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Lea Bridge Waterworks timeline

1772-1829 Hammerton & Killick

Alderman Hammerton

In 1772, Benjamin Ardley was named as the lessee, but possibly a subletting miller. [1]

Jonathan Rogers and Charles Hammerton, in 1782, leased the mills from Tyssen. Rogers was to retain an interest until 1782, but by 1790 was bankrupt.

Hammerton was a member of Worshipful Company of Paviors and, from 1797, held the position of City Pavior and alderman of the Bread Street ward.[2] He realised a considerable fortune by the introduction of the ‘Scotch pavement’ to London using Scottish pebbles to pave streets, which were considered superior.[3]

‘This Gentleman is a City pavior and from being a poor boy has raised himself to affluence. One of his men found a fifty pound note and honestly took it to him. The Alderman gave him his thanks. This anecdote of his liberality was published at the time he was chosen Alderman in opposition to Mr Waddington.[4]

Alderman Hammerton a pavior from being a very poor boy raised himself to affluence.’[5]

Hammerton was Sheriff of London in 1789 when the King visited St Paul's Cathedral, to give thanks for his recovery.[6] The visit was accompanied by many ostentatious gestures.[7] Hammerton arranged for the streets along the processional route to be strewn with gravel at his own expense.[8] A report of common council of 13 March 1817 states Mr. Charles Hamerton, Pavior, contributed over £15 for the Royal Entertainment.[9]

As well as an extremely lucrative concern, the mills were clearly a prized asset and a conspicuous symbol of Hammerton’s success.

In 1791, profits from the Waterworks were reported as rising, assisted in 1784 by a new or expanded reservoir at Clapton when the mill was reported sold. [10] [11] [12] The notice of sale of 1791 offered the undivided moiety of the Hackney Waterworks and corn-mills, which described the corn-mills as capable of grinding nearly 300 quarters per week.[13]

This success was achieved in the face of adversity. The Waterworks were inundated with a major flood in January 1788 when the works were at a standstill. Concerns led to the rationing of the supply from Clapton reservoir. [14]

In 1794, the corn mill, supervised by Mr Killick, was grinding and supplying very high quality and highly dried flour for government service to the troops abroad. High quality corm was supplied by the Government, then ground and dried at Lea Bridge to help it keep abroad. ‘Even the East India Company did not dry it so high.’ The Mills also supplied the Stratford Distillery.[15]

The Mill was supervised by Mr. Palmer, Killicks foreman, with John Little named as Hammerton’s miller. The millstones and hot houses were on the ground floor with the corn store on the second floor, connected by trunks or spouts. Between these floors was the needle manufactory, through which the trunks passed, employing needlemakers Mr. Gamble and Mr. Low. [16]

Further details of the Government contract is given in the trial in 1794 of James Bocquet. Bocquet was a bargeman employed by Hammerton to work on the wharf at Lea Bridge Mills.  Empty Barges were sent away from Lea Bridge to be filled with meal or flour at Deptford, transported in hempen sacks, ‘the property of Our Lord the King’.[17]


On the 14th January 1796 the Mills caught fire:

‘There was an immense fire here, which, after burning with amazing rapidity for two hours, entirely consumed the mills, with a quantity of wheat and flour. About 3,000 quarters of this, the property of the Government, were also involved in the common destruction, which is supposed to have been caused by a flour-weigher leaving a lighted candle between two sacks of meal, one of which must have caught fire.’[18]

‘The works which supply Clapton with water were also destroyed; and a considerable pin or needle manufactory, with much timber on the Wharf.’ [19]

It is not clear if this is evidence of saw mill, perhaps drilling wooden pipes, or was it perhaps holly wood used for silk needles and pins.

John Shepherd Killick’s wife, Hammertons daughter, escaped from the adjoining dwelling house without sustaining injury, although, having recently lain-in, she was reportedly ‘greatly alarmed and removed in fright’.

The fire was a great spectacle. Contemporary accounts highlights the scale of the mill complex:

A dreadful fire broke out about one o'clock, in the spacious premises called Lea Bridge-Mill, near Hackney, which were nearly burned to the ground, notwithstanding their vicinity to the river, it being some time before engines could be procured. An immense quantity of flour is feared to have been burned, or otherwise destroyed, in the mills and warehouses. At three, the slimes were so strong as to throw a light upon the fronts of houses in Marylebone, distant five or six miles.[20]


Within two years, in April 1798, the Waterworks were back in operation supplying Hackney, if only possibly by temporary or remedial works; but the mill may not have been restored to full active use until 1802. [21]

By 1798, Alderman Hammerton was sole proprietor of the Lea bridge corn mills, overseen by his now son-in-law, John-Shepherd Killick.[22]


In May 1798, eighty bushels of wheat meal, fifty bushels of flour, nine hempen sacks, and a sack cart were stolen from the mills. Richard Palmer, John Innes and Joseph With were apprehended by Mr. Killick, tried, found guilty at the Old Bailey, and transported.[23]

Palmer was a local publican, possibly at the Horse and Groom/Chevaliers Ferry House and would have known the mills well, having previously worked for Killick as a foreman at the mill and lived at the house of Charles Hammerton before that. [24]

Details of the trial reveal the pattern of operations at the mill. Hammerton had a Government milling contract along with many companies using the mill for grinding corn: Johns Thistlewood; Joseph Bell, a baker of Watling Street; Mr. Christopher Lance, a flour factor; Mr Joseph Bell of AA Raycliffe, Reading.

