] google-site-verification: googlebff6a43135515ad3.html

1902 - present day

Lea Bridge Waterworks timeline

1902 - present day

Metropolitan Water Board


The London County Council had for a number of year’s pressed for public control on the capital’s water supply in order to better co-ordinate water supply across the metropolis and break through a perceived lack of cooperation between the companies.

The whole London ‘water question’ is much confused by the political propaganda generated by the issue of private versus public ownership, notably that put out by the LCC in its unsuccessful bid to win control of the supply.[1]

The London Companies resisted the prevailing nineteenth century trend of municipalization.[2] The East London Company remained in private ownership throughout the nineteenth century when sixty per cent of waterworks in Britain were municipalized by the 1870s. 


The 1902 Metropolitan Water Act marked the end of the private London Companies.[3] The Act amalgamated the eight private water companies into the Metropolitan Water Board, including the East London Waterworks Company, absorbed and abolished from 1902-4.[4]

Powers were transferred to Metropolitan Water Board, with local authority representation.

The assets of the East London Company were purchased for a generous £30,662,323, although the original amount demanded was over £50,939,198 plus a mortgage of £11,624,948 and debenture stock secured on the Company’s assets. It took an appeal to the House of Lords to agree the lower value. The transfer of the East London Company’s assets took place on 24th June 1904.[5]

The Metropolitan Water Board (MWB) instituted a new era in London's water supply history with the replacement of private enterprise by public responsibility.[6] The MWB was a specially constituted body of 66 members, most of them representatives of local authorities in the supply area.

The East London Company had a long history of co-operation with the other London Companies. Notwithstanding, the MWB made it more practical to make more connections between the systems of the various former companies, so that a temporary deficiency in one source of supply might be made good from another.[7]


W.B. Bryan, engineer to the East London Company, was appointed the first Chief Engineer of the Metropolitan water Board from 1903 to 1914, and continued to be responsible for engineering works at Lea Bridge. Despite this widened remit, there is a trace of Bryan’s continuing interest in Lea Bridge. In 1903, Bryan personally supervised emergency action to prevent the inundation of the Lea Bridge works as floodwaters rose.

The relative importance of the Lea Bridge works was diminished by the creation of the MWB whose new headquarters were built at the New River Head in Islington.


H.E. Stilgoe

From 1919-33, Henry Edward Stilgoe (1867-1943) was appointed Engineer to the Board. Formerly the City Engineer of Birmingham, he was responsible for town planning schemes and arterial road construction. Stilgoe oversaw the building or re-building of the ‘Musgrave’ Engine House at Lea Bridge (1922/24), housing a vertical triple expansion engine.[8]

His enquiries led to an Act of 1921 authorizing major extension works for the MWB such as reservoirs, trunk mains, pumping machinery and pioneering rapid filtration techniques. The Hampton Waterworks includes an early 1930s Art Deco pump house for new high lift pumps for the west London mains built by, and named after Stilgoe.[9]

A paper was presented to the Institute of Civil Engineers in 1926 regarding the efficiency of the modern triple-expansion pumping engine at Lea Bridge.[10]

Board of Trade

The Board appointed its own Metropolitan Water Examiner in1903. The post continued in existence until 1921 when London's water supply was considered safe enough for the Board of Trade to abolish the post.[11]


Until the completion of the Lea flood relief channel of 196XX, the river continued to be prone to flooding . On 15th March 1947 and again in 1948, floodwaters entered the Lea Bridge Station of the Metropolitan Water Board, traveling along the newly constructed aqueduct: ‘The Lea Bridge works of the Metropolitan Water Board of London are flooded, which shutting down the works for nine days; the first time in their history that they are shut’.[12]

A dam was subsequently constructed across the channel where it enters the works.[13]

These events triggered the construction of a flood barrier around the perimeter of the works. The approach strongly resembles that of Second World War military engineering techniques.

The Thames–Lee Tunnel

Continuing deficiencies in the Lea supply in times of drought led to the development of an increasingly connected and integrated system of water supply for London and Essex from the middle of the twentieth century. This was to lead on to the development of the works at Coppermill Lane and the eventual closure of the Lea Bridge Works.

