The New River Company and the Roads

The Company had to dig up the roads to replace leaking water pipes about every five years. This was as long as wooden pipes would last. The digging up was inconvenient enough but who was to replace the paving? In the 18th century, the Local Authority, called the Vestry, had no duty to do it. The individual householders were responsible for the roadway outside their houses. Some paved, some threw down gravel, many did nothing until taken to court and then delayed. A letter of 1754 said:

'- in the first place, all the pavements of the streets are made to every man's humour; some are made high, and some low, some with kennels (channels, gutters) and some without; some well done and some ill. But that is not all, Sir. 'Tis the Waterworks which destroy the pavements; and do you ever think that will be mended? Why Sir, the owners of the waterworks are most of them Parliament-men, the heads of the Parliament, Sir, all great men! Do you think anyone will be able to oblige them to repair the pavements they break up, whether they are laid down again, well or ill? I advise you Sir, do not give yourself any trouble about it'.

Quoted in 'Local Government in St Marylebone 1688-1835' by F.H.W. Shepperd, p.75.

The Water Company and Fire Fighting

Until 1707, whenever a fire broke out, it was necessary to hack up the pavement and break open the pipes to get at the water. An Act of Parliament then ordered that there must be stop-cocks at intervals along the streets so that water could be drawn off in emergencies. A nearby householder had to hold the key. If he was in and could find the key and there was any water in the pipe, the system worked.


In 1830 the Company bought 42 acres in Stoke Newington for reservoirs, in an area that had been largely brickfields. Obviously, the clay would hold the water well. In 1831, the Western Reservoir was dug and the banks faced with the stones from Old London Bridge. In 1833, the Eastern Reservoir was completed. Together they hold 90 million gallons.

The pumping building with Dutch gables, on the bank of the Eastern Reservoir, in Lordship Rd, has a tablet reading, 'These reservoirs are the property of the New River Company and were begun in 1830 and completed in 1833 under the direction of Mr William Chadwell Mylne, their Engineer'.The building is all that remains of a pumping station and is now a chlorination house. The pumping station had a Beam Engine and a Cornish Boiler working at 9 pounds steam pressure. (Larger engines of a similar nature can be seen working on Sundays at the Old Kew Pumping Station. Incidentally, Kew Pumping Station represented the greatest concentration of power in the world, when it was built. It is an impressive sight even today). In 1846 there was an outbreak of cholera in London and in 1852, filter beds to purify the water, were constructed in Stoke Newington. A large pumping station, disguised as a castle, pumped water to a large service reservoir at Dartmouth Park Hill. Other covered reservoirs were built at Crouch Hill and Hornsey Lane.

These high reservoirs gave enough pressure to force the water to the top floors. The increased pressure would have made the joints in wooden pipes leak more than ever, so cast iron pipes with bolted joints, became essential.

Details drawn from 'The Water Supply of London', published by The Metropolitan Water Board, 1961, and 'Sir Hugh Myddleton' by J.W. Gough, 1964.

The filter beds have been built over and a huge ring main circles round London. The East Reservoir has become a bird and fish santuary and a place of peace. The West Reservoir is now a sailing and canoeing lake, while the old 'Castle' building is a popular climbing centre. Everything changes, in this case for the better.

The Thames Water Authority
The Division's Area

Today, the New River Company has become part
of the mammoth Thames Water Authority.


The New River

John Rocque 1741 Map

Updated: October 13, 2011