Hammerton's death

Shortly before his death in 1800, possibly in 1791, Hammerton leased or sub-let the mill to the London Flour Mill Company at a rent of 4.5 l per annum. This chartered company supplied London with flour and bread, possibly operating under The London Company for the Manufacture of Flour, Meal, and bread Act of 1800.[25][26]

The greater part of the Hammerton’s property devolved to his son, Charles Hammerton, a pavior of Whitefriars, but Killick appear to gave continued to control and operate the mills at Lea Bridge, and is listed as a mealman at Hackney mills Lea Bridge in 1802.[27]

Foundation of the East London Waterworks Company

The East London Waterworks Company, founded in 1807, was to play a central role in the development of the Lea Bridge Waterworks, but only after the Company purchased the Works and incorporated them into their supply infrastructure after 1829.[30] The Lea Bridge Works continued as a going concern during this period and, under Killick and others, developed independent plans for expansion and improvements as late as 1824.

The Hackney Waterworks and mills continued as a separate entity until this date, although the works were increasingly eclipsed by the expansion of the East London Company, whose area of supply included that of the Hackney works.

Ralph Walker

The renowned civil engineer Ralph Walker was appointed Engineer to the newly formed East London Waterworks Company in 1807 at a salary of £550 per year. He held the position until 1824. He designed and supervised the construction of the original works at Old Ford along with two low level reservoirs and an upper distribution reservoir. 

Walker’s approach was pragmatic and economical. He opposed the introduction of steam engines in 1807 on the basis of high repair costs and thought that neither public nor private bodies ought to run any risk by trying new experiments of inventions in the first instance.[37] The East London Waterworks Company was later to be the first to adapt and introduce the Cornish beam engine and later the triple-expansion steam engine into waterworks practice.

James Walker (1781-1862), Ralph Walker's nephew and his pupil from 1800, designed a second Lea Bridge of iron, 140 feet long, which replaced the earlier timber bridge in 1820.[38]

Killick & son

John Killick and later his son John Killick Junior, either retained or revived an interest in the mill after Hammerton’s death, possibly operating the concern on behalf of the London Company, at least for a period of time.

Killick was living at the mills in July 1805 and claimed to have no other partners, public or private. He was sending barges overnight down river via Bromley (by Bow) locks. The brewery was also in use at this time.[42]

In October 1805, Killick’s servant, William Barnes, supervised by his foreman Joseph Sheekenan, transported barges of corn from within the Iron Gate at Tower Hill to Lea Bridge and delivered ground and highly dried flour to the Victualling Office of His Majesty’s Yard at Deptford.[43]

In 1806, John Hirst, a flour dresser who had lived with Killick at the mill for 3 years previously, was prosecuted at the Old Bailey for stealing flour.[44]

A description for insurance purposes of 1808 notes only Killick’s Water Corn Millhouses of brick, timber and tile with two adjoining kilns communicating only by two iron pipes.[45]

The Killick’s were interested in milling and new milling technology and took and interest in a new method for supporting the Bed Stone of a Corn Mill.[46]

‘We the under signed do hereby certify that the principle adopted by Mr Thomas Austin of Waltham Abbey Essex for the purpose of adjusting the bed stone of a corn mill so that it will lie firm on its bearings fully answers the intended purpose upon a trial of two years at the Waltham Abbey corn mill and is evidently a public benefit as it produces more flour and less weight of offal from a given quantity of wheat than the mode heretofore in general use of wedging the bed stone up.’[47]

The certificate was signed by John Killick, Hackney and John Killick Jun. Proprietors of Lea Bridge Corn Mills. April 14 1819.

