The Southwark Water Company was one of the oldest water purveyors in London, having been formed in 1760.  When the company merged in 1845 with the Vauxhall Water Company, it brought a poor reputation for the quality of its water.  Perhaps the most famous comment about the old Southwark Water Company was made in 1832 in a cartoon published by George Cruikshank.  His picture in a dramatic manner condemned the water drawn by the company from the River Thames near the London Bridge, shown downriver in the background.  It presents John Edwards, owner of the Southwark Water Company, posing as Neptune ("Sovereign of the Scented Streams").  He is seen crowned with a chamber-pot, seated on a stool on top of a cesspool which doubles as the water-intake for the Southwark Water Company customers in south London. 

Comments of people on the banks of the Thames included, "It makes me sick!  What torrents of filth come from that ... sewer!  What do they drink? That! Give us clean water!  Give us pure water!  We shall all have the cholera."

By 1832, the association of water and cholera had already appeared in the public mind, as captured by Cruikshank.  Cholera had first come to the United Kingdom in the autumn of 1831, and reached London in February 1832.  During those years there was much discussion amongst government officials on ways to stop cholera, including ways to improve sanitary conditions, but no water-improvement laws were passed.  Cruickshank's cartoon was either reflecting or stirring the public sentiment -- or likely both. 


Cruikshank G. Salus Populi Suprema Lex, 1832.

Fox C (ed). London - World City, 1800-1840, 1992.

Simon J. English Sanitary Institutions, 1890.

Weinreb B, Hibbert C. The London Encyclopaedia, 1993.

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