Victorian London - Health and Hygiene - Sewers and Sanitation - Water Companies

WATER COMPANIES. The Water Companies of London, although of late years much increased, have still left ample room for augmentation; and if, instead of wasting their substance in ruinous railroad speculations, and divers other projects, mainly put forth for their own advantage only, by scheming and unprincipled lawyers, capitalists would direct their attention to the formation of water companies, the proprietors might rely with safety upon a return of their capital, with ample interest, and reap the additional satisfaction of having greatly contributed to the health, convenience, and comfort of the metropolis. The present existing water companies are - The New River, the Chelsea, the West Middlesex, the East London, the South London, the Grand Junction, the Lambeth, and the Southwark.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844


The New River Company, incorporated on the 21st of June, in the seventeenth year of the reign of James I., was projected in 1608, and completed in 1620, by Sir Hugh Myddleton, to whom a monument was erected in 1863.  
     The other companies are as hereinunder named:
    2. Grand Junction, supplied by the Thames above Hampton. Daily supply to 17,000 houses, 6,700,000 gallons. 
    3. West Middlesex, supplied from the Thames at Hampton. Daily supply to 26,000 tenements, 10,300,000 gallons. 
    4. Chelsea, from the Thames at Seething Wells, Kingston. Daily supply to 25,000 houses, nearly 7,000,000 gallons. 
    5. Southwark and Vauxhall, from Thames, at Hampton. Daily supply to 42,000 houses, and 10,500,000 gallons. 
    6. Lambeth, from Thames, at Thames Ditton; 7,000,000 gallons to 29,000 houses. 
    7. East London, from the river Lea. Daily supply to 75,000 houses, 16,500,000 gallons. 
    8. Kent, from the Ravensbourne ; supplies 3,500,000 gallons to 5,000 houses. 
    9. Woolwich and Plumstead, supplied, by a well in the chalk near Woolwich distributes 600,000 gallons daily to some 3,000 houses.

Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865

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Water.—The names of the London Water Companies, with the addresses of their chief offices, are as follows: East London, 16, St. Helen s place, Bishopsgate. Grand Junction, 65, South Molton-street. Lambeth, 175, Kennington-park-road. New River Company, Clerkenwell. Southwark and Vauxhall. Summer-street, Southwark.
All water companies are obliged, when required, to provide and keep throughout their limits a constant supply of pure and wholesome water, sufficient for the domestic purposes of the inhabitants within such district, constantly laid on, and are compelled at all times to keep charged with water under proper pressure all their pipes to which fire-plugs are affixed (unless prevented by frost, unusual drought, accident, or necessary repairs), and are to allow all persons at all times to take and use such water for extinguishing any fires without making any charge for the same. Companies may supply water by measure, and let meters out for hire, if authorised by special Act of Parliament, for such sum as may be agreed between the parties.
All owners and occupiers of premises are entitled to demand a supply of water for domestic purposes only where they have laid down pipes communicating with the company’s pipes, and paid or tendered the water-rate in respect thereof, and any such owner or occupier desiring to make a connection with the company’s pipes is allowed to open or break up such part of the pavement and ground between the pipes of the company and his premises, upon giving notice to the local authorities and reinstating the same without delay. Such owner or occupier may lay down any leaden or other service-pipes, which in the absence of special provisions must not have a bore exceeding half an inch unless with the consent of the company, and such pipes must be approved by the company, and fourteen days’ notice given before commencing to lay down the same. The connection of the service pipes to the company’s pipes must be made under the supervision of the Company’s surveyor, and two days’ notice of the hour and day fixed for such connection must be given.
The service pipes are provided by the persons seeking the supply, except where such water is supplied to premises under the annual value of £10 in a street where the Company’s pipes are laid down, in which case the company is compelled, on request of the occupier, with the owner’s consent, to lay down service pipes and keep the same in repair, the company being entitled in addition to the water rate to charge such a reasonable annual charge as may be agreed upon. Water-rates are paid according to the annual value of the premises supplied, and must be paid in advance. The owner and not the occupier of houses not exceeding the annual value of £10 is liable for the rates, and if any person supplied with water neglect to pay such water-rate, the company may cut off the supply of water to the premises, and recover the rates due from such person if less than £20 by proceedings before the Justices, together with the costs of cutting off the supply and recovering the same, and afterwards by distress and sale of the defaulter’s goods; or if the rates amount to more than £20, the company may sue for the same, with expenses of cutting off and recovering thereof.
No greater dividend than £10 per cent. per annum on the paid-up capital, unless authorised by a special Act, can be declared, except when a larger dividend shall be necessary to make up a deficiency of any previous dividends which shall have fallen short of such £10 per cent. If the clear profits amount to more than sufficient, after making up any such deficiency if any, the excess must be invested at compound interest, and forms a reserve fund, which fund shall not exceed, unless a prescribed sum is set out in any special Act of Parliament, one-tenth part of the nominal capital.
If any person supplied with water either causes or permits waste, misuse, undue consumption, or contamination, the company may, without prejudice to any remedy they may have against such person, cut off the supply of water to his premises.
The character and qualities of the water supplied to London by the different companies differ considerably. The south-east of London is supplied by the Kent Company, which takes the water from the chalk hills. This water is purer organically than any other supplied to London, but is sometimes objected to on account of its hardness. The New River Company, which supplies the northeast districts and the City, also supplies a water which has the character of being purer than the water taken from the Thames. The other companies, viz., West Middlesex, Grand Junction, Chelsea, Lambeth, Southwark and Vauxhall, take their supplies from the Thames, and filter all the water through large filter-beds. Upon the efficiency of their filtration depends the purity of the water they supply. By efficient filtration there is no doubt that the Thames water can be supplied as pure as water from the deepest and purest spring, the purity of such spring water being simply caused by filtering through the ground. It is, therefore, a question of importance to public health that the companies should be made to filter thoroughly; and if that were done we should hear nothing more of schemes for bringing water front distant lakes. As an extra precaution against contaminated water, householders should always provide themselves with a good filter. The Silicated Carbon Filter has been proved to be wonderfully efficacious in removing organic matter from water, and has been known to remove even vegetable poisons, such as strychnine, immediately.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879