 was attributable to the company's water led to a Government inquiry.[46]

‘The East London cholera epidemic of 1866 bears witness to the polluted state of the untreated Lea, which received water from numerous sewers, cuts, and canals, besides the drainage of towns and industries situated on its upper reaches: Luton, Wheathampstead and its paper-mill, Hatfield and Ware. In addition, the river carried a considerable barge traffic, passing up with manure, bricks, and timber and returning with malt, corn, and wool a traffic carrying a population notoriously uncleanly in its habits.[47]

The cholera epidemics of 1831 to 1866 killed more than 37,000 people in London. This was to lead to a metropolitan solution to London’s sewage when Sir Joseph Bazalgette was commissioned to design and lay out drainage works costing over £4 million to cope with the demands of the rapidly expanding city.  Despite increasing public regulation, the East London Company, along with all the London Water Companies, were allowed continued as separate private concerns until the beginning of the next century.

Closure of the Old Ford Works

The Old Ford site of was forced to close by the end of 1866. The Lea Bridge Works became the principal operational headquarters of the East London Company.[48] The Old Ford Works were entirely demolished and the L.M.S. Railway, Bow Goods Depot constructed on the site.[49] The goods depot subsequently closed and the site cleared again. A double erasure of the Old Ford site.

In 1809-11, the East London Waterworks Company had commissioned Joseph Theakston of York (1772-1842) to sculpt the figure of a River God. The work was installed and unveiled at Old Ford in 1811. When the Old Ford works closed in 1866, the sculpture was moved to the Old Water Wheel House at Lea Bridge Works, where it remained until the closure of the Lea Bridge works 1971. The statue was removed again and installed in a sunken courtyard at Coppermill Lane Waterworks, where it remains today.[50]

Constant supply

East London Waterworks Company placed an advertisement in The London Gazette, on February 16, 1875 announcing that it was to provide a Constant Supply of Water to the Sixth District.

To the Metropolitan Board of Works, and every other Body and Person constituting or being a Metropolitan Authority within the meaning of that expression in "The Metropolis Water Act, 1871", within the District or Area hereinafter described.

NOTICE is hereby given, that the East London Waterworks Company propose to give, on and after the 1st day of July, 1875, a constant supply of water throughout the district or area bounded by and contained within imaginary lines drawn along the respective centres of Sir George Duckett's, otherwise the Hertford Union Canal, of the line of the North London Railway, of the line of the Great Eastern Railway, and of the Regent's Canal, and which district or area is situate within the parishes of Saint Matthew, Bethnal Green, Saint Mary, Stratford-le-Bow, and the hamlet of Mile End Old Town, in the county of Middlesex, or within some or one of those several parishes and hamlet.

Given under the Common Seal of the East London Waterworks Company, the 11th day of February, 1875.[51]

Greaves’ legacy

Greaves’ work brought constancy, reliability and increased capacity to the metropolitan water supply. His industriousness was both remarkable and well rewarded. Within five years of his appointment he received the special thanks of the Directors of the East London Waterworks Company, and a gratuity ‘for the able manner in which he had superintended the outlay of upwards of £300,000 in new works, etc’.

Despite his achievements, it is not at all clear that Greaves’ robust defence of the East London Company’s infrastructure and practices in the face of the Cholera epidemic of 1866 was sincere. If it was, then his trust in the great infrastructure he built and the practices of the Company he served was at least partly misplaced.

In 0ctober 1873 a gratuity of £1,OOO was presented to him “ in recognition of his valuable services, he having during a period of twenty-one years, devised and carried out works at an expenditure of upwards of £1,000,000.

Greaves retired as Engineer to the Company in 1875 but remained a Consulting Engineer until he relinquished all professional duties in 1878.

George Seaton (1836-1881/2)

The latter quarter of the nineteenth century at Lea Bridge was characterized by efforts to increase filtering and pumping capacity and improvements in water quality. By 1880, the East London Company supplied a total of 128,722 households having laid on new supplies to 5,573 in the previous year.

George Seaton was appointed assistant engineer to the East London Waterworks Company in 1874 and subsequently appointed Engineer in Chief in 1875, holding that position until 1881/2.