The King George reservoir was empty on 6th January 1934 after drought in the summer of 1933, a dry winter in 1933-34 and a hot summer in 1934. MWB Chief Engineer Cronin determined that he solution to these deficiencies was a Thames - Lee Tunnel Water Main.[14]

Cronin’s solution, devised in war-time, was to develop a large main to convey unfiltered Thames water to the Lee Valley in a shallow 48 in. main, but the outline scheme was not progressed further.

Cronin is reputed to have met Sir William Halcrow, who suggested that the main should be a tunnel. The Thames Lea Tunnel of 1945+ supplied filtered water from the Thames by tunnel[15]

As an interim war-time measure Sir Jonathan Davidson designed and commenced the construction of three new reservoir whilst also making Air Raid Precautions.

Arrangements were made to supply North East London with water mostly from the Thames. A large bore tunnel from Hampton Lock to the reservoir at Lockwood was opened in 1960, the realization of Cronin’s plans This made much of the Lea Bridge Plant redundant and the Lea Bridge Waterworks closed in 1971-2, having supplied water for over 264 years.


The Water Act, 1973 established the Thames Water Authority which superseded the Metropolitan Water Board in 1974.[16]

Joseph Theakston’s statue of a River God (originally installed at the Old Ford Works and subsequently at Lea Bridge) was removed from Lea Bridge and installed at Coppermill Lane, Walthamstow. A pamphlet issued to commemorate the inauguration of the Coppermill Lane works on Monday 3rd July 1972 shows a photograph of the sculpture. Pevsner affirms the sculpture is a statue of Aquarius with ewer, from the original Old Ford Works.[17]

MWB Deputy Chief Engineer Edward Boniface developed an experimental scheme for pumping water back into the underground strata via the well at Lea Bridge Works and elsewhere, following the closure of the Lea Bridge Works. The Thames water (Lea Valley Discharge) Order of 1975. Up to 24,000 cubic litres per day was to be discharged at Lea Bridge. This is presumably the function of the various well head buildings on the site today, one in the north east corner adjacent to the Lea Bridge Road and one in the south western corner (site of the former Prince Albert engine house).[18]


[1] Quoted from The Lancet in, Users to Consumers Water Politics in Nineteenth-Century London. Frank Trentmann and Vanessa Taylor. 2005

[2] The Principles, Construction, And Application Of Pumping Machinery (Steam And Water Pressure) With Practical Illustration, pp. 285. Henry Davey. 1905

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

[4] An Illustrated History of Hackney: Strength in the Tower, David Mander, Sutton Publishing. 1998

[5] MWB Report by Councillor Musgrave JP 24th April 1907. (Walthamstow Archives Ref. L27.7)

[6] Parish Pump To Private Pipes: London's Water Supply In The Nineteenth Century Anne Hardy. Medical History, Supplement No. I1, 1991: 76-93.

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

[8]  GLC Information

[9] Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society Newsletter. August 2005

[10] Discussion. The Triple-Expansion Steam-Engine As Applied To The Pumping Of Water, With Special Reference To The Plant At Lea Bridge. Source: Minutes of the Proceedings, Volume 222, Issue 1926, 01 January 1926. Authors: R T Smith; A P I Cotterell; B W Bryan; H E Stilgoe; A Honeysett; R A S Twaites

[11] Politics of Water Supply: The Case of Victorian London (Calcutta, 1981) A.K. Mukhopadhyay

[12] Water and Sewage Works, Volume 94

[13] Water and Engineering, Volume 50, p. 164. 1948

[14] The Thames-Lee tunnel water main Paper No. 6578 Eric William Cuthbert  (Senior Engineer, Sir William Halcrow & Partners, Consulting Engineer) and Frank Wood (Mechanical Engineer, Metropolitan  Water Board) Source: ICE Proceedings, Volume 23, Issue 4, 01 December 1962 , pages690 –704 ,

[15] The Thames-Lee Tunnel Water Main Paper No. 6578 Eric William Cuthbert  (Senior Engineer, Sir William Halcrow & Partners, Consulting Engineer) and Frank Wood (Mechanical Engineer, Metropolitan  Water Board) Source: ICE Proceedings, Volume 23, Issue 4, 01 December 1962 , pages690 –704 ,

[16] A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 10: Hackney: Public services, pp. 108-115, Fn 90. T.F.T.  Baker (Editor) 1995

[17] London East, Pevsner (pp. 752-3)

[18] Walthamstow Archives Reference AL27

© leabridge.org.uk December 2012