John Shepherd Killick Junior of Hackney Mills Lea Bridge, miller, is listed a bankrupt on 14th April 1810.[48]

‘The  Creditors  who have proved  their  Debts  under a Commission of  Bankrupt awarded  and issued against John  Shepherd  Killick, of  Hackney Mills,  Lea - Bridge, in the  County of Middlesex,  Miller, Dealer  and  Chapman,  are desired  to meet  the Assignees of  the Estate  and Effects of  the said  Bankrupt, on  Tuesday  the  20th Day of  March  instant, at  Twelve of  the Clock  at  Noon,  at  the  Langbourn Coffee House,  Fenchurch - Street,  to  assent  to or dissent from  the said Assignees felling  and disposing of  the  Bankrupt's  Interest in  the Mills  and  Water - Works  at  Lea - Bridge, by private Contract, or otherwise.’[49]

In 1816, the Hackney Waterworks was made ‘an active Canvas’ to win new water supply customers and maintain existing customers as the East London and New River Companies encroached. [50]

The battle for the lease(s)

Various plans to either extend the Lea Bridge works or to acquire and integrate them with other works were prepared in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. These were to conclude with the East London Company acquiring the works, but after a considerable battle between competing interests . Engineers John Rennie and Robert Mylne separately advised parties engaged in negotiations on the control of the freehold or leasehold interests, but the opportunity to expand and integrate the works was not to be realised until 1829. [51]

The 61-year lease granted to The Adventurers was due to expire in 1821. John and James Surrey, millers of first Silver Street, Edmonton and later at Rotherhithe from 1805, held the lease.  Killick was still working at the mills in 1821, following his bankruptcy, whilst claiming to be the proprietor. [52]

John and James Surrey also had an interest in a cornmill at Edmonton earlier in 1800. That arrangement may point to the arrangement between the Surrey’s and Killick at Lea Bridge. Mr. Beale was the proprietor of the Edmonton Mill and paid the millers their wages whilst the Surrey’s used or employed the whole of the mill. The Surrey’s paid so much a quarter for having their corn milled or manufactured there; ‘we agree to employ the mill wholly, let there be little or much water; the whole of the corn is ours, and Mr. Beale pays the men’.[53]

A tussle for control of the works arose between the East London Company, Killick and the Surrey brothers with William George Tyssen playing one side off against another. [54]

Tyssen received an initial proposal from The East London Company to take over the Hackney Works in 1819 but the Surrey brothers made a counter offer to the East London Company in 1820 to discontinue their operation for a sum of £5,000; or else they planned to install a new steam engine and compete to supply water to Hackney parish and beyond.[55]

The East London Company twice postponed consideration of the offer. After the first, the Surrey brothers placed a notice in the London Gazette of their intention to obtain an Act and plans were prepared to expand the works. The works were in a dilapidated state, Tyssen was negotiating with Killick to renew the lease (and possibly informing the East London Company of the weakness of the Surrey’s position), whilst the Company were not in a position to purchase the works. Messrs Scott Garnett and Palmer of the Corn Exchange may also have had an interest in the cornmills. The Surrey’s settled in April 1821, but were bankrupt by October of that year.

A memorandum of agreement of 6th February 1820 records the signing of a 31 year lease for the mills to John Shepherd Killick and John Killick the Younger for the sum of £680.00[56] In March 1824, Killick, with a renewed lease, was reported to be replacing wooden mains with iron pipes and seeking capital to expand the works and install a steam engine, possibly breaching an earlier agreement he had come to with the East London Company.

Speculative plan of for new waterworks and reservoirs at Lea Bridge, 1824 (Metropolitan Archives)

In 1824, plans were developed for ‘constructing and maintaining waterworks with reservoirs, main pipes and other work for supplying with water the inhabitants of the several parishes, hamlets, townships and liberties mentioned in a certain notice published in the London Gazette October 30th and November 2nd and 6th 1824’. The plans were prepared by Macklin Civil Engineer of Limehouse, London.[57]

‘at a tumbling bay is proposed to be erected on the west side of Lee Bridge Mill to convey the surplus water over it as well as over the present Bay and sluice. The Water to be conveyed in an open or covered channel into the reservoirs’. [58]

The plans show two oval reservoirs on the site of Middesex Wharf connected by a pipe or open channel to the west side of Lea Bridge Mill (adjacent to the water wheels sluices) and to each other by a steam engine building (arranged to indicate that the engine pumped water from the reservoirs up the hill to the reservoirs). A superintendent’s house and an office building are shown beside an entrance and entrance gates aligned with Pound Lane (Millfields Road) and a crossing of the cut at the horse bridge. There is a small dock to the south.

The plans indicate the strips of grazing land, Lammas lands], required to carry out the works. The plans indicate new or existing reservoirs at Clapton Ponds and at Stamford Hill, and a pipeline from Lea Bridge to Clapton Square. The plans indicate no connection to the south towards the Old Ford Works suggesting that these works were unconnected with the New East London Company were intended only to supply the local district from the high reservoirs at Clapton Pond and Stanford Hill.

Killick offered to sell to the Company in November 1824, either the Waterworks for £10,000 or the Works and the mill for £18,000. But Killick died before the deal was agreed and his son, John, failed to close the deal. [59]

The East London Company’s initial interest in property at Lea Bridge was to take water from below Lea Bridge Mills, without acquiring the works but, by April 1829, they resolved to purchase the works themselves.