Trained at the engine works of William Simpson, he assisted in erecting the engines for the Copenhagen Waterworks in 1855 before returning to England as a pupil of the engineer James Simpson where, from 1861 to 1870, he assisted with plans for the enlargement of the Lambeth, Chelsea, and Stockport water companies.[52] In 1870 he was assistant-engineer at the Pest Waterworks and prepared plans and estimates for waterworks in Austria, Hungary, and Russia.[53] Whilst retaining his post with the East London Company, Seaton was permitted by the directors to act as consulting- engineer to the Turin Waterworks, where he revised plans by the Italian engineers.[54]

Seaton executed extensive additions to the works at Lea Bridge including filter-beds, covered reservoirs, a high-service tank and two sets of pumping engines. The Duke and Duchess Engine Houses at Lea Bridge of 1878/80-housed two, compound rotative beam engines of 100 horse power. [55] [56] The existing Filter beds had been reconstructed on  ‘more approved principles’ by 1880 along with four newly constructed filter beds were and a further set of three new filter beds under construction.[57]

The quality on London’s water supply had significantly improved by the1870’s with the introduction of constant supply and additional wells dug. Progress continued to be made in filtration and resting techniques until chlorination resolved any remaining doubts about the ultimate purity of filtered river supplies.

Thames Supply

The East London Company recognized at an early stage that the Lea supply was susceptible to drought and the need to connect together the supplies of different river systems, particularly the Thames. The Company first considered a scheme to take water from the River Ouse in 1864, but abandoned it. Parliament granted powers to take water from the Thames in 1867. An intake was constructed at Sunbury and filtration and pumping works at Hanworth Road. A 36-in. main was laid 19 miles across London across London to a reservoir at Finsbury Park (or Hornsey Wood) which was connected by mains to Lea Bridge.[58] The Thames supply was brought into use in 1872. [59] These developments, together with the sinking of deep wells in the Lea valley, contributed to an appreciable improvement in the quantity and quality of the supply.[60]

A Plaque held had the Kew Bridge Steam Museum of 1871 relates to the Thames Supply and is possibly one of two plaques, one of which may have been installed at Lea Bridge Works at of near the Prince and Princess Engine Houses. The East London Company’s motto ‘Fies Nobilium Tu Quoque Fontium’ is quoted for Horace, Odes (Hor.3 Carm xiii. 13) ‘You also shall become one of the world's great fountains’ or perhaps ’though too shalt become on of the honoured fonts’.[61]


[1] From Users To Consumers – Water Politics In Nineteenth Century, London. London: Birkbeck ePrints. Frank Trentmann and Vanessa Taylor (2005). Available at: http://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/archive/00000277

[2] The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, Vol. 15, 1852.

[3] Communication of Cholera, pp. 64-5. John Snow. 1855

[4] Communication of Cholera, p. 9. John Snow. 1855

[5]  (16&17 Vict.cap166):

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

[7] 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

[8] Evidence of Charles Greaves, on the East London Water Bills etc. to Parliament 21 May 1867

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

[10] Evidence of Charles Greaves, on the East London Water Bills etc. to Parliament 21 May 1867

[11] Engineers And Officials An Historical Sketch Op The Progress Of Health Of Towns Works between 1838 and 1856 (1856)

[12] Local administration and public services: Utility services, A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5 (1966), pp. 37-47

[13] Greater London Council File Notes: Lea Bridge Waterworks, John Robinson

[14] A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10: Hackney: Public services, pp. 108-115, Fn 85. T.F.T.Baker (Editor) 1995

[15] A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5: Local Administration and Public Services: Utility Services, pp. 37-47, Fn 4. W.R. Powell (Editor). 1966

[16] British History On Line Middlesex Economic History

[17] A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10: Hackney: Public services, pp. 108-115, Fn 85. T.F.T. Baker (Editor) 1995

[18] London East, Pevsner (Page 752)

[19] Obituary Notices, Institute of Civil Engineers www.icevirtuallibrary.com/deliver/.../imotp.1884.21660.pdf?..

[20] Pevsner

[21] Evidence of Charles Greaves, on the Eat London Water Bills etc. to Parliament 21 May 1867

[22] Engineers and officials: an historical sketch of the progress of "health of  town works” (between 1838-1856) Published 1856.

