1902 Encyclopedia > London > London - Water Supply; Problem of Future Supply; Water Companies

(Part 10)


Water Supply. Problem of Future Supply. Water Companies.

For two centuries after the Conquest, London obtained a sufficient supply of pure water partly from the rivers or streams which passed through it and partly from wells sunk into the sands above the chalk. Holywell, Clerk’s Well (Clerkenwell), and St Clement’s Well (near St Clement’s Inn) are mentioned by Fitzstephen as those "of most note." In 1236 the magistrates purchased from Gilbert Sandford the liberty to convey the waters of the Tyburn from Paddington in leaden pipies to the city , and a great conduit of lead castellated with stone was begun in West Cheap in 1285. Various other conduits were built in the 14th and 15th centuries, some for the water of the Thames, from which also the inhabitants were supplied by the city company of water-bearers, who brought it in leathern panniers slung on horses. In 1582 a great step in advance was taken by Peter Moris, a Dutchman, the real originator of the Thames water companies who erected a "forcier" on an arch of London Bridge to convey the Thames water into the houses in the east end of the city as far as Gracechurch Street; in 1594 another was erected near Broken Wharf for West Cheap, Fleet Street, and the district round St Paul’s, and in 1610 a third at Aldersgate without the gate. Moris, who obtained the lease of one arch of London Bridge for five hundred years at a rental of 10s. per annum, and two years later the use of another arch, erected for his purpose very ingenious machinery; and the works continued until 1701 in the possession of the family, who after amassing large wealth sold the lease to a company for £30,000. They ultimately occupied four arches, and continued till 1822, when the supply was purchased by the Southwark Company for £10,000. In 1605 an Act was passed for supplying the northern districts from springs near Ware in Herts. This enterprises was in 1609 undertaken by Hugh Myddleton, who, when his funds became exhausted in 1612, received the necessary money from James I. on condition of his sharing in the profits. With this assistance the reservoirs at Clerkenwelll supplied by the New River were opened in 1613. in 1630 a scheme to bring water to London and Westminster from Hoddesden in Herts was promoted by aid of a lottery licensed by Charles I. on condition that the promoters should pay £4000 per annum into the king’s treasury. Stripe, writing in 1720, mentions that "there is not a street in London but water runs through it in pipes conveyed underground, and from those pipes there is scarce a house whose rent is £15 or £20 per annum but hath the convenience of water brought into it," while ‘for the smaller tenements there is generally a cock or pump convenient to the inhabitants." In 1721 the Chelsea Water Company began to supply water from the Thames to Westminster and the parts adjacent, and in 1783 the supply of south London was supplemented by the erection of the Lambeth water-works opposite Charing Cross. The Vauxhall Company was established at Vauxhall Bridge in 1805, the West Middlesex near Hammersmith in 1806, the East London on the River Lea at Bow in the same year, the Kent on the Ravensbourne at Deptford in 1810, the Grand Junction at the Grand Junction Canal in 1811, and the Southwark at London Bridge in 1822. For several years before the interference of parliament the companies had agreed to restrict themselves to separate localities. The Acts of 1847 required the companies to provide pure and wholesome water for the use of the inhabitants in the districts supplied by them, and also to provide water for general use. an Act passed in 1852 compelled the removal of the companies beyond the tidal limits of the Thames, contained regulations as to rates, enforced thorough filtration, and endeavored to make provision for a constant supply. The rates, which differ in the various companies, were in some respects amended by the Act of 1871; but, as it fails to guard against claims for back dividends, no sufficient guarantee is provided against the raising of the rates. These are charged chiefly on the value of the houses, but the Acts do not distinguish with sufficient clearness between the gross annual value and the rental. A proposal in 1880 to purchase the rights of the companies, whose capital was then a little over £12,000,000 for £34,160,000, failed to commend itself to a committee of the House of Commons.

Their accounts being made up at different periods, it is impossible to give comparative returns for the companies; the following are the figures (Table V.), as best they can be stated, for two years:-


Within ten years the increase of capital has thus been about 24 per cent., or 2 2/5 per cent. per annum, the increase of the income 54 per cent., or 5 2/5 per cent. per annum, and of the expenses 57 per cent., or 5 7/10 per annum. Thus, while in 1871 there was a capital of 10 millions, gaining 6 per cent. profits, in 1881 there was a capital of 12 1/2 millions producing 7 3/4 per cent. Within the last two years the value of the property has been increasing at a more rapid ratio, and probably at the rate of £1,250,000 per annum; but, as on account of the proposal to buy up the rights of the companies they have at present special reasons for curtailing expenses and delaying the carrying out of all but essential improvements, it is impossible to know how much of the increase is temporary and artificial.

According to Dr Frankland the water of the Thames and the lea, notwithstanding the most efficient possible filtration, is, on account of sewage pollution, becoming less and less fit for domestic use, about one-half of the water at present supplied being already grossly polluted, and a very large proportion of the remainder occasionally polluted. He therefore recommends that the supply of water for domestic use should be taken from the springs of the basin before they reach the river. At the present rate of the increase of London the supply required will, however, within forty years exceed that which may be obtainable in the whole Thames basin in times of summer drought, such as may occur in any year, and thus in a future not far distant a means of storage must be provided, or a new source of supply discovered, involving an outlay which would at least double the rates on the present rental. The Kent Company, which obtains its supply from the chalk wells, is the only one possessing wholly unpolluted sources, but the New River Company also obtains about one-tenth of its supply from springs, the remainder being obtained from the Lea. The east London Company obtains its supplies from the Lea and Thames, and the other companies from the Thames alone. The following table (VI.) gives certain particulars:-


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