BRIEF HISTORY DURING THE SNOW ERA (1813-58)
Kent Water Works was formed in 1809 to supply water for the inhabitants of Deptford (middle right), Greenwich (upper left) and several other places in the counties of Kent and Surrey. The water company was not allowed to take water from the River Thames, but rather from the Ravensbourne River (middle right). Rather than relying on water wheels for collection directly from the river, the company invested in steam engines to pipe water from the river to individual homes in the region. The water was initially distributed through wooden mains, replaced by iron ones in the 1820s. The first such engine was purchased in 1811, followed by a second in 1826, which remained in use for 98 years. Additional demands for water were placed on the company by surrounding communities, requiring still larger pumping engines. Instead of drawing and distributing raw water from the Ravensbourne, the company in 1844 constructed several filtering beds east of the river to filter the water. Thereafter in 1850, Kent Water Works added a settling reservoir on the west bank of the river.
Gradually over the years the water of the Ravensbourne had fallen in quantity, especially during the summer months when the river was most polluted. As a result, in 1859 the Kent company bored deep into the ground to create a well, and tapped into an abundant supply of clean water. Until 1862, water was drawn from both the river and the well, but thereafter, only the well. Since the water was clean, the filtering beds after 1862 were no longer needed, but were retained as covered service reservoirs.
In August and September of 1854, a cholera outbreak occurred among residents of Deptford in the Kent Water Works service area. Dr. John Snow investigated this outbreak, occurring at the same time as the larger cholera outbreak in the Broad Street neighborhood. Snow noted that there were no sewers along the two streets where the outbreak occurred. Sewage was distributed on the ground, and allowed to permeate down to the iron Kent water pipes. Through interviews, he found that the water for a few weeks had smelt like a cesspool, and theorized that there was a leak in the water pipes serving the area, allowing fecal matter from cholera victims to transmit the infection from one person to another.
The Kent Water Works is not shown in the 1859 Reynolds map, but lies just south of cell V 33.
Dickinson HW. Water Supply of Greater London, 1954.
Snow J. On the Mode of Communication of Cholera, 1855.
Weinreb B, Hibbert C (eds). The London Encyclopaedia, 1993.