Both Killick and Tyssen first opposed the Bill to move the water source but, after reaching agreement with the Company, the Bill was altered to empower the company to purchase the works. [60]

Valuations were actively contested and went to arbitration. Joseph Cubitt was appointed by the Company to assess the works, but Killick barred access whilst taking parallel measures to enhance the apparent value of the works. The deal was finally done and the Company took full possession in November 1829. Tyssen also settled the freehold, selling the freehold with various sub plots and a reservoir. [61]

A description of the mills at the beginning of the nineteenth century

'A large building chiefly of wood on a brick foundation with a slate roof containing the waterworks and a corn mill with ware and stor rooms…2 water wheels one of which is used for the purpose of the Mill and the other supplies the Waterworks as well as turns the Mill and also moves an Engine for boring pipes for Waterworks.’ The water tower (or chimney) depicted in 1762 had been removed by 1829. [62]

A picture of the extent and functioning of the water mill before 1828 can be obtained from the indenture of 1832 transferring the freehold interest from Tyssen to the East London Company. This states:

‘The mills contain the machinery, forcing pumps, engines and pipes forming and supplying the waterworks called Hackney of Lea Bridge Waterworks.’

The document also describes the extent of the property transferring all the islands formed by the river on the east side between Lea Bridge and the road leading to the Horse and Groom, two cottages or tenements with cart shed, stables and hackyard on the east side and lands called ‘Paradise’ on the west, as well as all reservoirs and ground and a fishery.

Robinson (REF) described the works thus; ‘The Lea Bridge Mills were employed for grinding corn, and a small proportion of the power (amounting to eight horses) was used occasionally to supply water, about 600,000 barrels being raised annually’. [63]

A new lease or agreement was entered into by Thomas Sparrey, Victualler for £51 and an annual rent of £66.00.


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

[2] The Gentleman's Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, Volume 70, Part 2, November 1800

[3] The Gentleman's Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, Volume 70, Part 2, November 1800

[4] City Biography containing anecdotes and memoirs of the progress, situation & character of the aldermen and other conspicuous personages of the Corporation and City of London, 1800

[5] The Penny magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. Volume 3 1834 Page 255

[6] The Gentleman's Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, Volume 70, Part 2 November 1800

[7] The Gentleman's Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, Volume 70, Part 2 November 1800

[8] The Quarterly Review, Volume 35 Art VI 1 The Life and Times of Frederick Reynolds Written by Himself, 2 Vols, London, 1826

[9]  The history and antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and parts adjacent, Volume II 1828 Page 213.

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

[11] British History On Line Middlesex Economic History

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

 [13]The Municipal Parks, Gardens, And Open Spaces Of London. Lieut.-Col. J. J. Sexby, V. Delliot Stock. 1905

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

[15] Old Bailey Trial of William Brightmore t17940716-58

[16] Old Bailey Trial of William Brightmore t17940716-58

[17] Old Bailey Trial of James Bocquet t17940917-58

[18] The Municipal Parks, Gardens, And Open Spaces Of London. Lieut. Col. J. J. Sexby, V. Delliot Stock, 1905

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

[20] Domestic Intelligence 1796. Walker's Hibernian magazine, or, Compendium of Entertaining Knowledge, for the year 1796 Part 1

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

[22] Old Bailey Proceedings, 18th September 1805.

[23] Old Bailey Proceedings, 18th September 1805.

[24] Old Bailey Proceedings, 18th September 1805.

[25] Agricultural Magazine 1800 page 309

[26] The Gentleman's Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, Volume 70, Part 2 November 1800

[27] Hackney Waterworks. East London Record Vol. 8 Issue 1985 pp. 7-21. K Fairclough

[42] Old Bailey trial of John Hofard t….

[43] Old Bailey Trail of John Ives 1805 Ref. t18051204-13

[44] Old Bailey trial of John Hurst t18060521-19

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

[46] The Repertory Of Arts, Manufactures, And Agriculture, Volume XL, Second Series.1822

[47] The Repertory Of Arts, Manufactures, And Agriculture, Volume XL Second Series 1822

[48] The Tradesman, or Commercial Magazine, Vol.4, p.469, 1810

[49] The London Gazette. 1810

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

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

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

[53] Proceedings of the Old Bailey Joseph Sharp, Edward Warren, Theft > grand larceny, 28th May 1800 Ref. t18000528-76

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

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

[56] London Metropolitan Archives

[57] Proposed New Waterworks Company London Gazette Oct 30th and Nov 2nd and 6th 1824 (Metropolitan Archives ACC 2423/P1702)

[58] Metropolitan Archives Plan (REF)

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

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

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

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

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

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