[23] A paper on the Victoria engine by Mr. Greaves was read before the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, for 1862: On the Relations of Power and Effect in Cornish Pumping-Engines over long periods of working

[24] 1862 London Exhibition: Catalogue: Class VIII.: Harvey and Co

[25] 1862 London Exhibition: Catalogue: Class VIII. Harvey and Co

[26] Reports of the Committees of House of Parliament: East London waterworks Report 1867 (Page 36)

[27] A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10: Hackney: Public services, pp. 108-115, Fn 85. T.F.T.Baker (Editor) 1995

[28] A paper on the Victoria engine by Mr. Greaves was read before the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, for 1862: On the Relations of Power and Effect in Cornish Pumping-Engines over long periods of working

[29] 30 and 31 Vict.,c.149

[30] Supply of Statutory Companies, Water Supply of Greater London PP 93-5

[31] Pevsner (Page 48).

[32] Obituary. Henry Grissell, 1817-1883.Minutes of the Proceedings, Volume 73, Issue 1883, 01 January 1883, pages 376 –378

[33] Messrs H & M D Grissell manufactured early post office letter box to the design of E A Cowper, the consulting engineer to the Post Office and manufactured, and also London Coal Tax Posts. Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society Newsletter. December 2001

[34] Obituary. Thomas Grissell, 1801-1874.Minutes of the Proceedings, Volume 39, Issue 1875, 01 January 1875 , pages 289 –290

[35] The Waterworks of London. (pre-printed form ‘Engineering’). Zerah Colburn and William H Maw, 1868 (Google books)

[36] Report on the Filtration of River Waters: For the Supply Of Cities, As Practiced In Europe Made To The Commissioners Of The City Of St Louis By James Pugh Kirkwood, Saint Louis (Mo.). Board of Water Commissioner (1869)

[37] Report on the filtration of river waters: for the supply of cities, as practiced in Europe Made to the Commissioners of the City of St Louis By James Pugh Kirkwood, Saint Louis (Mo.). Board of Water Commissioner (1869)

[38] Report on the filtration of river waters: for the supply of cities, as practiced in Europe Made to the Commissioners of the City of St Louis By James Pugh Kirkwood, Saint Louis (Mo.). Board of Water Commissioner (1869)

[39] Reports From Commissioners: River Commission: Minutes Of Evidence Of Mr Charles Graves, December 1866

[40] Water And The Search For Public Health In London In The Eighteenth And Nineteenth Centuries, Medical History, pp. 250-282, Anne Hardy, 1984

[41] Water And The Search For Public Health In London In The Eighteenth And Nineteenth Centuries, Medical History, pp. 250-282, Anne Hardy, 1984

[42] The Waterworks Of London: Together With A Series Of Articles On Various ...  Zerah Colburn, William Henry Maw

[43] The Strange Case Of The Broad Street Pump: John Snow And The Mystery Of Cholera.  Sandra Hempel

[44] Narrative of proceedings of the General Register Office during the Cholera Epidemic of 1866. Parliamentary Papers, 1867: vol.58, pp. 14-15.

[45] The Times, 2 August 1866:10.

[46] A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5: Local Administration and Public Services: Utility Services, pp. 37-47, Fn 4. W.R. Powell (Editor). 1966

[47] Lancet 1866 ii. 130,217 quoted in Parish Pump To Private Pipes: London's Water Supply In The Nineteenth Century. Medical History, Supplement No. I1, 1991: 76-93. Anne Hardy

[48] Official Guide to the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar. Issued by Authority of the Poplar Borough Council Published by Ed. J. Burrow & Co.Ltd.,Cheltenham. 1927

[49] A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5: Local Administration and Public Services: Utility Services, pp. 37-47, Fn 6. W.R. Powell (Editor). 1966

[50] Public Monument and Sculpture Association National Recording Project

[51] The London Gazette, on February 16, 1875

[52] Obituary Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Engineers, 1882. www.icevirtuallibrary.com

[53] Obituary Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Engineers (1882) www.icevirtuallibrary.com

[54] Obituary Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Engineers (1882) www.icevirtuallibrary.com

[55] Obituary Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Engineers (1882) www.icevirtuallibrary.com

[56]  GLC Information

[57] The 10th Annual report of the Local Government Board. 1880-81.

[58] The Thames-Lee Tunnel Water Main Paper No. 6578, Eric William Cuthbert and Frank Wood

[59] (fn. 8)

[60] Local administration and public services: Utility services, A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5 (1966), pp. 37-47

[61] http://thing-a-day2010.posterous.com/?tag=thingaday&page=11

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